iPhone in Europe: Information for AT&T customers

Posted in: Practical Info


How much is that call from Paris going to cost you? Photo: kootenayborn
How much is that call from Paris going to cost you? Photo: kootenayborn

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:

No plan
“Passport” plan
“Passport Plus” plan
“Passport Pro” plan
$30 / 30 days
$60 / 30 days
$120 / 30 days
Messages sent
(Text, picture, video)
$0.50/text message
$1.30/picture & video message

Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited
Talk $1.50/min.
$1.00/min. $0.50/min. $0.35/min.
Data $0.0195/KB ($19.97/MB)
Overage: $0.25/MB
Overage: $0.20/MB
Overage: $0.15/MB
Wi-Fi Free Free Free Free

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.

If you plan to use your phone abroad, call your carrier to check about rates before you leave. Photo:  yourdon

If you plan to use your phone abroad, consider getting a “Passport” package. Photo: yourdon

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.

Cheapo tips

• 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.

Cheapo tips

• 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.

Cheapo tips

• 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

Using an American iPhone in Europe… without Going Broke

Tips for Verizon Customers

Tips for Windows, Android and Blackberry Customers

Setting up your phone to avoid a billing “surprise”

AT&T vs Verizon: A comparison of international plans

About the author

Tom Meyers

About the author: Tom Meyers created and launched EuroCheapo from his Berlin apartment in 2001. He returned to New York in 2002, set up office, and has led the EuroCheapo team from the Big Apple ever since. He travels to Europe several times a year to update EuroCheapo's hotel reviews. Tom is also a co-host of the New York City history podcast, The Bowery Boys. Email Tom. [Find Tom on Google Plus]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

29 thoughts on “iPhone in Europe: Information for AT&T customers”

    1. Hi there,

      No, you don’t need any special app to use your phone. You should contact AT&T to make sure that your phone is activated for international use, however. (Most should be.) I never use their app — I can’t really figure out what the advantages of it are! You don’t need it to use Wi-Fi, make calls or sends text messages. I have enough apps taking up memory on my phone, I don’t need another one! :)


  1. It might be easier to pull the SIMM card out of your iPhone when you depart the USA basically turning the iPhone into a iPod Touch. Then use Google Voice or Skype app to place VoIP calls over over a Wifi network. I use a VPN service on my iPhone when using public Wifi networks so I don’t get scammed by a honeypot. A VPN service also lets your connection to the internet be any place in the world the VPN service has servers.
    For local voice calls and texts just pick up a burner phone with the minutes you will use on your trip. Email those you will need to communicate with in Europe your burner phone number.

  2. Ordered AT&T plan (phone, text, no data); was told it was not prorated but sold by the month, and if you don’t use it you lose it-it doesn’t roll over.

  3. I meant to say also that the extensions app turns your mobile into an extension of your current Vonage plan phone. And, for those who don’t know about Vonage, it’s a company that offers VoIP internet phone calling. We’ve had a plan with them for years now and love it.

  4. Has anyone used the Vonage Extension App for iPhone in Europe? I just downloaded and installed it. It says that if I turn on Airplane Mode, then enable Wi-Fi while abroad, I will be able to make calls for the same price that I can normally make them from the U.S. So, that theoretically means that I should be able to be making calls from the U.K. or France etc., for nothing, as it currently doesn’t cost me to call those countries from my land line in the U.S. with my current plan with Vonage. Has anyone tried this? I’m VERY curious to know as my wife and I are going soon to London and Paris. Thanks in advance.

  5. Nicholas Pellegrino

    Follow-up comment. I did turn my phone on again, quickly signed up for Skype and purchased $10.00 of Skype credit. Using wifi Skype worked perfectly to call the US, although I never could get a in-Ireland call to go through. That was probably my inability to understand what to dial.

  6. Nicholas Pellegrino

    Oct. 2012. After reading these posts I vowed not to use my iPhone in Europe. I then had an emergency and turned on the phone to access a phone number in Contacts so I could use a landline. I SHOULD have immediately switched to airplane mode but didn’t. I shortly received a email warning of high data usage. I turned off the phone until that evening when I contacted ATT to discover I supposedly had 14,000kb of data usage 5 hours before I was even in Ireland, a $283.00 charge. I had not received any photos, video, etc. and again, wasn’t even in country when the alleged charges occurred. The best they would do is sign me up for a $30.00 data plan and back date it. I never turned the phone on again. Arriving home I discovered the $283.00 charge was on my bill, although a phone call today apparently has corrected that. You’ve been warned!

