I'm an American, planning to fly to the British Isles at the end of the summer. I'm going to do a quick tour of Ireland, England and a few countries on the mainland over a few weeks. After reading What is the best way to get temporary smartphone data service across multiple countries?, What sort of computer / electronic device would you take on a backpack trip around Europe to allow you to keep in touch? and other posts here, I decided I would like to carry a smartphone with me. Nothing fancy, since I'm only going to be using it for a few weeks. Just enough that I can use keepgo (or a similar service) to have maps, a translator and the other powers of the Internet with me even when I'm not near WiFi. I don't care about voice or text service.
My issue now is that keepgo requires an unlocked phone. I don't know how things work in Europe, but in the US, unlocked phones are somewhat more expensive than carrier locked phones and are slightly harder to find in stores. I have seen some advice that it's best to wait until you get to your destination country and purchase a phone there because carriers and handsets aren't tied to each other in the same way they are in the US, but this advice is vague and not consistent.
Just to be clear, is it possible to buy unlocked 3G/4G smartphones in Europe? More importantly, if so, would it make more sense for me to buy there or to get one before I leave and bring it with me?
Off the cuff, potential considerations include
- European regulations or restrictions that might make it harder for me because I am a foreigner?
- lack of easy availability of unlocked phones
- in US, would need to find a GSM quad-band phone, but in Europe, would just need any regular phone
- price difference?
One of the answers brought up a third option: unlocking my current phone. If we're being honest, that did not occur to me before. But after considering it I think I don't want to. It looks like my US carrier doesn't cooperate with unlocking (although, as Michael Hampton pointed out, they may now be required to by their trade organization's recent policy) and Internet unlock code retailers are sketch. Also I don't want to have problems with it when far from home or have to think about regular life issues when on vacation.