A family vacation is always a wonderful experience, but the thought of not having cell phone data for Internet access is scary. At home, we use our mobile Internet without realizing it. With a bit of planning, you can keep your mobile Internet access without paying expensive roaming rates.
1. Unlock your Mobile Phone
The key to having a functional mobile phone in Europe is to have an ‘unlocked’ mobile phone device. An unlocked phone allows you to use the SIM card of another phone service.
In Canada, if you buy a phone that is subsidized by your mobile provider, they will lock your phone to their network, so you have to use their service (and so they can get their money back from selling you below retail value phone!)
Quite often, service providers will unlock your phone for a fee if you have completed the term of your contract. You may have an old phone that could be unlocked. There are also many retails shops that can unlock your phone.
If you plan to stay in Europe for a fair amount of time, it will likely be worth paying a fee to unlock your phone to avoid costly roaming fees.
2. Shop Around
In Europe, plenty of cell phone service providers offer much cheaper services than in North America. While you can buy local SIM cards at the airport, it may be more worth waiting until you can find a mobile phone shop.
For our trip to London and France, we waited to buy a local SIM card at the mobile shop within a Tesco supermarket. This shop had a variety of phone services to choose from and two knowledgeable salespeople available to help us. A mobile shop that offers a variety of phone services will help you find the best phone service for your needs.
3. Seek Advice
By waiting to buy your SIM card at a dedicated mobile phone store, you will have access to expert sales staff who can help you find the product you need. If you plan to travel in more than one country in Europe during your vacation, the salespeople can guide you toward a cell service that offers mobile data across Europe without having to pay roaming fees.
4. Buy the Correct SIM Card for your Phone
This largely goes without saying, but it is worth noting. Take advantage of the sales staff at the mobile shop and ask them if you are buying the correct size SIM card for your phone. While you are at it, you may want to ask them to install your new SIM card into your phone. Make sure you put your old SIM card in a safe place so you can swap it back into your phone once you’re back home.
5. Verify the payment options
Unfortunately, many mobile service providers in Europe do not accept North American credit cards. Without a credit card with a local billing address, it may be difficult to purchase a mobile plan online for your new SIM card. Be sure to ask the salesperson if there are any restrictions on the forms of payment that can be used to buy your mobile plan.
If the mobile provider doesn’t take your credit card, there are several ways to work around this problem. You may be able to buy a pre-paid card that can be used to purchase your mobile plan. Many service provider offer pre-paid card, especially for people who do not have a credit card.
Another option may be visiting a storefront location of the mobile provide to purchase a mobile plan. While we were in Portugal, we would visit the Vodafone store to top up our mobile data plan.
If you are like us, the prospect of being without my mobile phone is frightening. With a little planning, you can surf the web like a local by purchasing a local SIM card at much cheaper rates than the roaming charges of your local provider.