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Note: This article is part of a series on Using an American iPhone in Europe… without Going Broke.
So, say you go with the $30 data package. What exactly does that mean? How many emails can you send and receive with 1200 MB of “data transfer”? How many web pages can you browse? Which applications can you use? That, of course, depends on your habits!
Hence, my headache. I had read horror stories of travelers buying a data package only to find that they surpassed it early in their trip by opening some “heavy” email messages or browsing image-rich websites.
In AT&T’s customer service center, the carrier offers tips for avoiding these sorts of surprises. The tips, which are quite helpful, include:
1) Turn off data roaming.
You’ll find this under Settings > General > Network > Data Roaming. (To make it easy, the iPhone even says “Turn data roaming off when abroad to avoid substantial roaming charges when using email, web browsing, and other data services.”) If you’re using your iPhone to simply make and receive phone calls, make sure you do this.
2) Turn fetch data “Off.”
This prevents your iPhone from automatically checking for emails. To access this, go to Setting > Mail, Contacts, Calendars > Fetch New Data. Switch “Push” to “Off” and click “Manually”. Once switched, you’ll have to manually tell your phone to send and receive emails.
3) Consider purchasing an international data package.
As I mentioned elsewhere in this guide, both carriers offer international data packages, ranging from $25 to $120. If you are planning, at any point during your trip, to use a data network to access the web or use emails, you are strongly advised to get some sort of plan. Otherwise, it will cost you (AT&T, for example, charges a hefty $0.0195 per KB. That’s going to get ugly.)
4) Reset the usage tracker to zero.
This is interesting. Under Settings > General > Usage, you can see how many MB of data you’ve sent and received since you last reset the statistics. Theoretically, then, you could reset your statistics and then track your subsequent bandwidth—perfect for those who have purchased an international bandwidth plan, right?
The only hiccup with this, unfortunately, is that the stats aren’t always up-to-date. It turns out that AT&T can have substantial delays in reporting international data usage (as international carriers are actually providing you with the network and then, later, reporting it back to AT&T). This means, well, that you certainly can’t rely on this metric for tracking your use in real-time.
5) Switch to Wi-Fi instead of data networks.
Airplane is my answer
Having discussed the options to the point of delirium, I basically threw in the towel and chose the most extreme option. I had this sneaking suspicion that even with an international roaming package in place, I’d carelessly open an email with a dozen photos of my cats and wind up with a $4,000 phone bill.
Thus, frustrated and paranoid, I opted for “Airplane Mode.”
Airplane Mode blocks phone and data networks from going into and out of your iPhone. Wi-Fi networks, however, are accessible. It basically turns your iPhone into an iPod Touch. Airplane Mode is accessible under Settings > Airplane Mode.
The decision to use my iPhone for two weeks in Airplane Mode meant, of course, that to send and receive emails I needed to access a free Wi-Fi network. It also meant that I wouldn’t be able to send and receive text messages or make normal phone calls.
(In a separate post, we explain how to find free Wi-Fi networks in Paris. Hint: McDonald’s. Also, once connected to a Wi-Fi network, I regularly made phone calls on my iPhone using the Skype app. Those calls were free when calling another Skype user or billed at 1 penny per minute when placing a call to a US phone number.)
Of course, my simple “Airplane Mode” solution won’t work for everyone. Some travelers will obviously need to use their phones to send and receive normal calls. And most annoyingly, you won’t be able to send or receive text messages.
Others will need predictable email and web service. For these users, I’d suggest calling AT&T or Verizon, adding some international services, turning off “fetch” and still using “airplane mode” whenever possible.
However, for Cheapos like me who simply need an occasional connection, consider flying on “airplane mode” during your trip. You’ll relax about charges and still have basic services.
Also in our Guide to using an American iPhone in Europe