Going wireless in Europe: what you need to know about cell phones and tablets

Updated: November 2019

To many Americans, staying in touch with a cell phone or tablet while in Europe can seem difficult and expensive. But savvy travelers know it doesn’t have to be. Having a phone while you’re there can be a major time saver and convenience. This article tells you how to stay in touch and save money.

Today, almost all Smartphones will “just work” in Europe, especially if your carrier is T-Mobile, AT&T or Google Fi. Verizon smartphone customers can get theirs to work after calling Verizon to turn on International Roaming. It’s tougher with older cellphones: for various reasons, the United States developed and deployed wireless technologies that were incompatible with those deployed in the Rest Of the World, which went with a standard called GSM (“Global System for Mobiles” – one of the reasons why Europeans use the term “mobile” and not “cell phone”).

Phones that “Just Work”: Apple iPhone, Samsung and Google smartphones

With large reputable phone manufacturers like Apple, Samsung and Google it’s pretty easy: all of their phones from the last few years contain hardware that allows them to be used pretty much anywhere in the world. The general rule of thumb is that the more expensive the phone, the more likely it is to “just work” outside the US, but even some cheap Android phones will work too. In the Apple world, all GSM iPhones from the 4S onwards “just work” outside the US. From the iPhone 8 onwards, Verizon and Sprint iPhones will also just work outside the US.

Verizon and Sprint use a system called CDMA (it stands for Code Division Multiple Access — incomprehensible to the average human.) However, Verizon, in particular, has figured out that it is losing a lot of profitable international traffic as a result, and now has phones that support both CDMA and international GSM frequencies. Verizon used to call these Global Phones, but now it just ensures that all of its smartphones have full global roaming.

Verizon has a specific international phone page here, and examples of Verizon global smartphones at the time of writing include the iPhone 11/11 Pro, Samsung Galaxy and Note phones.

The net: if you’re on Verizon or Sprint and you have iPhone 4S or later, you can use your phone in Europe and get 2G, 3G and even 4G LTE if you have an iPhone 5S or later.

Advanced mobile phone usage in Lucca, Italy
Advanced mobile phone usage in Lucca, Italy

Using data and mobile apps internationally

AT&T and Verizon have revamped their international roaming plans to reduce complexity in the last year. For most travelers, the changes will also reduce prices for data and voice usage.

AT&T’s international roaming plan now consumes voice and data from your plan (in the past, you had to pre-buy packages of international minutes and international data). However, you will also have to pay a $10 fee per day for international roaming. So if you’re on a 7-day trip, you’ll also pay $70 in roaming charges (assuming you use your phone each day).

T-Mobile is the stand-out leader offering unlimited 256Kb/sec data internationally for free. Now, 256Kb/sec (0.256 MB/sec) is not very fast — just about good enough for basic web browsing, but nothing like your typical app expects. So T-Mobile also offers high-speed data plans for an additional cost, without a bandwidth throttle. Sprint has copied this approach and does the same thing.

Google Fi is a new entrant with the best roaming package I’ve seen: you can just use your existing data plan when you are overseas, with no speed restrictions. In the US, Google uses the T-Mobile network, so you get the best of both worlds: T-Mobile coverage when in the US, and Google’s local roaming partners when outside it. You also only pay for the exact number of lines you need, versus other carriers who force you to buy packages of lines even if you don’t need them.

Cutting costs with an unlocked phone

What if you’re staying for a while and don’t like the idea of paying an extra $300/month to use your US phone internationally?

In the GSM system, your phone number and other identifying information are stored on a little chip: the Subscriber Identity Module (SIM). It’s a fingernail-sized smart card that slides into the back of your GSM phone under the battery (on most models), or the side (iPhones). When you buy a European pre-paid GSM phone, it contains a “pre-paid SIM” issued by the carrier.

But if you own a US GSM phone, you typically can’t just take out the SIM from your US carrier, buy a pre-paid SIM from a mobile phone store and put it in your own phone. Why? Because your cell phone carrier won’t let you, and they have “network locked” your phone to stop you doing this.

Many people buy GSM phones from their wireless carrier, since they offer a steep discount from the actual price of the phone, in return for committing to a 2-year contract. A basic Apple iPhone costs $299 with a 2-year contract on AT&T, and $799 without one. AT&T wants you to use the SIM that they issued to ensure they capture all your usage during the contract, in return for the discounted phone.

How to beat network locked GSM phones

The good news is that beating locked cell phones is now easier than it ever was. Here are your options:

  1. Buy an unlocked phone directly from the manufacturer or T-Mobile
  2. Buy a semi-unlocked phone from Verizon or Sprint
  3. Get your phone unlocked

1. Buy an unlocked GSM phone from the manufacturer

All the major manufacturers now sell their phones on Amazon.com and other online retailers, and also directly from their own websites. You’ll pay the full price for the phone, but it’ll work out cheaper than buying it over time from the carrier over time.

