I'm traveling to the UK in the near future and it never occurred to me until today that there may be roaming charges or network incompatibilities etc. with trying to use my US-based AT&T iPhone 5 in the UK.

I haven't traveled in years and I'm curious to know if technology still has these limitations or is using my cell in a foreign country still complicated?

What is the alternative? Will I need to buy a temporary disposable phone or can a simple sim card swap do the trick? I could just go without a phone, but it might be nice to have in a pinch, especially if I wind up lost or in trouble.

  • 3
    Which specific iPhone do you have? Jul 23, 2015 at 15:42
  • The 5, not the 5s.
    – leigero
    Jul 23, 2015 at 15:51

2 Answers 2


Most phones will work automatically in another country, but be forewarned that this does not mean there are no roaming charges or fees. You may even get a courtesy text or phone call to let you know that you are on roaming international data and the fees are quite high. For ATT (at the time of this answer), the cost was $0.15 per megabyte of data used. If you stream a TV show or something you can quickly burn through several hundred megabytes of data in a day and rack up a healthy bill.

To avoid this, you can call almost any carrier and just tell them you're traveling abroad and they can activate a temporary travel plan for you. It may cost $100 or so maybe more or less depending on how much data and phone usage you need, but the plan will last a month and then disappear without disrupting your normal service plan.

  • I use an ATT iphone. I usually activate an international plan just before leaving home, and cancel it as soon as I get home. Aug 15, 2016 at 15:44

You may want a newer phone.

You'll get 3G service in the UK and pretty much anywhere else in the world on your AT&T iPhone 5, but you can't get 4G service. Even an iPhone 5s/5c would get you 4G service.

The other thing is that AT&T must SIM-unlock the phone before you can use it with a UK-based carrier. They should do this free for the asking if your contract is up, or if you inform them you are traveling out of the country.

With those caveats, you can certainly use your iPhone 5 in the UK with the carrier of your choice -- even AT&T, if you can convince them to give you competitive roaming rates (which may be unlikely).

  • 4
    One can also switch to T-Mobile USA, which offers free international roaming in many countries, including most if not all of Western Europe. Data rates are severely limited (slower than 3G, certainly), but if one is using the phone "in a pinch" that is not a terribly burdensome limitation.
    – phoog
    Jul 23, 2015 at 16:18
  • 5
    I really, really don't think a new phone is required. Simply paying roaming charges and restricting use, or if heavy use is needed, picking up a UK pay-as-you-go sim card (usually free, pay only for credit) seem much, much more cost effective! and no-one needs 4G (and you'll struggle to get 4G outside of major cities anyway), 3g is fine for normal uses like maps, email, looking things up Jul 23, 2015 at 19:36
  • @user568458 You might not need 4G, but I certainly do! Jul 23, 2015 at 19:46
  • 2
    4G is only important for data. Using data while roaming will be VERY expensive. Most phones automatically disable data connection when roaming until explicitly enabled by the user. The main question is what the OP wants to use the phone for.
    – Aleks G
    Jul 23, 2015 at 20:03
  • 3
    I think the asker made that pretty clear: "it might be nice to have in a pinch, especially if I wind up lost or in trouble". So, basic phone stuff, maps, etc Jul 23, 2015 at 20:23

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