  7. You can also send unlimited free messages between iPhones by turning on iMessage (under Settings > Messages > iMessage (turn on) and using wifi. I checked with AT&T today and they confirmed this.

  8. I am in Europe and Asia for the next 6 months and my US phone wouldn’t work here anyway since it is a cheap Net10 phone. Since I was too cheap to buy an Iphone with plan in the US, I brought my new Ipod with me to Europe, which is really helpful as long as I have Wifi. Once I am connected, I can make hour-long calls via the AP’s that Viber, Skype or Yahoo offer -the later two which have video calling of course. Texting works with all three but as far as I know, only Viber will send it to one’s phone in the US. There is another AP that is called “Pinger” (before it was “Textfree”) which will give you a free virtual US phone number but you have to either purchase minutes at 1 or 2 cents or participate in their diverse promotions.
    That said, I was able to buy a SIM card for 2 Euros in Paris and used an old phone my local friends had to set-up my local “mobile” French phone number. Then I bought 50 Euros worth of minutes from “Lycamobile” through one of the many mobile outlets in Paris and actually got another 25 Euros of minutes for free from Lyca as a bonus. Since I am not on a subscription plan, I will just have to buy more minutes if and when I run out of them but so far I still have plenty left after almost two months as I am not even being charged for receiving calls. International calls are cheap too – they only cost about 2 to 3 cents or so.
    But in order to make and receive unlimited free real phone calls to and from any phone in the US and Canada, I actually brought my small “landline” phone with me that I then plug in to my laptop via my “Magicjack” plug-in that I’ve had for a couple of years now and which works nearly anywhere in the world. That’s because it is using US servers to connect you the same way it does at home (for the yearly price of $20- you can buy the MJ gizmo at Radio Shack or online for $45).
    So, with a little planning, one, a few or all of the above choices should let you make all the phone calls you need for very little! Just remember to bring your gizmos with you and to get your plugs and 220V adapters (for the landline phone if you want one or you can bring ear phones and mic instead), you can usually get them in the same store you get your SIM card or other specialty store. However, as it was correctly stated in another comment, your laptop works on 110 or 220V as long as you have the cheap plug (as opposed to a more expensive converter that I am using for my diverse other items such as battery charger and landline phone.) I hope this helps!

  9. I have an iPhone 4g and am currently traveling in Spain for 2 weeks. What a mess! Basically, I want no cellular traffic at all – no cellular calls and no cellular data to avoid the billing horror stories that I keep reading about. I only want web access where I can use Skype, Maps, and Mail.

    As stated ‘AirPlane mode On’ blocks everything. But even when I turn Data Roaming to Off, Cellular Data to Off, and 3G to Off, I still get text messages when I switch ‘AirPlane mode to Off’. Under ‘Mail, Contacts, Calendars’ I even turn ‘Push mode to Off’ and then ‘Fetch New Data mode to Manual’. How is this possible that I still get text messages? The source of the messages is an ‘automatic web site send’ and thus cannot be using iMessage web addressing.

  10. I also was caught by AT&T’s promise – and I was careful to make *sure* during the conversation – that the data would not be pro-rated. It was. I came back to a $900 phone bill, and also experienced the joy of talking to a manager who eventually credited me for the overage.

    So, make sure you have the international features for the entire billing cycle(s) you are on vacation. (Sucks if your vacation spans cycles – you pay double.)

    Also don’t forget to *turn off the international features* when you get home! (But not until the last day of the cycle )

  11. I recently called AT&T to inquire about international rates for my trip to Europe coming up next week. I did purchase the call package at $5.99 to make outgoing calls, which the customer service agent said is prorated for the length of my stay (2 weeks), she got the exact dates of my travel from me. She also told me of the data plans, which were somewhat confusing to me, expecially because I will be on a cruise the first week of my trip. She told me that once the cruise ship is 12 miles off shore, whatever data plan I would buy from them would no longer work, and that I would have to buy the cruise ships data plan if I wanted internet access while on the ship. Also, telephone calls are the only service that is prorated, everything else will be billed for the entire length of the billing cycle.

    I chose not to purchase the data from AT&T given the information she gave me, instead I will likely buy whatever the ship has to offer, and when I am on land keep an eye out for a starbucks or other free wifi source.