Apple has taken this one step further by offering a new installment plan where you pay the price of the phone over time but can upgrade every time a new iPhone comes out (typically every 12 months). The plan also includes AppleCare extended warranty and support. If you do the math, you’ll see it costs more over 2 years vs. just buying the phone outright, but you also get AppleCare and the ability to upgrade.

T-Mobile only offers full price “pay up front” pricing, and the phone is completely unlocked, so if you buy one from T-Mobile it’s just like buying from the manufacturer.

2. Buy a semi-unlocked phone from Verizon or Sprint

Verizon and Sprint don’t use the GSM system on their domestic networks but all modern smartphones are designed to work anywhere, offering both CDMA and GSM capabilities in a single hardware design. That simplifies manufacturing (fewer models to make), but it also means Verizon phones can also work on GSM frequencies “for free”. So they’ve come up with phones that are semi-unlocked: they will work just like an unlocked phone with an international SIM card, but won’t work with a US SIM card (e.g. one from AT&T).

The net: you can slide out the Verizon SIM card and put in a European SIM card on an iPhone 6/6S and it’ll work just fine.

3. Get your phone unlocked

All network-locked phones can be unlocked, because locking is implemented in software.

Help is at hand for AT&T iPhone owners: AT&T will also unlock your iPhone, and AT&T says it will do this for phones that are off-contract (i.e., when you have completed the minimum 2-year term). On AT&T’s web forums, there are reports from those who are simply longtime AT&T customers having their phones unlocked before the end of the minimum term. In short, it’s worth a try. Here’s the link to the AT&T iPhone unlock request page.

You can also use an unofficial unlocking service, either at a store or on the Internet. Some unlocking services also provide after-sales service: if Apple releases an iPhone software update that invalidates their unlocking, they will unlock the new software for you at no extra charge.

The iPhone 5-8, X, XR, 11/11Pro and iPads use a SIM card called a “Nano SIM”, but older phones use larger SIM cards. If you’re buying a pre-paid SIM card at a store, have them install it for you right then and there. Not only do they have the right tool to get the SIM card out of your device, but you can also be sure they gave you the right sized SIM card, and that it works.

Apple iPads are unlocked by default

All Apple iPads are not network locked. Wireless iPad versions come with a SIM for use in the US, and to use elsewhere you will need to buy a nano SIM from a local wireless carrier. Don’t lose it (they’re tiny) as you’ll need it when you get back to the US. Get the local mobile phone store to install the SIM for you because sometimes they get the SIM size incorrect, selling you a Micro SIM when you need a Nano SIM.

Skype and other voice over the Internet options

With smartphones becoming more powerful and now offering apps like Skype and Google Voice, it’s possible to get free calling if you are in a reasonably good WiFi hotspot (such as your hotel). Call quality depends on the WiFi network performance and Internet connection congestion at your location. If it’s busy and everyone is Skyping, you’ll get poor quality. But when it works, it’s a great alternative and can offer better voice quality than a regular call.

Handy tips for a phone-stress-free European trip

  • When buying a GSM phone to use in Europe, make sure it’s a “world phone” or to keep it really simple: just get an Apple iPhone or Samsung Galaxy.
  • Before you leave, call your carrier or log in to the website and turn on international voice and data roaming. It’s turned off by default. Even if you bought a world-phone when you signed up for service, and/or told the nice sales or activation person that’s why you went with them. It is turned off by default as an anti-fraud measure.
  • Sometimes, you cannot call US 800/888/877/866 numbers from foreign phone networks. So find out the non-800 number for your cell phone carrier’s customer support before you leave. That goes for any other 800 numbers you may need to call when overseas (e.g. your credit card company).
  • Calling 611 or any other “short code” (in industry lingo) may also not work, so don’t rely on it. Find out the international number for customer service.
  • To call internationally when outside the US, you need to know the country code of the place you’re dialing. The US country code is 1 — pretty simple. France is 33, Italy is 39, the UK is 44… there’s a whole list.
  • To call internationally from a mobile phone, enter a plus sign (+), followed by the country code, followed by the number. For example, to call 415 555 1212 from Europe, you’d dial +1 415 555 1212 on your phone. Finding the plus sign on the keypad of your phone can be hard… keep looking, it is there somewhere! You might need to hold a key down to get the plus sign. If that doesn’t work, try using 00 instead — this is the International standard code for international calling, and works on both mobile and landline phones across Europe. In my example, you’d dial 001-415-555-1212.
  • When calling from a non-mobile phone (e.g. a payphone or hotel phone) remember that the international access code in Europe is 00, not 011. For example, to call 415 555 1212 from a payphone in Europe, dial 00 1 415 555 1212. This convention also works on mobile phones.
  • When making an international call to any European phone number that begins with a zero, omit the zero — unless you are calling Italy. For example, to call the UK number 01606 54321 from France, you’d dial +44 1606 54321. + is the international prefix, 44 is the country code, then the number with the leading zero omitted. Italy is the lone exception — if you need to call there don’t drop the leading zero.
  • Enjoy your trip, and don’t forget to call home!

What about e-mail, data etc?

See part 2 of this article series, which covers mobile data services.


