Cell service abroad, what did I do wrong

Questions on how we spend our money and our time - consumer goods and services, home and vehicle, leisure and recreational activities
Post Reply
heerekj1
Posts: 91
Joined: Sat Jun 28, 2014 8:42 am

Cell service abroad, what did I do wrong

Post by heerekj1 » Tue Jan 24, 2017 2:38 pm

This is not so much a complaint but an observation that it was much more difficult to do than I expected and I wonder what I did wrong. In the end I got cellular data service and it was quite useful and I am glad I did.

Phone: iPhone 6s, provider: Consumer Cellular, phone is unlocked when used outside the US
Service: picked up a Amasin sim at the airport in Sydney, Australia

I bought(~ $2) the sim from an news stand in the airport and installed it in the phone. The first thing I found out was that I needed to contact their web site to select the service and pay. Of course I was buying the cell service to get access to the Internet. I went back to the stand and they told me the airport had free wi-fi.

I went to the site and bought a prepaid service and they were immediately able to take my money. However a clich in the web site on my iPhone would not allow me to properly register. I decide to download the providers app on my phone to see if that would work. I just got it downloaded before the plane loaded for the next leg of my flight.

I landed in Brisbane and went to the car rental place and they gave us a GPS, otherwise we would never have found the hotel (on the Sunshine Coast). This is what I wanted the phone for.

The hotel did not have free wifi so I purchased it but it took a day to get working. When I tried the app, it would not allow me to activate.

I tried my iPad to the web site and I was able to enter my passport # but it would still not activate.

I waited for their helpdesk to become available but they never did so I emailed them. They wanted my cell phone # which I of course, did not know. They finally got my registration information and said they needed to call me on a local # to verify. The hotel incorrectly told me that my room could not receive incoming calls. After a day or so they got that straightened out, they were able to call me, and the phone was activated.

The good thing was the service allowed tethering so when my wifi plan ran out I was able to use the iPhone as a hotspot.

It appeared to me that in order to get a local phone and data cell service a prerequisite was to have a local phone and data cell service which would be kind of hard to do, flying into an airport.

Suman
Posts: 89
Joined: Sun Jan 01, 2017 1:59 pm

Re: Cell service abroad, what did I do wrong

Post by Suman » Tue Jan 24, 2017 3:02 pm

Welcome to the world outside USA! Being an immigrant myself, I know how bad system is everywhere outside US. I hope you did not have to pay a fortune for this.

oxothuk
Posts: 348
Joined: Thu Nov 10, 2011 8:35 pm

Re: Cell service abroad, what did I do wrong

Post by oxothuk » Tue Jan 24, 2017 3:13 pm

My wife got a local SIM card from a newsstand when we went to France last fall. Voice service worked right away, but getting the data portion set up required calling another number; this was an automated system with prompts only in rapid-fire French, too fast for my wife to follow. Consider it a lesson learned for 10 euros.

On other trips we've obtained SIMs from a local phone provider who set everything up for us.

SRenaeP
Posts: 752
Joined: Tue Jan 19, 2010 9:05 pm

Re: Cell service abroad, what did I do wrong

Post by SRenaeP » Tue Jan 24, 2017 3:18 pm

I haven't been to Australia but local SIMs work differently in different places.

In Thailand and UAE, I was able to purchase a SIM card for $10-20 at a kiosk run by one of the local service providers. This included a set amount of minutes, text and data. I handed the employee my phone and they installed the SIM card and verified that it worked. They gave me the credit card-sized card that the SIM came out of, with my US SIM safely stored in it. That was printed with the local phone number, which they pointed out to me.

In Panama and Colombia, I purchased a SIM card for cheap (~$2). These also came printed with the local phone number, which they pointed out to me. I then had to purchase the 'time' separately from another store for $5-10 (in Panama, the grocery store and in Colombia, next door to the cell store). This sounds like what you experienced where the SIM card only 'activates' your phone/service but you have to top up/refill your time separately.

