Using an American iPhone in Europe… without going broke

Posted in: technology


Is that in Airplane Mode? Photo by Jorge Quinteros.
Is that in Airplane Mode? Photo by Jorge Quinteros.

Note: This article was updated in February 2013 with new rates and information.

If you’re an American iPhone user getting ready to take a trip to Europe, you’ve likely been warned about using your iPhone abroad. After all, AT&T and Verizon’s rates for international data use can be confusing, and misunderstanding your usage or iPhone setup could be a very costly mistake.

I recently returned from two weeks in Europe, one spent in Paris and one in Venice. This was a work trip, during which I visited about 90 hotels for EuroCheapo. I brought along my laptop, but what to do with my iPhone? Was there an economical way to use it in France and Italy? Should I pay for one of the international data packages offered by AT&T (my carrier)? Should I just leave the thing in New York?

Connecting with friends and travel companions is obviously aided by sending text messages. Those, however, don’t always work with American cell phones and, if they do, require international roaming. And if you turn on roaming, you could receive phone calls from home — which will cost you. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

I realized that my iPhone could be handy. But how could I use it without going broke?

After hours of hair pulling and squinting at fine print (and some phone time with Verizon and AT&T employees), we have compiled a list of pointers for American travelers hoping to use their iPhones in Europe.

Our Guide to using an American iPhone in Europe

Click below to get started:

Tips for AT&T Customers

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

How to Keep Your Smartphone Safe in Paris… and What to Do if It Gets Stolen

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]

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197 thoughts on “Using an American iPhone in Europe… without going broke”

  1. Pingback: American Smartphones in Europe: Windows, Android and Blackberry customers | Brendan Linard

  2. Great advice! We’re leaving Monday next week for Europe (UK, France & Paris) for 2 weeks. I have AT&T and the hubs has Verizon. We just want the ability to surf the web as we’re walking around and use google maps. We can wait for hotspots to check email but we don’t need the ability to talk on the phone. Should we just upgrade our date plans to the international plan? Will that give us access to the web and google maps as we’re wandering the streets of Florence?

  3. Another great way to make phone calls free from iPhone to iPhone is to use a free app called Viber. You have to install it on every phone that wants to use it. Viber also goes through your contact list and automatically displays users that already have the app. I was surprised to see about 7 others that already had it.

    All you need now is a wifi connection and you can call or text anyone who also has Viber (doesn’t need to be launched on the other phone to be notified of the incoming call). Both of you can be on wifi or you can be on wifi and the other can be using carrier data plan.

    One question, though, does anyone know if Paris has free city-wide wifi or public wifi in certain locations? I plan on using both Viber for free mobile to mobile, but also purchasing minutes for Skyping statewide or in case of emergency.

    P.S. Going to Viber’s website, I notice that they also have an app for Droid, Windows Mobile, Blackberry, Nokia and Bada (whatever that is).

    1. Hi,
      Your right instead of using Voice calls it’s cheaper to use VOIP calls on Viber or Skype.
      In some places WiFi costs money or it’s hard to find places that provide WiFi in Albania (for example)…
      So better for you to buy a pre-paid international SIM card from rental SIM cards companies (I familiar with Xcomglobal and iPhoneTrip, but there are many others)…

      It’s worth looking into:)

      1. I absolutely agree. I personally would not risk bringing a smart phone on my travels. It is so much easier and cheaper to bring my GSM dumb phone and buy a SIM card for the country I’m visiting.

  4. Pingback: Traveling Aboard with your iPhone - The RockStar Entrepreneur

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