The GSM Association:A trade association that also maintains world-wide GSM coverage maps showing all carriers and frequencies used.

95 thoughts on “Going wireless in Europe: what you need to know about cell phones and tablets”

  1. Pingback: La Photo Vita » Blog Archive » Going mobile in Europe part 2: data services

  2. One reader tells me that when in Italy, he bought a pre-paid phone from TIM (Telecom Italia Mobile) and asked the shop to set it up in English. He can then follow English voice prompts to reload the phone with Euros to make calls. So… if you want to follow the pre-paid route, try this out.

  3. I had a horrible experience with pre-paid phones in Italy and customer care there. Ever since I’ve rented a SIM card. PicCell Wireless has been the best experience I’ve had. You can rent a phone and or SIM card. Get a local SIM for each country you go or one SIM for all of Europe. http://www.piccellwireless.com

    1. Yes, I bought a phone in Italy that was pay-as-you-go for 79 euros and it was awful. It was an Alcatel and text and internet kept crashing and getting hung up. And now it won’t even charge. I barely used it and now it’s just a paperweight. So needing a new phone in the US as well, now I bought the international version of the Samsung Galaxy S5 (the G900F) on eBay, hoping I could use it in both the US and in Europe. It’s factory unlocked and was also region unlocked, as promised. I’m with AT&T and wanted to switch to Verizon, but I couldn’t do it for the reasons mentioned in this article. So I stayed with AT&T and actually my signal is better in my house now than it was with my AT&T-provided iPhone 3GS. Keeping my fingers crossed that it works well on both continents.

  4. We have traveled for several months at a time in Germany for the last two years. We used a cell phone service based in the US which requires a credit card account and calls are automatically charged to the card. The first year was fine but this year, we were hit with 2 bogus calls made within seconds of each other for $195 each and each showing a time of 60 minutes. It was not possible to make those two calls as shown on the billing. The calling service checked this out with the German provider and we were told that our phone made those calls. We did not make those calls and the phone was never out of our control. The phone service graciously paid for one of them. However, since you have already given your credit card to them, you have no recourse. Next time we will use a pre-paid SIM card that may be a little more expensive per call but will not subject us to fraudulent calls billed to our account.

  5. Thank you for this simplified, accurate clearly written explanation of the cell/mobile phone-use-overseas maze! Finally someone who knows what they are talking about! While in the UK, I have replaced my at&t smartphone with a british sim and it works great. (only after unlocking of course, because while at&t used to unlock phones, they have gotten greedy and don’t anymore.)

    Thank you again!

  6. so, recently, i bought the verizon blackberry storm 1. its a global phone, and i was wondering if, in order to use it in France and Italy this month, if i would have to change the account before leaving. let me know; thank you.

  7. I’m going on a trip to Greece and Italy this spring break and I don’t know how I will be able to get internet. I was wondering if anyone knew if the Verizon Wireless USB760 modem would work out of America?

    1. Sorry, it won’t work outside the US. It’s designed for Verizon’s CDMA network, not the GSM standard used by most other countries.

      There are lots of Internet cafes in Italy and Greece — it’s often the easiest way. Or you could just go cold turkey 🙂

  8. Pingback: Set up your iPhone for Europe and save money | La Photo Vita

  9. Nice post! Thanks for the pieces of information that you shared, I’ll keep this in mind when I travel to Europe.

  10. Thanks for all of you to share your experience. But it is so confuse. We are going

    to Italy and we need the cell phone there.

    I have Droid x, I went o Verizon Store, they told us those doesn’t work there.

    Today I called Verizon Customer service they told me the Droid x works over there.

    They told me the Droid works over there, needs to add features and cost:

    $ 30.00 per 25 megabytes or

    $ 100.00 per 100 megabytes

    for internet, and the GPS – They say the GPS will work in Italy.

    Then I have to pay

    $4.99 a month for International call –

    $.99 per phone call and to Receive it is free. ahahahahah (she was not sure)

    $ .05 To receive Text message

    $ .50 to send Text message.

    My question: Do anybody has this experience, someone can tell me if it works?

    We need the cell phone to receive phone calls ( it is the most important)

    I heard that Verizon can lend the Phone to Europe. Is anyone know about it?

    If I pay $100.00 for 100 megabytes will really works at the GPS (navigation) from my droid.

    I appreciate, Thanks.

    1. Hi,

      Yes, it can be very confusing. Your local Verizon store is correct — Droid X does not work in Italy. Only Verizon Global Phones work on the GSM standard — the list of those phones is here:

      As you can see from that link, Droid X is not on the Global Phone list.

      You may be eligible for a low cost rental GSM phone from Verizon for your trip. Call the number I listed in the blog post and ask if you can get the rental phone.



  11. I bought an unlocked Quad band Motorola v-190 on ebay for $18 delivered.

    I need to buy a TIM card when I get to Milan.

    Should I be able to get one for about 10 Euros?

    Any tips where to get them in Milan near the train station?

