iPhone in Europe: Information for AT&T customers
Note: This article is part of a series on Using an American iPhone in Europe… without Going Broke.
If you’re an AT&T customer planning to use your smartphone abroad, you have some choices to make before you leave home. These will impact how you use your phone and how much you’ll be charged. These choices include whether or not you expect to use your iPhone abroad to:
• Phone: place and receive international phone calls
• Text: send and receive text messages
• Email: send and receive emails
• Web: browse the web on your phone
• Apps: use iPhone applications.
Each of these points carries its own possible traps and, of course, AT&T offers three “packages” to address each issue. Note that AT&T made some big changes to their international offerings in early 2015 when they introduced three new “add on” packages. If you were used to the old options (separate packages for texting, calling, data, etc.), you’re in for a surprise, as they’ve all been bundled together.
AT&T’s International Packages
As of March 2015, AT&T offers three add-on plans for international usage. These packages are added on top of whatever monthly charges you currently incur. To get these rates, call AT&T before taking off and have them add the package to your plan. It is possible to have them add the plan from abroad, but it’s a better idea to set it up before taking off.
(Note: Most of the time, AT&T will set these packages up to automatically expire once you’re home, with a minimum one-month charge. However, double check once home to make sure that the plan has, indeed, expired and that you’re not still paying for it!)
Here are AT&T’s three plans for iPhone and Android phone use throughout Europe:
||“Passport Plus” plan
||“Passport Pro” plan
||$30 / 30 days
||$60 / 30 days
||$120 / 30 days
(Text, picture, video)
$1.30/picture & video message
As you can see, most AT&T customers also have the option of using their phones abroad without a plan, but it can get expensive very quickly, especially if they dip into data use.
This is a good time to try to realistically assess your smartphone needs abroad.
Making telephone calls from abroad
If you plan to use your phone to make and receive calls, you will pay between $1.00 a minute to $.35 a minute, depending on the package (and $1.50 a minute without a package).
How many calls will you need to make? None or very few? Perhaps you don’t need a plan ($1.50 a minute), or the “Passport” plan would work ($1.00 a minute). If you expect to receive and make lots of calls on the road, a bigger plan might pay off. Try to be realistic here, and remember that you could upgrade to a bigger plan from abroad if you suddenly find your usage spiking.
• Placing and receiving: Don’t forget that you’ll be charged for placing and receiving calls. Even if you answer the phone and say, “Don’t call me, I’m in Florence! (click)”, you’ll be charged for one minute.
• Voicemail: Yes, listening to your voicemail will cost you, as you’ll need to connect to your carrier.
• Use Skype instead of calling: For calling home, I prefer to use the Skype app on my phone when I have a free Wi-Fi connection. Using Skype (or other apps, such as Google Talk), you can call another user for free, or call a telephone for just pennies per minute.
• Texting: I recommend using text messages in place of short phone calls, whenever possible. If you sign up for any of the packages with AT&T, texting is free.
• Data roaming: If you choose to only make and receive calls abroad, don’t forget to deactivate your data roaming. (See more tips for how to set up your iPhone when traveling abroad.)
Sending and receiving text messages
As for texting, without a plan, it costs $.50 to send text messages throughout much of Europe ($1.30 if the message includes a photo or video). However, each of AT&T’s three packages now offer free unlimited texting. This is good news for those of us who rely upon texting to communicate while traveling.
What about receiving text messages? You’ll pay for these just as you would for receiving a text message back home. If you have unlimited texting, you’ll be able to receive unlimited texts abroad at no extra charge.
• Using iMessage: What about just using iMessage or another messaging app to send text messages while traveling? You could do that, but don’t forget that you’ll only be able to send and receive these messages when you’re running the app. Thus, either you have to fire up the app and use expensive data (not recommended), or you’ll have to connect to a Wi-Fi network. The latter option will work, but it prevents you from sending and receiving when you’re out and about, resulting in delays in receiving messages.
Using email, browsing the Web, and using Apps
If you plan to send and receive emails, browse the web or use applications (such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram), you’re going want to have one of the packages above, as you’ll be using data. If you don’t have a package, then you’re strongly cautioned to only use these features when connected to a Wi-Fi network!
AT&T’s $30 “Passport” plan comes with a 120 MB (megabytes) of data transfer, while using data without a plan will cost a $0.0195 per KB (which is 1/1,024 of a MB — do the math and you’ll see that they’re charging a whopping $19.97 per MB without a plan!).
But how much data will you need? Note that all data is not created equal. Here are some estimates:
• Sending or receiving an email (without attachment): Approx. 20 KB per email; (with attachment) Approx. 300 KB per email
• Loading 1 webpage: 1 MB per page
• Streaming music: 500 KB / minute (30 MB / hour)
• Streaming video (standard quality): 2 MB / minute
I know, this is complicated and can require a calculator to make an educated estimate of your needs. Luckily, AT&T will do the math for you: check out their data use estimator to add up your own needs.
• Using data? Get a package: If you plan to at least check your email every once in a while (without a Wi-Fi connection), I recommend getting at least the cheapest “Passport” package. The $30 package comes with 120 MB of data transfer, which would cover sending or receiving about 6,000 emails (without attachments)! Checking your email even occasionally without a package will quickly become very expensive.
• Maps use data to load: Maps are confusing, as they require data to initially load, but your GPS location can load without data. Got that? For example, using Wi-Fi, you could load up a map of your neighborhood in London and then, without any data use, pull up that map later and see your location. However, to load a new map with a Wi-Fi connection (or do a search or zoom in), you’ll need to use data. I find this one of the handiest data uses, and another good reason to at least sign up for the cheapest package.
Sticking to Wi-Fi
Of course, if you just stick to Wi-Fi for the duration of your trip, you don’t need to take any of these “Passport” packages. For years I traveled in “Airplane” mode, with my telephone basically disconnected, but my Wi-Fi fired up. This allowed me to use emails, maps, Facebook, Skype, and the Internet only when I was connected to a free Wi-Fi network.
That’s still an option. However, be aware of the obvious drawbacks of relying on Wi-Fi: You’re lost without a connection.
These days I opt for the cheapest Passport package, take advantage of the unlimited texting, make infrequent and short phone calls, and use data to check emails (but never open attachments) and use Google maps. And I never open other big apps (like Facebook, Skype or Twitter) unless I’m connected to a Wi-Fi network.
Monitor your usage
No matter which package you sign up for, it’s a very good (even critical) idea to monitor how much data you use. This is easy on an iPhone. You can see your Cellular Data Usage by clicking into “Settings” –> “Cellular”. Once abroad, the first thing you should do is scroll to the bottom and click on “Reset Statistics”.
You’re set — now stick to your plan, or upgrade if you’re about to go over!
Also in our Guide to Using an American iPhone in Europe