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.

  • Since February 2015 in the US, if your phone was previously locked, carriers must unlock your phone for free if your contract period is up or you paid full price for the phone. And some carriers (like Verizon) don't lock the phones to begin with. But keep in mind that most phones sold in the US do not carry the necessary radio bands for 4G LTE service in Europe. Jun 29, 2015 at 15:51
  • Having looked at the KeepGo website, they don't provide 4G anyway, so that part wouldn't be a concern.
    – CMaster
    Jun 29, 2015 at 17:07

2 Answers 2


I'm also planning my first trip to Europe towards the end of this summer. From what I've researched you can buy unlocked GSM phones in Europe (See this answer), but I wouldn't think that's the best way to approach this, after all, I've heard electronics are more expensive in Europe...

If you're in the US, like me, you could just try to buy online cheap, used/refurbished unlocked smartphone (I bought a refurbished (unlocked) Nexus 4 from woot) and also buy a SIM card adapter kit (in case you need to adapt to different SIM card sizes). This way you can just use your keepgo SIM on your unlocked phone, and mix and match with local SIM cards, if needed. Also, your US cell service might actually have pretty good data roaming abroad... I know for Colombia T-mobile had free data and unlimited text, and voice at a 0.20USD/min rate... which is not bad, considering.

I did something similar when I went to Colombia, which works the same way as Europe. I swapped around a local SIM with an international data SIM when needed.

  • correct. Having a phone that's not simlocked and simply buying a European prepaid card (you may want one for each country, check rates to see what's most economical) is the way to go if your provider doesn't have decent roaming rates and you are planning to use the phone for more than a very limited amount of traffic.
    – jwenting
    Jun 29, 2015 at 6:28

Is there a reason you cannot have your current smart phone unlocked? (Not owning one for example)

It's certainly possible to buy unlocked phones in the UK, where your journey apparently starts. The costs are normally quite considerable for a smart phone, although there are some budget options. Carphone Warehouse would be the chain most likley to suit your needs. A better option may to be buy a second hand phone. There are independent shops doing this everywhere, as well as the chains CEX and GAME. Ensure that any phone you buy second hand is unlocked (most will be, if not they'll do it for a fee). Ensure that any second hand phone has not been blocked, or showing any other signs of being stolen.

The biggest problem you are likley to face however is that you will be travelling to different european countries and hence subject to roaming charges there. (Note that this includes the Republic of Ireland for UK based networks). If you're staying somewhere long enough, then you can get a local sim - otherwise you may find it worth just paying the inflated rates.

  • Thanks for mentioning unlocking my current phone. I updated the question to acknowledge. Also thanks for the SIM card advice. I don't think it applies to me because I don't care about voice or text service and keepgo is designed to work across country borders. If I am misunderstanding how SIM cards work, I would appreciate it if you could expand on what you said.
    – Europe2015
    Jun 29, 2015 at 14:51
  • I don't know anything about Keepgo. If they have agreement for data access across the countries you are visting, then the roaming charges I mentined are not relevant - I was referring to if you purchased a pay-as-you-go SIM for data/calls/texts while on your trip.
    – CMaster
    Jun 29, 2015 at 14:54
  • Ah, so KeepGo is just a generic data-only SIM for many countries. Not impresed by their prices mind, think that buying an EU SIM and paying the roaming might well be competetive..
    – CMaster
    Jun 29, 2015 at 15:25

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