  12. Michael Fitzpatrick

    I plan to use my Verizon global phone in Germany but my German friends are reluctant to call me. I know it costs me $1.29 to place a call but what does it cost them to call my American number when we are both in the same city? Thanks, Michael

    1. The cost depends on their telephone rates. They’ll be placing an international call to the US — your number. So they’ll pay whatever they pay today for a call to the US. Once the call reaches Verizon’s telephone switch in the US, it gets redirected back to Germany and finds its way to your phone across the German mobile network you’re roaming on. The charges from Verizon cover the cost of this call, plus profit for Verizon.

      That’s one advantage of using a SIM card from a local provider. You have a local number, so the call goes straight to your phone vs. the round trip to the US and back.

  13. Zac Giammarrusco

    You should Update this page for Verizon iphone4. I herd this phone does not work In Italy. I wanted to know if the wifi would and the costs?

    1. Good idea — I will do that. BTW, the answer is No, Verizon iPhone 4 does not work in Italy. You can typically buy WiFi access for a few Euros at Internet cafes and hotels.

  14. Today I read about the ability to buy an unlocked iPhone 4 from Apple. Would it be possible to purchase one of these and then buy a card in Europe (specifically the Czech Republic) from a local carrier? We will be there for more than a year, so I don’t need the ability to call or receive calls from the US. We would just use it locally.

  15. I would like to get a Blackberry Bold 9650 to use overseas in Austria for 10 months. I plan on getting the phone unlocked (either here or in Vienna) and purchasing an Austrian SIM card and prepaid phone plan.

    According to Verizon, the phone is GSM functioning with
    Network Support:
    Dual–band 800/1900 MHz CDMA/EVDO Rev. A networks;
    Quad–Band: 850/900/1800/1900 MHz GSM/GPRS/EDGE networks Single–Band: 2100 MHz UMTS/HSPA networks

    Will the phone function (phone calls, text message, internet, apps, etc) as planned? Will the phone still be able to use voice and data services although I won’t be using it on my Verizon plan (I will cancel/pause my Verizon plan while in Austria).

    Thank you for your help!

  16. Verizon’s Escapade did not work in France & Italy

    I just got back from 2 weeks in France and Italy with a Verizon Escapade global phone. It would not work after having “activated” it with a live operator the night before leaving. I performed the *228, option 1 sequence before the plane left the US.
    Once in France (covered by Verizon with 3G and GSM) I could never get a connection. The phone flickered back and forth from “GSM Limited Service” to No Service and I was never able to make a call. Upon return an operator told me that taking the battery out and reinstalling it can help the phone “find” the network.

    Any guesses as to what went wrong?


    PS Vacation without a phone is absolute Heaven – as long as one doesn’t encounter any emergencies!

    1. Sounds like the SIM card was bad, or not activated (despite what Verizon said). “Limited service” typically means emergency calls only — usually occurs when the SIM card isn’t activated.

  17. hey I have a question…
    I live in germany and will forever I want to buy a phone in the USA it’s GSM I was wondering if I could use a german sim card into it the phone also is unlocked and worldwide…. So can I use a german sim in an American phone??
    Please answer my email: evaisawesome@live.com

  18. Slightly off-topic, in that I’m wondering about a USB modem for data usage on a tablet computer while in the Netherlands, Belgium and France. To make matters simple, I’m willing to buy such a modem in Europe and purchase a one-month plan with a European provider. Any suggestions as to brand of modem, service provider, retail outlet, price? Also, a data service purchased, for instance, in the Netherlands, should cover me through Belgium and France, no? Thank you very much.

  19. Thanks for such an informative article. My husband and I both have verizon cell phones, I, the Motorola Droid Pro and, he, the Blackberry Tour 3G Smart phone. We’ve been to France recently and with the Verizon international calling plan we were both able to use our phones at a cost you mentioned .99/minute with $4.99/month calling plan. Here is what we are trying to figure out. We are moving to France for a year and will travel a couple times back to our place here in the US. We need to keep our cell phone numbers for business reasons but a Verizon tech said that our phone usage must be at least 50% in the US or they will have to close our account. Do you have a suggestion so that we can keep our cell phone numbers and have a cell phone that will continue to receive our US calls while during our residency in Europe? Also it’s sounding like my husband will have to have a cell phone for European customers to call him locally, any thoughts on that? Thank you for any insight you can offer.

  20. My daughter will be living in Italy for 1 year. I thought I would just upgrade her Verizon feature phone to an i phone. Verizon salespeople say it will work – but I get conflicting reports at various sites such as yours saying it will not. her idea was to get a cheap global phone from Verizon to stay in contact with us in the U.S. (mostly for emergencies as she will use Skype also) and get a prepaid phone once she gets to Italy to use within that country. I am paying for the phone as well as the calling/data plan and while I don’t want to pay exorbitant prices, I want her to have a useful gadget. Also we are not locked into Verizon at this point so I could switch carriers. Your thoughts……

    1. The iPhone 4S has come out since this article was written, and that changes things. The iPhone 4S will work on both Verizon and GSM networks internationally — it is a true world phone. It’s the first iPhone to have this capability. No other iPhone will work — just the 4S.


