AMEX has a program to send you a phone and only pay for actual "Phone time"! At least they did have a program like this. Maybe you could check with your cc provider.
Secondly, go to your cell phone provider. They may be able to sell you a "Chip" that will work in Europe.
Good luck! Let us know how it turns out.
I have been considering this same issue myself, as we will be spending a total of three weeks in Portugal and Spain. The Portugal part of the trip was arranged through Marriott Vacation Club, and their tour operator Collette Vacations. On the Collette Vacations website that they have set up for the trip, they have a link to another company, Wireless Traveler, that can provide European cell phones to either purchase or rent (they argue that if you travel a lot, you are better off buying the phone and keeping it for future use). From browsing on their web site ( International Cell Phones and Global SIM Cards Products), I gather that they ship the phone to you before your trip, as opposed to picking it up in Europe. I am not vouching for the company, as I have never used them, but am considering doing so.
I lived in Europe (Spain) for 6 months and I bought a decently cheap phone from one of the local carriers when I got to the city. Once I was there, they had kiosks spread out all over the country where I could just pay as I went for the minutes. It was very simple and allowed me to not spend more money than I needed to. I would recommend going to the local carrier service as soon as you get to Paris. They are used to setting this type of stuff up for us!
I would take the suggestion from jerrycoin and see if your cellphone provider has a way to make your cellphone work in Europe. It might be easier since you are already familiar with how it operates and if you have a smart phone the GPS will help with driving or walking direction.
I've taken my cellphone to Europe, South America and BVI numerous times without any problem at all.
I have used products from CellularAbroad several times - once getting a phone for Italy and a SIM for my global Verizon phone for Paris. For Belgium, I just got a global plan from Verizon on my current phone. Heading to Rome, will probably get a SIM from CellularAbroad, because it will be cheaper than the Verizon data/voice global plan. National Geographic - International cell phone rentals, SIMcards and data for travelers
I found the app Viber to be very useful when overseas. I would assume it would work in Europe as well as the Asian areas I frequent as well as Carribbean. The only drawback is that everyone you want to talk to also has to have the app installed but other than that it is free, yes I said free as in only paying for your phone service, not paying for roaming fees. There is also face time and skype if you want to actually see who you are conversing with. Just my two cents...
Could you elaborate what you mean by "regular phone charges?" I am about to take my first trip abroad since I have owned a smart phone (not counting a few hour stop in Victoria while on an Alaska cruise). So this topic is of intense interest to me. I might be the only one who needs this primer as to how these things work, but if you don't mind walking through it, I would appreciate it.
I always turn off my data when I am out of the country because it costs too much. I only use wifi in the room for emails and such. As far as phone, when I have used viber, the app loads a purple phone so I know how to call. In my contacts, all users with viber app will also have a purple phone next to them. I will say one thing that I am not sure of how workable this is but all of my contacts I usually call when overseas have the same area code as me. That means when I place a viber call, my phone service recognizes it as a regular call ( I do have nationwide phone plan though), and when my bill comes, it shows as minutes just like all other minutes I use. There is no roaming fees or data usage connected with it. I actually found out about it through my cell service believe it or not. I wanted to see about getting some type of monthly plan where I could bypass roaming charges. The agent told me there is no such thing on cellular service because you have to pay for the towers you use. Personally I think that is a bunch of bull but that is what he said. Then he said "I probably shouldn't be telling you this working for a cell service and all but why don't you install the free viber app and all your calls will be no roaming charges wherever you are". I jumped on it and tried it. Perfect! Now I can call my husband or kids anytime I'm gone. That's all I know. How it works? don't know...who viber is sponsored through? don't know, just know it worked for me when we traveled to the Caribbean, Hong Kong, Japan and China. I can't imagine why it would not work in Europe as well. Pull up viber.com and see if it tells more. It has been a while since I installed it and I can't remember what all it said on the website.
hope this is useful information to you guys.
This is really helpful information, and I will look into it, but I just don't get how it works. If I am using WiFi (say in a hotel room or at a Starbucks), then I get it - it is just like using Skype to make a call. But let's say I am not - I am in downtown Madrid or wherever. If I have Viber on my phone, and I get my kids to put Viber on their phones, theoretically I can call them, but how? I am not using ATT, obviously. Am I using the local Spanish cell network? How can that be "free?" If I switch on data when out in the city so that it operates like a Skype call, I assume that will have high costs associated with it.
If anyone can shed additional light on this, it will be appreciated. In the meantime, thanks for the suggestion.