I've found that if you search online in advance, cell providers typically will have a website dedicated to 'tourist SIMs' explaining the protocol. The Thai provider actually allowed you to purchase online in advance for pickup at the airport. For some reason, I couldn't get it to accept my Visa though so I just purchased on arrival.

-Steph

bluebolt
Posts: 559
Joined: Sat Jan 14, 2017 9:01 am

Re: Cell service abroad, what did I do wrong

Post by bluebolt » Tue Jan 24, 2017 3:18 pm

oxothuk wrote: On other trips we've obtained SIMs from a local phone provider who set everything up for us.
This. Get your SIM/recharges/data from a mobile phone shop (preferably the mobile carrier) and have them set it up for you. Sometimes the airport kiosks will set it up for you also (country/kiosk dependent). If you get your SIM/reloads from a newstand/tobacco shop/convenience store, they are less likely to help you.

Look to TripAdvisor and other travel sites for country- and airport-specific info.

jbran99
Posts: 65
Joined: Thu May 24, 2012 7:15 pm

Re: Cell service abroad, what did I do wrong

Post by jbran99 » Tue Jan 24, 2017 3:26 pm

If you travel much internationally, consider a switch to Google's Project FI: https://fi.google.com/about/plan/#works-internationally

On a trip to Norway this past summer, Google Fi worked flawlessly for Voice, SMS/MMS, and Data (including GPS).

The pricing transparency/simplicity (including credit for unused data) is another huge plus, IMO.

SRenaeP
Posts: 752
Joined: Tue Jan 19, 2010 9:05 pm

Re: Cell service abroad, what did I do wrong

Post by SRenaeP » Tue Jan 24, 2017 3:29 pm

jbran99 wrote:If you travel much internationally, consider a switch to Google's Project FI: https://fi.google.com/about/plan/#works-internationally

On a trip to Norway this past summer, Google Fi worked flawlessly for Voice, SMS/MMS, and Data (including GPS).

The pricing transparency/simplicity (including credit for unused data) is another huge plus, IMO.
+1 for Google Fi *if* they offer good network coverage for you at home. I tried them last year and the international coverage was seamless and easy. However, I get *no* reception at work and it wasn't as good as AT&T locally.

-Steph

obgraham
Posts: 1132
Joined: Mon Jan 28, 2013 7:30 pm

Re: Cell service abroad, what did I do wrong

Post by obgraham » Tue Jan 24, 2017 5:08 pm

Though never a big fan of it, I'm a Verizon customer.

I like their plans for outside the USA. $2 a day in Canada/Mexico, and $10 a day in most of Europe, etc. You use the same minutes/texts/data that you bought here in the USA. You only get charged the fee for the day you use it. So we save stuff up, go online or phone about every 3rd day while traveling, though we don't consider it a big deal if we need to use it any day.

blueman457
Posts: 399
Joined: Sun Jul 26, 2015 12:19 pm

Re: Cell service abroad, what did I do wrong

Post by blueman457 » Tue Jan 24, 2017 6:02 pm

bluebolt wrote:
oxothuk wrote: On other trips we've obtained SIMs from a local phone provider who set everything up for us.
This. Get your SIM/recharges/data from a mobile phone shop (preferably the mobile carrier) and have them set it up for you. Sometimes the airport kiosks will set it up for you also (country/kiosk dependent). If you get your SIM/reloads from a newstand/tobacco shop/convenience store, they are less likely to help you.

Look to TripAdvisor and other travel sites for country- and airport-specific info.
Agree with the above. Even in countries where I don't know the local language, a local mobile phone shop will add the minutes/data to my phone and make sure it works.

I have purchased sims at an airport, but again it was with a local seller who set everything up.

douginct
Posts: 35
Joined: Wed Jun 18, 2014 2:15 pm
Location: CT

Re: Cell service abroad, what did I do wrong

Post by douginct » Tue Jan 24, 2017 6:12 pm

obgraham wrote:Though never a big fan of it, I'm a Verizon customer.