      1. Hi Mathew & Kerry
        Buy any old (or new unlocked) GSM phone in the states that works on the needed frequencies (Mathew listed them in a prior message). Once in Italy, buy the sim card (from around 5 euros) from any of the many service providers. The phone will work fine in calling the USA, although it will be expensive (probably 30-60 eurocents/min). I have used TIM, but your daughter should ask around when she knows where she is going to live to ensure reception. If you expect to receive a lot of calls from the States, before leaving create (or forward or port the old number to) a Google Voice or Skype-In number. Google Voice WILL NOT forward to Italy, but it will play a message with your new international number and send an email; Skype WILL forward (at a rate of roughly 2 UScents/min to a land line, more to a mobile because the caller pays for that call), but set the voicemail features very carefully – I had a latency problem where sometimes Skype voicemail would answer before the Italian phone rang. And unfortunately, Skype voicemail cannot be turned off. In Italy the phone can be recharged with prepaid cards – or directly at – most newsagents, tobacco shops, cell phone stores, and even internet cafes. Having a prepaid card is useful if you have to recharge on the fly. The phone will accept incoming calls even with a zero balance for a while (90 days comes to mind) and the number and balance will last for 1 year. If you bring the phone back to the States, it can be recharged using a prepaid card for free (so I carry around a few 5 euro prepaid cards for that purpose. Phones can also be recharged online – but often a US based credit card will not work though some providers accept Paypal. Hope this is helpful.

  21. Hi Matthew,
    After posting on Oct 27, I was bummed I didn’t hear from you. I have 2 days to figure this out and I was hoping you had some insight you could share with me. Did I do something incorrectly that I didn’t get a response maybe? Thanks.

    1. Kerry,

      It’s because I don’t know the answer 🙁

      Fundamentally, you need international call forwarding from your Verizon numbers to France. I do not know if that is possible — most cell services allow call forwarding within the US (you can find out how in the instructions for your service) but I do not know if Verizon allows international forwarding.

      If not, you might want to look at Skype or other Internet phone services. You’d forward your Verizon phone to a US number you obtain from Skype, and then you can receive calls using Skype on your French phone, or your PC.

  22. Thank you for the tips! You are awesome. It was looking like a challenging situation during our research and with your expertise we feel more reassured that we weren’t completely thick : ) So it looks like we are staying with Verizon & drop down our calling plan to the minimum package while using the basic GSM capable Escapades (no data package) in order to keep our numbers active. We’ll place the international package on it $4.99mth/.99min for the time being. But I do get a sick feeling in my stomach should those phones fail like what happened with Ben. Until we get settled with our French phone situation if the Escapades phones and Verizon support let us down it will get crazy. Maybe we’ll do alright. I’m going to check out Google Voice and see if that’s an option as well following through with your suggestion about Skype. Thanks again. Keep up the good work.

    1. If you have no use for the current Verizon numbers (other than to keep them) I suggest a telephone number storage service – just Google storing phone numbers. Some of them will also forward a certain number of calls for you (but check about international calls), and they are much cheaper than the lowest Verizon plan. If the Verizon phones don’t work, try Skype (see previous post (Nov 7). When you return, you port the number back (best to Google Voice, so you don’t have the same problem again).

  23. Thanks for this great information. This is the best thing I have read on the web about international calls. I have a Droid X, bought because of the big screen, but useless in Italy. Verizon will lend/rent a phone that functions on the GSM network, but I didn’t find out about it until just before we went to Florence for a week. Clearly it helps to do your homework with plenty of time for processing of phones. I think Verizon charges at least $15 USD to rent the GSM compatible phone up to 30 days…

    Mathew, this is great info!!

  24. Thanks Mathew. Lots of good stuff. My particular question: with a Verizon iphone 4s (and the mandated 2 year contract) will Verizon unlock the sim, and will it then be usable with an Italian micro-sim card, thereby avoiding the Verizon “tax” on international calls. I have heard (but cannot confirm) that Verizon will unlock the sim after 90 days or so, but I am wondering if this is so, and if someone has subsequently successfully used the phone abroad using a local sim.

  25. One more bit of information possibly of use to the folks in France. In Shanghai, my Sprint phone received calls fine and REPORTED CALLER ID. I did not answer; call went to voicemail. But I now know the calling number, and that a call was received, and can retrieve the voicemail (if any) or return the call using GoogleVoice or Skype over an internet connection, and there are NO CHARGES (except possibly for the transfer to voicemail of the incoming call). Certainly no international calling charges. So, I just left the Sprint phone on, but never used it. This does not work in Rome with a CDMA phone, but I wonder if it would work with a world phone (where the actual connection was GSM)? [In Shanghai, a CDMA provider with a roaming agreement with Sprint exists; in Rome, not.]

  26. Pingback: Going mobile in Europe part 2: data services | La Photo Vita

  27. Pingback: Got hit with a $325 Early term fee from AT&T - Windows Phone Forums at wpcentral.com

  28. My family and I are currently living in Germany. We purchased an iPhone 4S from Verizon when we were living in the USA. We specifically mentioned the fact that we were purchasing the phone so that we could use it in Germany. Currently, we are having difficulties in getting this phone to work correctly, even though our understanding is that the phone is a “global phone.” Right now, there is a “No Service” message in the left-hand corner of the iPhone screen.

