If you are wondering if your cell phone will work in Europe, or most countries of the world, then the answer is Yes. Your phone will certainly work in any part of the world if your phone was manufactured within the last five years, with nearly no impedance or trouble.
Before the iPhone 4, there were concerns with Europe’s cell networks, which used a wireless technology called GSM, which wasn’t widely used in the United States. While some carriers used it, others used CDMA, and certain phones couldn’t get signals from both.
This is no longer an issue. Modern phones can connect to both networks, and some even include dual-sim models, such as the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus, that allow you to keep your usual US sim card when visiting Europe. Unfortunately, this option is only available if your phone is unlocked, which means you must be out of contract or using a pre-paid sim on a handset you purchased outright.
Read Also: Cell Phones manufactured in the US.
The Global System for Mobile Communications, GSM, is used by Europe’s cell phone system. It is the most widely used mobile phone system on the planet. However, sprint and Verizon, two major providers in the United States, do not use GSM and instead employ Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA.) Although you can make phone calls between the GSM and CDMA systems, they are not technically compatible. Therefore, a typical Sprint or Verizon phone will not work in Europe. Even if you have a GSM-compatible phone from AT&T or T-Mobile, you might want to save money using a local phone or SIM card.
World phones with GSM-compatible radios are available from both Sprint and Verizon. For example, Sprint’s Samsung Ace has a CDMA and a GSM radio. In addition, the phone features an unlocked SIM card slot, allowing you to buy a pay-as-you-go SIM card when traveling, plug it into the phone, and take advantage of affordable calling rates using a local phone number.
This allows you to travel with only one device. Unfortunately, although this phone delivers EV-DO high-speed Internet in the CDMA market in the United States, its GSM data speed isn’t quite up to par, and it can’t take advantage of the fastest speeds available in Europe, known as UMTS.
Options available for you to be able to use your cell phones in Europe
Most of the best cell phone providers have plans that allow you to call home from overseas, and if you plan to stay for a while and make calls to European numbers, you can always get a pre-paid or low-cost sim when you arrive to save you money.
Here are some options if you want to use your cell phone in Europe and beyond.
1. Make use of roaming data and phone calls.
This is the alternative to “do nothing and pay a fortune.” When you travel to a new country, your cell phone will automatically connect to a partner network in the new country. It will then behave like any other phone, using data and receiving texts and phone calls. If you’d rather it didn’t, both iPhones and Android phones can turn off various aspects of roaming, ranging from blocking specific apps to turning all roaming altogether. When you arrive in a new nation, most carriers will send you a message informing you of the costs of using data, messages, and calls and any add-ons in your phone plan that may affect these costs.
Roaming data is quite expensive, and even with discounted plans, you’re looking at approximately $10 per 100MB. You may purchase data bundles on some networks, but they are extremely expensive. If your network allows you to use data for free, with no limits or cautions, you could incur massive expenses if you only use it occasionally. Unless required, we do not advocate utilizing roaming data. If you do, attempt to get packages to save money.
Some network providers will provide free data roaming and calls while you’re out of the nation, so you won’t have to worry. For example, T-Mobile and Sprint have plans that include free-roaming data and calls if you add them to your plan before leaving.
2. At your location, purchase a pre-paid phone or SIM card.
Going local is one of the most cost-effective ways to use a phone in another nation. In some instances, you can acquire a sim card with 500MB of data (or more) for less than $20 in the comparable local currency if you buy the cheapest, most basic Android phone for approximately $30. The drawback is that you’ll have to get a new phone number, which means you won’t be able to use WhatsApp, which is tied to your phone number. However, you’ll have unlimited local calls and messages, and 500MB of data should be plenty to keep you connected to your digital life for a few weeks.
There’s an even cheaper option if you’re lucky enough to have an unlocked phone. Purchase a local sim card when you get to your destination, insert it into your phone, and use it usually. This is useful for both local calling and data usage (it’s pointless to buy a sim at your destination and use it to phone home because you’ll burn through your pre-paid credit just as quickly). As previously stated, some top smartphones even feature dual-sim capabilities, so you won’t have to remove your US sim card and risk losing it. Nowadays, they are minimal.
3. Turn off all devices except WiFi
One extremely low-cost alternative is to turn off all roaming features on your phone. Turn off your network calling altogether. You may turn on WiFi safely from here and only use data when you’re in range of public or private WiFi (for which you will need a password). Most European offices offer private WiFi if you’re traveling for work, for which you may obtain the password. Most hotels will have it if you’re on vacation, but you may have to pay for it, and it won’t be adequate for streaming or other data-intensive activities.
Most European towns have some form of public WiFi; however, it is usually provided by different companies. Signing up typically grants you free access for a limited time, but be aware that you are continually disclosing your personal information, which we do not advocate.
The benefit of using WiFi-only is that services like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and other data services will work even if you don’t have a phone network. Also, you’ll keep your login for all of them because they’re linked to your phone number. So what is the primary disadvantage? You’ll spend most of your journey looking for WiFi.
So, what’s the best phone to use in Europe if you’re an American?
This is entirely dependent on how you want to use your phone. If you frequently contact home, we recommend checking into a roaming package with your current cell provider. You’re trying to save money on calls; therefore, check out what your network has to offer because calling a US number from Europe costs the same amount regardless of which sim you’re using.
Unless you can ensure you’ll be near WiFi for most of your trip, take the ‘purchase a local phone or sim’ option if data is more of a worry. Sure, you’ll have to get a new phone number and won’t have access to WhatsApp, but if you use a lot of data and make many local calls, you’ll save a lot of money.
For very infrequent data and phone calls? We recommend turning off all roaming options and relying solely on WiFi wherever possible. Some messaging platforms, such as Skype, allow you to call loved ones solely via data, so you’ll be able to communicate with them in one way or another.