I like their plans for outside the USA. $2 a day in Canada/Mexico, and $10 a day in most of Europe, etc. You use the same minutes/texts/data that you bought here in the USA. You only get charged the fee for the day you use it. So we save stuff up, go online or phone about every 3rd day while traveling, though we don't consider it a big deal if we need to use it any day.
ATT just announce a similar $10 per day plan for travel outside the US.

AlohaJoe
Posts: 3758
Joined: Mon Nov 26, 2007 2:00 pm
Location: Saigon, Vietnam

Re: Cell service abroad, what did I do wrong

Post by AlohaJoe » Tue Jan 24, 2017 6:13 pm

heerekj1 wrote:I bought(~ $2) the sim from an news stand in the airport and installed it in the phone. The first thing I found out was that I needed to contact their web site to select the service and pay. Of course I was buying the cell service to get access to the Internet. I went back to the stand and they told me the airport had free wi-fi.
Why didn't you get a SIM from the Telstra or Vodafone booths which are right outside of customs in the International Arrivals terminal? That's where everyone else gets them.
It appeared to me that in order to get a local phone and data cell service a prerequisite was to have a local phone and data cell service which would be kind of hard to do, flying into an airport.
This is not true.

Your problem was that you bought an Amaysim SIM. They are a low cost provider with no offices. I used them happily for several years. But I would never recommend them to an international traveller. I'm surprised that you bought a SIM from them.

If you had gone with any of the major cell phone companies you would have had no problems. The last time I was in Sydney, I walked into a Vodafone store on George Street and had a 2 SIMs with 30 days of data and a local phone number in under 10 minutes.
obgraham wrote:Though never a big fan of it, I'm a Verizon customer.

I like their plans for outside the USA. $2 a day in Canada/Mexico, and $10 a day in most of Europe, etc.
This is pretty expensive! You can get an entire month of service for $5 in most of Europe.

Quark
Posts: 1045
Joined: Sun Nov 01, 2015 5:32 pm

Re: Cell service abroad, what did I do wrong

Post by Quark » Tue Jan 24, 2017 6:21 pm

Doing advance research helps. A google search for prepaid sim and the name of the country you're visiting usually results in lots of useful information. Searching or posting in the tripadvisor.com forum for your country is also very helpful. I've always been able to find information about activation issues, costs and any compatibility issues with my phone.

I often buy from one of the carrier's stores and activate in the store, just in case there's an issue.

If memory serves, we got a Vodafone pay-as-you-go SIM for Australia and had no problems.

User avatar
oldcomputerguy
Posts: 3334
Joined: Sun Nov 22, 2015 6:50 am
Location: In the middle of five acres of woods

Re: Cell service abroad, what did I do wrong

Post by oldcomputerguy » Tue Jan 24, 2017 6:25 pm

Not to hijack this thread, but it seems that there are some folks here knowledgeable about such things, so please humor me. DW and I have a trip upcoming that goes first into Zurich, then to Basel, up the river to Trier, Germany, then overland for a couple of days in Paris. Any thoughts on who the preferred provider would be? Since we're going to be hitting Switzerland, Germany and France on this trip, is there even a carrier who services all three?

For the record, I'm also a Consumer Cellular customer, and so would like to benefit from the accumulated wisdom and experience here.
It’s taken me a lot of years, but I’ve come around to this: If you’re dumb, surround yourself with smart people. And if you’re smart, surround yourself with smart people who disagree with you.

curmudgeon
Posts: 1586
Joined: Thu Jun 20, 2013 11:00 pm

Re: Cell service abroad, what did I do wrong

Post by curmudgeon » Tue Jan 24, 2017 6:27 pm

I preloaded my maps so GPS didn't depend on data access (in my case it was HERE maps, but there are other options as well). I also set up skype so I had phone calling anytime I had wifi.