I understand totally where you are coming from tfreeman because I thought the same exact thing. I was very leary so I tried it once while at a trade show (no wifi so know it didn't work on that) and then didn't use it again till I could pull up my bill back in my room and make sure there was no roaming involved. Sure enough all was good so I kept on using it the entire time I was gone and it really was free. I don't know how they get around it, who it is and how they can do it without generating some kind of revenue. Perplexing. Anyone else on viber and can shed some more light on the subject?
ok psudad thanks for keeping me honest... It was not at the trade show I texted thru viber...it was while in the vehicle in Japan going to the mission areas and the van we were in was equipped with wifi. SOOOOOOO...to back up and start again, maybe it is free using wifi because I know I didn't have data plan service activated at any time while I was gone. All the other times were probably while I was in my room where wifi was accessible. Even that, it was an outstanding deal for me so if you will have that type of access and only want to use your phone for those types of things as calling relatives, friends, etc... then it is still a good deal imo. So back to your original post kathylu. What are you wanting to use your phone for? would you have access to wifi in most cases where you would want to call or text?
If data isn't a need but you would like a phone while 'in country' for calling restaurants, etc. Cellular Abroad (provided a link above) provides flip phone rental. As example, if you are going to Italy, they will provide you with a phone on an Italian network, with an Italian number. So, in country calls are very cheap. Also, with a European number, all incoming calls are FREE, as are incoming texts - that includes from the US. Granted, whoever is calling from the US would pay whatever they would normally pay to make an international call, but it is free to you. Calling or texting back to the US is also very reasonable. The phone arrives a few days before your departure (with charger, plug adaptor - even came with a car charger, belt case/clip) and with a box and a return label for when you get back home. That is what I got for a trip to Italy and just used a netbook at public wifi hotspots or in my hotels for email and internet needs. For Paris, I just bought a SIM card for both phone and data from them. When I went to Belgium, I used a global data plan from Verizon. In each case, my decision was based on what was more cost effective based on my needs. Every country is different. Certainly Viber or Skype are great alternatives when you have a base or wifi hotspot you can count on to make free calls to other Viber or Skype members. I work with folks in Bermuda and Europe who use Skype regularly and its great, even on a SmartPhone. After 38 years in technology, I am still amazed at our capabilities. I was sitting outside a train station in Philadelphia waiting for a co-worker, while having a video discussion on my smart phone with a partner, in his home office in London, on Skype. Just like something out of Dick Tracy.
I travel abroad a lot for work and here's what I did, maybe it will help.
I bought a decent quality unlocked GSM (quad band) phone here in the US. My first one was an older Motorola flip phone. It was just a phone but you could text from it, awkward as it was it was functional. Cost me around $40 and used a very standard Motorola plug so it was easy to find when I would forget them places. You can find a ton of them on ebay if you search "unlocked quad band gsm phone". As my trips increased in frequency and my dependence on my smart phones increased at home, I purchased an unlocked Samsung smart phone from Amazon. I actually got one of their "duos" models. This allows me to purchase a "local" SIM that allows me to use data, txt and local calls at very decent rates as well as having a SIM that is geared for international calls back to the US at pennies a minute. The phone cost me around $175-200 but has allowed me to be fully functional with GPS, apps, etc including translation apps while wondering around places. I can use both SIMs in the same phone and easily pick which one I'm calling from, though only one is used for data access.
With regard to carriers, you can find many different ones but T-Mobile, Orange and Vodafone are the big ones. I found that they all have similar setups with prepaid SIM cards and I was able to for 10-20 Euro I could get by for a week or two using the cellular function when wifi wasn't available. Make sure you buy the SIM card for the type of calling you plan on doing. Also keep to the main carriers as "topping up" with the smaller ones can be a real pain. With the main brands you can top up at a lot of places or they have stores in most towns.
Alternatively you can buy a prepaid phone from the carriers there, much like the stuff they sell here in the US. Costs vary as do the plans they come with. They are generally locked to that carrier, so if you are planning to hop around places it might be less flexible so make sure you ask about roaming use before you buy one of those if you go that route.
I carry my Smartphone with me, which is a tri-band unit, but I contact my carrier (ATT) ahead of time and enroll in a 30--day international and data plan ($30), and I turn off my "Data Roaming" (under Settings) when not in use. This helps minimize cost/minute for data (texting and internet usage) when not in use. I also minimize the number of photos I send via texts while in another country.
Assuming you're going to rent an automobile, the rental agency (Hertz, for example) can provide a cellular phone for period of time you'll be in other country and will arrange to send it to you ahead of time with return instructions after you get back from your trip.