    Before leaving the USA, we called Verizon and asked them to turn on international voice and data roaming. The Verizon representatives told us that the phone should “just work” after we started to use it in Germany. However, this does not seem to be the case. After my wife looked through all of the options on the phone, it was not clear to us that there were any that we needed to change in order to ensure that the phone worked correctly.


    — Do we need to purchase a SIM card from a German provider in order to get the phone to work?

    — Are there other software settings that we need to consider?

    — Are there other things that Verizon needs to do in order to configure the phone correctly?

    — Do you have any other suggestions for ways to get the phone to work correctly in Germany?

    Thank you for any assistance that you can provide?

    1.  @gkapfham Really sounds like Verizon did not turn on International Roaming. “No service” usually means that the local network won’t allow you to connect because your home provider couldn’t authenticate your SIM card. That happens when roaming is not turned on.
      Sometimes there are temporary problems with connecting. In that case, you should try to join a different network (In the Settings on the phone, you can select networks to try — e.g. “O2 de”, “vodafone de” etc.

  29. I am trying a concept. I wonder if you would take a look and see if you find any flaw in my logic. I am traveling to London and Paris. I have an Iphone 4S with sprint. Sprint now allows me to use Google Voice to translate my voicemail to text. (yes, andriod let’s you do this anyway, but alas apple is slower to add features) So now using Sprint international I can recieve the voicemails as a text for $.05 each. Sprint promises me that I will not be charged for calls that are not answered, but go to voice-mail.
    I am traveling with my family, and two of them will also have their international phones. We are planning on using text exclusively to contact each other if necessary. This runs $.50 to send and again $.05 to receive.
    For email retrieval, I was just planning on using wifi only when I find it available.
    For calls home to check up on one sad three year old who did not meet my age cut-off for Europe… I was thinking of just using skype.
    So, do you see any issues?
    BTW, your articles are the first that are techinical enough, but still speak my non-techy language. 

    1.  @allysonven Sounds like a good strategy. Skype over WiFi, right? That way you’ll avoid high data charges. And thanks for the compliment 🙂

  30. I am going to Poland,Germany,Czech Republic, Italy, France and Spain this summer for a 3 week tour. I plan on leaving my phone on airplane mode the whole time and using skype and Tango wifi calling via wifi. I have a iPhone 4. 

  31. I am going to Poland,Germany,Czech Republic, Italy, France and Spain this summer for a 3 week tour. I plan on leaving my phone on airplane mode the whole time and using skype and Tango wifi calling via wifi. I have a iPhone 4. 

  32. I think I’ve read 40 articles on this subject. This article is only 3 or 4 times clearer and more informative than the next best one. Hats off to Mr. Lodge.

  33. Great article. I read it just in time to order a GSM phone from Verizon. At just 20 bucks for two way shipping, it’s a bargain when combined with the prorated 5 dollar monthly charge and .99/ min. Thanks.

  34. Pingback: You mean I can use my Verizon iPhone 5 in Italy?! | findingmyitalian

  35. This article has to be considered as rare!! I am from Greece, is it worth it to buy let’s say iphone 4s from apples site that costs 99euro, hold it 2 years to get the contract over, (sprint,verizon If I read right works to Europe but I will not use it normally) and then the network company unlock it to me??

    1. If you buy an iPhone 4S from Sprint it comes with no GSM SIM card and is completely unlocked. However, you will need to enter a 2-year contract to get the discounted price — and to do that, you will need to have a US credit history. So if you have that, then yes, you can get a fully-functional iPhone 4S for Europe for $99 or whatever the price is with contract. However, you will need to keep paying Sprint for the duration of the contract (2 years) or pay the early termination fee.
      If you have no US credit history, you will fail the credit check and not be able to buy the phone.

  36. I like the helpful information you provide in your blog articles.I will bookmark your weblog and check again here frequently.I wish that you’ll carry on posting and thanks for allowing me to comment!

  37. just to chime in: i’m on a 2yr contract with att for my i5. i called att the day i left for a 2 week european vacation (this past friday) asking them to unlock my phone for me, and they did without any trouble in under 10 minutes. it was super easy – the hardest part was having to reset the phone from factory standard, which took about an hour to reload all my content to my phone after syncing it pre-wipe.
    once upon a time they were really hard line about it, but now they’re like “have fun! see you when you get back!”

  38. Thanks for this — I found this post in a search on how to use my i5 in the Middle East with Verizon. I figured that much of what you mentioned would be pretty similar in Arab countries closer to the Mediterranean (e.g. Israel, Jordan, Lebanon). But now you have me a little worried that I bought a global phone that still may be tough to use because of the point about the i5’s nano SIM–that it may be tougher to find a prepaid nano SIM abroad at this point. However, I am really grateful for this post; I love being able to get a good understanding of how it all works and what options are out there and this definitely provided that level of detail. God bless you and thanks a lot for the post. Please let me know if you have any further information about global phone use in the Middle East as well.

