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I'm leaving for Europe in a couple days. I'm spending a few days in England and then a few days in Hungary before returning to the US. Unfortunately, I have not given much thought to my phone/internet options until now.

Anticipated needs:

  • 5-10 phone calls total, all in-country, with no more than 60 minutes total talk time;

  • 30-50 text messages total, all in-country;

  • light Web browsing, with a conservative (high) estimate of 75MB/day for data use.

I have a Verizon iPhone 5 and am willing to take it to use with a different SIM or, if I must, to use as-is with Verizon's "Global Services" rates. For reference, the latter are the same for both England and Hungary: $1.29/minute for voice, $0.50/$0.05 to send/receive texts, and $0.25/MB for data.

What is my best option? Best means both cheap/convenient, but weighted mainly toward cheap.

Happy to elaborate if more info needed.

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4 Answers 4

up vote 10 down vote accepted

If you intend to stay in UK and Hungary more than a couple of days in each, you'd need to buy a package for each country separately. The global services rates you cite are actually pretty competitive, if I compare with what I'm charged for roaming in countries in Europe other than my own. I'd just try to reduce my voice usage as much as possible, and look at a VoIP solution instead. Free Wi-Fi is not difficult to find in UK and Hungary (obviously depending whether you spend your time in large cities or not).

Apart from that, it's best that you shop around yourself -- recommendation questions are actually off-topic for this site. Look at the list of mobile network operators in Europe on Wikipedia and check the available operators and conditions in each country. Check also the Wikia page on prepaid SIM cards with data for some more information.

Skype charges $0.026/minute for calling US numbers, and you can get a monthly subscription to the amount of 60 minutes for as little as $1.09/month (see all Skype rates). These prices are hard to beat. You can use Skype Wi-Fi (using your Skype credit to access otherwise paid-for Wi-Fi networks). Granted, the Skype Wi-Fi rates are extortionate, but are per-minute rather than per-traffic, so they actually might work well enough depending on your use case. It will be certainly cheaper than $0.25/MB, though.

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check whether your phone is SIMlocked or not before you invest in cards for other networks. Many (if not most) phones you get with plans are so locked and will only work with SIM cards from the network that provided the phone.
As to "best" options, that all depends on what you find most important. For me, keeping the same number is the most important, so I just use my existing card and plan and accept the roaming charges on inbound traffic.
For you, maybe you care more about cost of local calls, in which case a prepaid card for each country you visit might be the best option.
If you're looking into making a lot of international calls, most prepaid cards tend to get very expensive for those, and you again might be cheaper off using your existing plan, maybe with a temporary 'holiday extension' or however your network operator calls it added to it that reduces roaming charges for a period (but at a fee of course).

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If you don't necessarily need to call with your mobile phone, I would recommend Skype for various reasons, especially if you bring your laptop or tablet. With SkypeOut calling is very cheap to most countries.

If you happen to have a FON account connecting home will be really convenient in the UK, due to the fact that British Telecom integrated the FON functionality in their routers. Having a FON router at home gives you access to the Internet in very close proximity from almost everywhere in the UK. (Except ofcourse the more secluded areas). If you don't have a FON router yet, it is worthwhile to buy one, since it is a one time investment to get global wifi access

If you still prefer using your mobile phone, I would recommend buying a local prepaid sim card. This would require your phone to use SIM. When arriving in the UK just look for any phoneshop and ask for your options. There are prepard cards from almost every expat community enabling cheap calls to home.

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You haven't specified whether your calls will be inbound or outbound, but OneSimCard is a pre-paid service for international travelers and may be a very attractive option. For both the U.K. and Hungary are:

Receive a call: Free
Make a call: $0.29 / $0.39 ($0.59 for Hungary) per minute
Receive SMS: Free
Send SMS: $0.15 / $0.40 Internet Data: $0.20 / $0.65 per MB

See their Rates page for details on the various per-minute/per-text rates and when discounts apply.

You will not be able to use your Verizon phone with this service however, because Verizon (like Sprint) uses a CDMA network, while everyone else* in the world uses GSM. But you can buy a cheap GSM phone. I just purchased the Blu Jenny for roughly $30 on amazon. Or you can buy it from OneSimCard for about $50. (Although such a cheap phone will have pretty weak Internet capabilities)

*Almost everyone.

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