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

Advanced mobile phone usage in Lucca, Italy
Advanced mobile phone usage in Lucca, Italy
Part 1 of 2 articles: the second covers cellular data in Europe Last updated: October 2017 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. Why don't US cell phones "just work" in Europe? 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"). This meant that for many years, the only option for US travelers to Europe was to rent a GSM phone, which was expensive and inconvenient. But all that has changed in the past few years.

GSM comes to America (AT&T and T-Mobile)

Today, you can buy US mobile phones that use the GSM system from AT&T Wireless, Verizon and T-Mobile. Many (but not all) of these phones will not "just work" in Europe. The US uses different radio frequencies to the rest of the world, so you need a "World Phone" that is designed to work in the US and outside the US. The most popular smartphones all work internationally: the Apple iPhone series, the Samsung Galaxy series and the Google Nexus phones. As a rule of thumb, the cheapest phones are generally those that do not support international roaming. The net? Make sure you buy a phone that clearly states is can be used internationally or is called a "World Phone"