After that, things could be a bit messy. In my case, I wanted coverage for five scattered European countries. Voice wouldn't have been a problem, but data was. It took trying several mobile provider shops (this was in Spain) before I found one with a plan that would work for what I wanted (from Orange), and then almost an hour for the (competent) clerk to get it all set up and working for our two unlocked phones. I think it only cost about $50 total for a month of usage on our two phones (light data usage), but the time and hassle was annoying.

T-mobile or project Fi seem to be possible alternatives, but their US coverage limitations have kept me from wanting to use them as my default provider here.

Quark
Posts: 1045
Joined: Sun Nov 01, 2015 5:32 pm

Re: Cell service abroad, what did I do wrong

Post by Quark » Tue Jan 24, 2017 6:53 pm

smartinwate wrote:Not to hijack this thread, but it seems that there are some folks here knowledgeable about such things, so please humor me. DW and I have a trip upcoming that goes first into Zurich, then to Basel, up the river to Trier, Germany, then overland for a couple of days in Paris. Any thoughts on who the preferred provider would be? Since we're going to be hitting Switzerland, Germany and France on this trip, is there even a carrier who services all three?

For the record, I'm also a Consumer Cellular customer, and so would like to benefit from the accumulated wisdom and experience here.
It depends on how much time you're going to spend in each country, how much voice and data you expect to use and when you're going. You could buy a SIM in Zurich and then another in Germany. You could use the German SIM in France. Roaming charges within the EU will be abolished June 15. If you're traveling before then, see the roaming section of http://prepaid-data-sim-card.wikia.com/wiki/Germany

See http://prepaid-data-sim-card.wikia.com/wiki/Switzerland for Switzerland.

Make sure your phone is unlocked and that it has the requisite frequencies.

Beck49
Posts: 144
Joined: Sun Nov 24, 2013 8:15 pm

Re: Cell service abroad, what did I do wrong

Post by Beck49 » Tue Jan 24, 2017 8:04 pm

I have been researching alternatives for an upcoming European trip. It's clear that local SIM cards are the cheapest solution. However, we will be visiting a number of countries and I am willing to pay for a little convenience to avoid the searching and switching every time we cross a border. For us I think the best solution is something like:

https://www.mobal.com/europe-sim-card/

or possibly http://www.datago.co/datagoroaming.html

We have Verizon and since we are likely to access the data portion daily, I find the $10 per day charge too much.

Good luck.

User avatar
JamesSFO
Posts: 3107
Joined: Thu Apr 26, 2012 10:16 pm

Re: Cell service abroad, what did I do wrong

Post by JamesSFO » Tue Jan 24, 2017 8:13 pm

Just to mention if you use T-Mobile a lot of foreign countries SMS and data are included for free (at slower speeds) but fast enough to do basic email, maps, etc. I spent ~30 days in Europe last year for work/vacation and paid like $1 for 5 minutes of phone calls.

jane1
Posts: 735
Joined: Mon Dec 26, 2011 2:00 am

Re: Cell service abroad, what did I do wrong

Post by jane1 » Tue Jan 24, 2017 9:12 pm

JamesSFO wrote:Just to mention if you use T-Mobile a lot of foreign countries SMS and data are included for free (at slower speeds) but fast enough to do basic email, maps, etc. I spent ~30 days in Europe last year for work/vacation and paid like $1 for 5 minutes of phone calls.
+1 on t-mobile.
I take several international trips a year and I have used T-mobile in dozens of countries. No SIM hassle, no changing phone number, I just continue using the phone when I land as I do at home (except I avoid long phone calls since calls when roaming international are 20cents/minute). Data and SMS are free, so I use email, maps, whatsapp, Uber, facetime, google voice, skype, other apps just like in US.

If you have a Google Fi compatible phone, Fi would be a good option too.

A couple of times that I got a local SIM years ago, I would have the seller set-up everything and I made sure things were working before I left the store.