  39. I used CelloMobile.com and was very happy with the service and excellent rates I received. Thanks for the great article.

  40. Great article. Very clear.
    Does this sound like a plan:
    While in Europe, I plan on using my (USA) Verizon iPhone 4 to make and receive Skype calls, and for wi-fi enabled email and web surfing.
    I will also use Skype for calls and for wi-fi email and web surfing on my AT&T iPad 2. [No sim cards for data as I will be in five countries]
    Additionally, I will get a Skype USA local phone number, and sign up for Skype call forwarding. When someone rings me up on my landline in the US, the call forwarding feature that I have presently with BellSouth/AT&T will forward that call to my Skype number (I hope!), which I will pick up on my Verizon iPhone 4 wherever I may be located.
    Thanks for your comments and response.

    1. Hi Ken. I have the 4s with Verizon. Will you just be able to hook up to any WIFI to do your email and web surfing in Europe? No extra charges from Verizon? For your Skype calls do you need to do anything special. I have Skype for my computer but never used in on my cell phone. I’ll be in Austria and Italy. I’m interested to see what Matthew says re: the rest of your plan. Good luck!

      1. Hi Lily,
        Download the free Skype app from and onto your iPhone. You may want to also download the free Skype WiFi app from and onto your phone, so that you can more easily and cheaply pay for wi-fi spots where there is a charge.
        I used my iPad2 in Europe to make cheap Skype wi-fi calls to the USA, but I had left home my iPhone 4 (not 4s) as it would have been redundant with my iPad2 for Skype calls.

      2. Thanks much Ken. I’ll give it a try. I’ll just be using my 4S. I called Verizon this morning and they have a Global Data plan that’s $25 for 100 mb. I’m assuming you use data when you’re on Skype. Is that correct? Do you have any idea how much data a call takes (by the minute for example). The agent said if I’m on wifi other than Verizon (e.g. the hotel Wifi), there’s no data charge, but I’m not confident that’s true so appreciate any confirmation. Thanks again.

        BTW, for others who are looking to unlock their phone and find a SIM card in another country, one thing the Verizon agent said that I didn’t see written anywhere is that once unlocked the phone won’t be usable with Verizon, i.e. in the US or with any Verizon plan internationally. So it needs to be locked just as one is stepping on the flight international and you have to be pretty sure you can get a satisfactory out-of-country plan.

      3. Hi Lily,
        If you have a wi-fi connection, you can surf the web, get and send emails, etc.using any smart phone or tablet. Wi-fi is agnostic; does’t matter what brand or model smartphone or tablet you have or where in the world you may be.
        Some wi-fi spots charge you to use them. Charges can vary widely and it can be a pain to arrange payment when you simply want to search the web to look up an address, e.g, and be done with it.
        For me, Skype is the service that allows me to make cheap phone calls over wi-fi. As I have the iPhone 4 from Verizon, it is locked and not useable as a Verizon phone in Europe for calls or data. But it is useable for wi-fi.
        I am otherwise out of my league!

  41. Id go with PicCell Wireless. They’ve got competitive rates and the most convenient service. Make sure you order the student rates for study abroad students. I order the SIM/Phone before I leave and it arrives in plenty of time. They also give me a US number so family and friends can reach me without calling internationally. Customer care is always lightning fast and helpful when needed. Last time I had a question about the data apn and they responded to my question on twitter in like 2 minutes. Probably would have been the same on facebook if I didnt have a twitter account. Anyway, Ive used them in Italy, UK, France, and Spain, EuroSIM. Skype is good too when you have your laptop on wifi. Ciao

  42. I leaving for Europe next week. In US I used to have Travelsim, I tried several, but stopped on this one. Prices are ridiculously cheap

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  46. Will this plan work? I will be going to Europe for 2 weeks this summer. I have a Verizon Iphone5. It is standardly unlocked, I believe. I buy a T-Mobile nano SIM and T-Mobile Simple Choice plan in the US before the trip. I put the T-Mobile SIM in and make sure the US number and data (3G only, the LTE T-Mobile frequencies are not on the phone) are operable. Put my Verizon SIM back in until the trip, then put the T-Mobile SIM back in. Upon arrival in Europe it should just work, with free unlimited, but slow 128kbaud data and phone with US number. Get back home put the Verizon SIM back in and cancel the T-Mobile service. So I’m out only the SIM charge and one month service and I don’t have to go through the hassle of getting a SIM in each of the countries I will visit. Any advice?

  47. Hello,
    I have read all of your pages and I still have a few questions. I have an iphone 5 with Sprint and I called them to set up their $4 a month international calling and texting feature. However, at the end of the call I asked and Sprint said the phone can be unlocked for free. My question is if I have the iphone unlocked and buy a SIM card in France, can I use it for phone, texting and data from the French SIM? and can I eject it during my trip and use the one from the USA (Sprint) when I want to call back to the US? I will be using wifi and Skype most of the time, but I want the ability to use apps and maps when I’m in France and Spain.
    Thank you in advance for your help,

    1. Sprint’s $4/month “Sprint International long distance” plan gives you discounted calling *from* the US to other countries, AFAIK (I don’t have Sprint, but what you say matches the description and price of that plan on their website). So that won’t help you when you’re outside the US.

