I've been reading up on how to get my cell phone into Europe and I'm still not entirely sure what to do. I'd prefer to use my iPhone so that I can carry fewer electronics, but my provider will not unlock my phone until my contract expires and it's going to cost a few hundred US dollars to buy out the contract (Bah!). Additionally, newer iPhones seem to only carry smaller SIM cards.

  1. What are my options?
  2. If I am able to get my phone unlocked, are nano SIM cards commonly sold in Europe?

Note 1: I would only consider buying another phone if it ended up being drastically cheaper than taking my iPhone (though I would still need to bring my iPhone for camera purposes).

Note 2: I'll be in Europe for a several months (in and out of Schengen area) including Western Europe and the more western countries of Eastern Europe.


4 Answers 4


You could still use your iPhone, buy apps that work offline for maps, city guides, etc., try to find Wifi for the rest including Skype calls back home and limit expensive roaming calls to a minimum. It's obviously less comfortable than having unlimited Internet everywhere but it's easy to set up (compared to other solutions like unlocking/buying pay-as-you go SIM card or buying some secondary phone) and still lets you use some of the iPhone's functionality.


You can buy nano SIM cards everywhere in Europe, as we do have iPhones too :-)

You may consider buying a simple phone + a card if you're just going to make calls though (and may use the Internet where Wi-Fi is available on your iPhone then). It depends on which countries you're going to, and for how long.

Some countries have regulations that are very favorable to the customers, like France where by law you can have your phone unlocked after 6 months of contract. Phones sold with prepaid cards (and therefore no contract!) are also quite cheap there (starting at 29 €) so if you have friends there and plan to come in 6 months you can get an unlocked phone almost for free :-) Check your local thrift stores / used/refurbished phones stores for unlocked/unlockable phones too, that may do the trick. Just remember that we use GSM for calling, not CDMA, so you should look for phones that work in Europe too!

  • 1
    I am not so sure if nano SIM cards are so wide spread. Yes for subscriptions, but getting them as prepaid cards, which you often do as a tourist, it can be quite hard to get a nano sim though. Subscription on the other had are not that easy to get as non citizen without a local bankaccount
    – user141
    Sep 28, 2013 at 18:47
  • @Andra Could you clarify your comment? It sounds like you're saying both subscriptions and prepaid cards are hard to get. Also, what is the difference between the two?
    – MarkE
    Sep 29, 2013 at 9:15
  • prepaid is easy, but not in nano form. Subscriptions often require local bankaccount
    – user141
    Sep 29, 2013 at 12:52
  • 1
    nano SIM is cut down (yes, physically cut) version of normal SIM. Cutters cost peanuts. For example one for $3 on Amazon. Many places where they sell SIMs will cut it for you.
    – vartec
    Sep 30, 2013 at 11:37
  • And most carriers' stores (in France, Orange and SFR at least, probably Bouygues too) do have prepaid nano-SIMs too.
    – tricasse
    Oct 1, 2013 at 22:07

As @annoyed said, you can still use your iPhone offline or through wifi.

Getting a nano sim might be a challenge, especially if you want a prepaid card. Last year I tried getting one in France and failed.

For calls you could use a very cheap model. There was the Bic phone for a while, but I haven't seen them in any shop lately. Still you can buy pretty cheap sim-lock free phones in almost any multimedia store. I have seen Mediamarkt sell them as cheap as 19 Euro, but now they their cheapest online offer is 25 Euro


You could buy a factory-unlocked iPhone, and sell it when you are done with it. I bought a factory-unlocked phone prior to two international trips in 2012, and I was very happy I did. Note that as of yesterday when I was in an Apple store, factory-unlocked iPhone 5s phones are not yet available.

  • That's a good idea. I would want to resell it to keep costs down, but there's always the chance that it gets stolen or lost...which would mean I couldn't resell it :(. Also there's the issue with being able to get nano-SIM cards.
    – MarkE
    Sep 29, 2013 at 9:28

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