User avatar
dumbbunny
Posts: 840
Joined: Thu Apr 24, 2014 10:00 pm
Location: Oregon coast

Re: Cell service abroad, what did I do wrong

Post by dumbbunny » Tue Jan 24, 2017 9:17 pm

heerekj1 wrote: It appeared to me that in order to get a local phone and data cell service a prerequisite was to have a local phone and data cell service which would be kind of hard to do, flying into an airport.
Buy a cheap local phone or have an unlocked phone from the states. Buy a sim card from a mobile phone store like Orange in Spain, not a newsstand. Make sure you have your passport as they will link you to the phone number.
“It’s the curse of old men to realize that in the end we control nothing." "Homeland" episode, "Gerontion"

User avatar
kramer
Posts: 1631
Joined: Wed Feb 21, 2007 2:28 am
Location: Philippines

Re: Cell service abroad, what did I do wrong

Post by kramer » Tue Jan 24, 2017 10:35 pm

Yes, my modus operandi is to research online ahead of time so I know what brand of sim card to buy, have a prepaid phone plan in mind, and where the sim cards are generally available:

http://prepaid-data-sim-card.wikia.com/ ... _with_data

Then I have the shop set it up for me. I don't count on doing this at the airport, but that is optimal. I make sure I know how to refill the plan before I leave the shop, if I will need to do that.

stlutz
Posts: 4744
Joined: Fri Jan 02, 2009 1:08 am

Re: Cell service abroad, what did I do wrong

Post by stlutz » Tue Jan 24, 2017 10:44 pm

Truphone is another option (which I've used). It's pay per minute/meg so how good of an idea it is depends on your needs.

https://www.truphone.com/us/consumer/sim/

obgraham
Posts: 1132
Joined: Mon Jan 28, 2013 7:30 pm

Re: Cell service abroad, what did I do wrong

Post by obgraham » Wed Jan 25, 2017 12:11 am

The correct plan in this situation likely depends on your usage.

Others say the $10 a day at Verizon or ATT is too much. That's probably true if you live on your phone and will use it every day -- obviously there are cheaper solutions.

But for an old geezer like me, who just wants it to "be available", and might really use it only on 1-2 days a week while traveling, it's a lot easier than dinking around in some foreign phone store to get it set up there.

Whatever the best is, it can be handy -- saved my rear end when we were stuck in Schiphol with every flight canceled, and have the ability to call back to the airline in the USA who found a workaround for me.

User avatar
sperry8
Posts: 1595
Joined: Sat Mar 29, 2008 9:25 pm
Location: Miami FL

Re: Cell service abroad, what did I do wrong

Post by sperry8 » Wed Jan 25, 2017 1:18 am

jbran99 wrote:If you travel much internationally, consider a switch to Google's Project FI: https://fi.google.com/about/plan/#works-internationally

On a trip to Norway this past summer, Google Fi worked flawlessly for Voice, SMS/MMS, and Data (including GPS).

The pricing transparency/simplicity (including credit for unused data) is another huge plus, IMO.
+2 for Google Fi. I have used it in multiple countries abroad (Japan, Australia, S Korea, Thailand) and it works as well as it does in the US... super fast and lovely.
Humbling BH contest results: 2017: #516 of 647 | 2016: #121 of 610 | 2015: #18 of 552 | 2014: #225 of 503 | 2013: #383 of 433 | 2012: #366 of 410 | 2011: #113 of 369 | 2010: #53 of 282

mmmodem
Posts: 1421
Joined: Thu May 20, 2010 1:22 pm

Re: Cell service abroad, what did I do wrong

Post by mmmodem » Wed Jan 25, 2017 7:36 am

heerekj1 wrote:I landed in Brisbane and went to the car rental place and they gave us a GPS, otherwise we would never have found the hotel (on the Sunshine Coast). This is what I wanted the phone for.
If all you want is GPS navigation, you don't need cellular service. Google Maps will work with pre downloaded maps of the area on wifi. I found this out on a European trip last summer when a similar thing happened to me. The sim I got didn't work. I was able to get wifi at just about every hotel and restaurant.