      With an unlocked Sprint iPhone 5 and a French SIM card, you will be able to phone, text and use data in France. The amount of minutes, texts and data is determined by the kind of plan you buy when you get the French SIM card. This will be much cheaper than using a Sprint SIM card (if indeed there even is one in your iPhone 5 — I have read that it may not come with one at all).



  48. Maria Carcaba

    Hello, I have a few questions for you, your blog is really good and clear, but my problem is that I’m going to be living in Spain next year, and i bought and iPhone 5 A1429 and it works with CDMA.
    If the phone is unlocked (no carrier on it) would it work in Europe with GSM ?
    Is it possible that calling the sprint network when the two year contract is over they would activate the gsm for me?
    Any suggestions of how can i get the phone to work in Spain using a Spanish (Vodafone) carrier?


    1. Most likely, yes, it will work with a Vodafone nano-SIM. Go to the Vodafone.es shop, tell them you want to get a nano SIM for your iPhone 5, and they will walk you through it.

  49. Pingback: Going wireless in Europe: what you need to know about cell phones ... | Technical innovationsTechnical innovations

  50. Hi, fantastic article, thanks so much! I just called Verizon and asked them to international unlock my iPhone 5S. They told me these phones are now unlocked by default, and that I will be able to swap the SIM card for a local SIM card in Spain without a problem. Does this sound right?


  51. You said: “When buying a “world phone” make sure that it operates on 1800MHz frequency, and ideally on both 900 & 1800MHz at a minimum. If it does not, it won’t work outside the U.S.”

    But GSM World Coverage map says: “GSM 850 / GSM 1900 MHz are used in the United States, Canada, Mexico and most countries of South America.” Source: http://www.worldtimezone.com/gsm.html

    Who is correct?

    1. Both are correct — they’re not contradictory. US uses GSM 850 and 1900 MHz GSM. Europe uses 1800 and 900. Therefore, when buying a GSM phone in the US (which will use 850 and 1900 MHz), it will need to also support 1800 and 900 to cover Europe.

      Note that 3G and 4GLTE are on different frequencies.

  52. Just back in USA from a couple weeks in Italy. Used my T-Mobile iPhone 5c which worked for voice, email, ams and data like a charm. Seamless.
    However, I did have to power down and up my phone almost each time I used google maps for directions. Anybody weigh-in on that? Thanks.

  53. Pingback: Cell Phone Carriers In Europe | mbwmobile

  54. OMG, thank you. This is the first explanation of the difference between Europe and here I’ve actually understood.

  55. Thank you so much for a very clear explanation! I’ve been researching this and until your article, I could not get a clear answer. I’m an expat living in Amsterdam and if I understand your info correctly, I can take my Verizon iPhone 5S there and place a Dutch SIM card in to use daily with no problem. And when I’m visitng back in the US, I put the Verizon SIM back in so I’m on a local network stateside. Did I understand your information correctly?

    1. Yes, you should be good with the Dutch SIM. No SIM required for Verizon — CDMA, the technology used by Verizon in the US, doesn’t use SIM cards. As long as you keep your Verizon service active, your iPhone 5S will just work on CDMA when it’s in the US and not use GSM.

  56. I have a quandary. I own an iPhone 6 (GSM with AT&T). The phone is unlocked. In May of 2017 we traveled to the Canary Islands, Spain and purchased the AT&T foreign calling plan for $40. I could not make any voice calls, they all resulted in a “call failed” message but data worked OK. In September of 2017 we traveled to Spain and Portugal. This time I decided to purchase a Vodafone sim card for 20 Euros with 60 voice calls and 10 gigs of data. I could not make any voice calls and had the same message: “call failed”. Data was fine. The agent at the Vodafone store said it was an Apple iPhone issue so I walked across the street to the Apple store where they promptly told me it was an AT&T issue and the phone was not unlocked and summarily dismissed from Apple. Needless to say I was not happy with this result. Oddly enough, when we crossed the border into Portugal the voice calls worked fine. As soon as we crossed back into Spain the voice calls again did not work. We returned to Portugal a second time and the voice calls worked. Data worked well in both Spain and Portugal. I expect that I will get the runaround again when I take the phone to AT&T and to Apple with each blaming the other for the problem. Any ideas why this happens? Is it a settings issue? an incomplete unlock? a phone issue? I would appreciate any help or ideas on how to correct. The phone works well in the US and I do not want to buy a new phone while this one still works. By the way, it also worked for both voice and data with the AT&T international plan while I was in Greece.

  57. I know that Straight Talk is using Verizon wireless. So is that means that if I have an iPhone 6 on Straight Talk from USA and go to Europe I can use the gsm mode on a carrier from an European country even if it’s still locked to Straight Talk?

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