    I recommend people buy the Whatsapp App for a one time cost of $2.00 you can use a texting app that actually runs off your data plan, so you don’t need to pay for additional texting packages.

  12. wondering if anyone has tryed to use http://www.viber.com to circumvent these charges for Iphones and android. All parties must be signed up but is good for a family situation to communicate back home.

  13. my daughter is going to study for the year in London and Paris- she relies on her Iphone for everything- I’m trying to figure out if I should just buy her a phone in London or can she use her iphone without it breaking the bank. Any suggestions?

    1. re Shaun’s daugther in Europe…i was told to buy a local “tracphone” -Vodaphone – type thing there and a get local city’s SIM card but to use this just for local European calls not to call back home. Use Skyp and viber for that.

  14. This article’s pro-rated billing tip is incorrect. Last year we went to France for 2 weeks, and when we returned, I canceled the world data plan immediately so I wouldn’t forget to shut it off.

    My next bill from AT&T was for more than $700. They pro-rated my data, along with the monthly price. So half the data I used was billed at the full roaming price.

    It contradicted what the AT&T agent told me repeatedly during our lengthy conversation BEFORE the trip. When I called to complain, I had to speak with a manager and endure a loooooonnnnggg detailed conversation in order to negotiate the bill down to a reasonable level.

    The lesson I learned, and will be using during my trip to Italy in May, is to leave the damn plan active for the entire month to avoid getting hosed in the pro-rated game.


  15. I have one tip to add to the discussion.

    I have travelled to Europe twice in the past year and a half with my AT&T iPhone, and both times, I wanted to be able to use it for limited contact with the states, and occasionally for location services (e.g., it’s very helpful to dial up a Google Map in a foreign city once in a while). For these reasons, “Airplane Mode” wasn’t a good strategy. You have to have cellular data turned on to use GPS features.

    But I was still terrified of people calling me while I was away and being charged even if I didn’t pick up the phone.

    So I bought an “online number” from Skype before I left. It’s a cheap virtual number you can get with basic voicemail services. The last thing I did on my way to the airport was forward my phone to that number.

    While in Europe, I was able to text back home (and other friends on the trip), get location fixes, etc….. without fear of my phone ever ringing. At night when I had wifi, I could check voicemails on Skype if I wanted to (I didn’t… I was on vacation!)

    $10 – 50 text messages from AT&T
    $25 – 50 MB data from AT&T (a location fix uses up 1MB or so of data, and you can track what you’ve used in Usage).
    $18 – Skype online number

    $53 total for a two week trip. Not exactly cheapo, but a good compromise for me.

  16. While in England can I send iPhone to iPhone text messages for no cost as in the US?
    Can I do iPhone to iPhone face time for no cost as in the US?
    Thanks for any responses.

    1. Hi Genella,

      I don’t think that sending any texts while abroad will be free, regardless of your iPhone-to-iPhone situation back home. And Facetime will require a network — and the only way to use it for free will be to go onto a Wi-Fi network.

      I’d strongly suggest that you call AT&T and verify this with them before you go. You may want to purchase the international texting plan, which will cut back on those charges, as I mentioned in the article above.

  17. I just got back from France and my AT&T iPhone didnt work at all. My husband had an galaxy android, it worked about 70% of the time. We also purchased an international data plan for the ipad. It worked sometimes while in Paris, and absolutely no connection outside the city .

  18. OMG I am going to Germany for 2.5 months and planned on doing my eBay business on my US Iphone 3GS. I would never be able to pay for that. I have AT&T. can’t use my laptop over there, cause the plugs don’t fit. 220v. these are the only options I have with my IPhone over in Germany???? help please 😉
    danke for your time. (I am leaving the end of may)
    Marika Tarver

      1. @ Thomas Meyer
        wifi mode doesn’t work and text messing doesn’t work while the phone is on Airplane Mode. Wifi is not as open as it is in the US. I found the often the only open wifi was at Starbucks and they are not on every corner like they are in the US.

        1. Hi Angy,

          Thanks for your comment. The Wi-Fi does work in Airplane mode — but you have to turn it on. As soon as you switch into “airplane,” the Wi-Fi will be switched off. However, just turn it back on and you’re set to go.

          For texting, you’re right — you’ll need to deactivate airplane to text, as we mention in the article.


Follow Us