bluebolt
Posts: 559
Joined: Sat Jan 14, 2017 9:01 am

Re: Cell service abroad, what did I do wrong

Post by bluebolt » Wed Jan 25, 2017 9:09 am

mmmodem wrote:
heerekj1 wrote:I landed in Brisbane and went to the car rental place and they gave us a GPS, otherwise we would never have found the hotel (on the Sunshine Coast). This is what I wanted the phone for.
If all you want is GPS navigation, you don't need cellular service. Google Maps will work with pre downloaded maps of the area on wifi. I found this out on a European trip last summer when a similar thing happened to me. The sim I got didn't work. I was able to get wifi at just about every hotel and restaurant.
That's true. However, it is really convenient to be able to look up places on TripAdvisor, call/text local places on the go, make reservations, etc. I travel internationally a lot and I would not travel without mobile data and probably not without cellular voice.

sailor18
Posts: 15
Joined: Thu Sep 29, 2016 8:05 am

Re: Cell service abroad, what did I do wrong

Post by sailor18 » Wed Jan 25, 2017 9:15 am

Are there any phone/text/data plans available in Europe similar to what Tracfone offers in the US (buy phone time, texts and data in advance and use them as you go without a monthly service charge)?

dbr
Posts: 27207
Joined: Sun Mar 04, 2007 9:50 am

Re: Cell service abroad, what did I do wrong

Post by dbr » Wed Jan 25, 2017 10:02 am

bluebolt wrote:
mmmodem wrote:
heerekj1 wrote:I landed in Brisbane and went to the car rental place and they gave us a GPS, otherwise we would never have found the hotel (on the Sunshine Coast). This is what I wanted the phone for.
If all you want is GPS navigation, you don't need cellular service. Google Maps will work with pre downloaded maps of the area on wifi. I found this out on a European trip last summer when a similar thing happened to me. The sim I got didn't work. I was able to get wifi at just about every hotel and restaurant.
That's true. However, it is really convenient to be able to look up places on TripAdvisor, call/text local places on the go, make reservations, etc. I travel internationally a lot and I would not travel without mobile data and probably not without cellular voice.
I have found that not having a voice capable phone in Europe is a severe limitation. Data is less necessary because wifi is available enough to get e-mail, surf ahead for info and reservations and pre-load maps. It is also true live maps and internet on the fly may be helpful. For a long time a combination of a wifi tablet and a simple quad band flip phone with a local or generic SIM has been enough. YMMV.

PS I admit to enjoying an iPhone with full data service on most recent travel. I just used the Verizon plan which is too expensive but can be kept under control. Again YMMV

SRenaeP
Posts: 752
Joined: Tue Jan 19, 2010 9:05 pm

Re: Cell service abroad, what did I do wrong

Post by SRenaeP » Wed Jan 25, 2017 10:16 am

If you have mobile data, not having cellular voice is a mere workaround. You can make calls via a variety of apps.

-Steph

dbr
Posts: 27207
Joined: Sun Mar 04, 2007 9:50 am

Re: Cell service abroad, what did I do wrong

Post by dbr » Wed Jan 25, 2017 10:22 am

SRenaeP wrote:If you have mobile data, not having cellular voice is a mere workaround. You can make calls via a variety of apps.

-Steph
I will grant that. The point was to mention the usefullness/necessity of just being able to talk to people on a phone at any moment.

heerekj1
Posts: 91
Joined: Sat Jun 28, 2014 8:42 am

Re: Cell service abroad, what did I do wrong

Post by heerekj1 » Wed Jan 25, 2017 10:43 am

Thanks for the info. I should have stopped at a more mainstream supplier at the airport.

In my defense. We flew into Sydney and needed to catch the connection to Hobart. There was a vodaphone booth at international arrivals but it had a long line and I needed to make the connection. Once I was out of the international terminal there were no kiosks. The flight was delayed so I should have gone back. I looked around Hobart but found no cell stores like we had found in Melbourne on our last trip. On our flight from Hobart to Brisbane we were in-country so no provider kiosks.

Hopefully this will be a lesson learned. Get it done at the international terminal or in a big city.

Post Reply