If you’re travelling, one of the most important things to consider is how you’ll stay connected. In addition to ensuring your instagram posts and facebook statuses are up to date, it’s always important to have quick access to important contacts. Well in advance of your travels, decide what you’ll be doing with your phone.
Option 1: Call your provider and unlock your phone (so that it works on European networks) and deal with your network provider’s foreign usage charges.
Note that some phones are not compatible for use on networks outside the United States. In addition, some providers may charge a fee for an international calling plan or phone rental. So, if unlocking doesn’t work for you, you’ll need to move on to Option 2 or Option 3.
Option 2: Bring your phone (unlocked or not) and switch off mobile data, relying on ad hoc wifi connections around town.
This is the choice I see most often when my friends and family come to visit, as it’s the easiest. It’s certainly do-able, especially if you save maps offline and don’t care about real-time information (train times, checking your bank details, etc). I recommend this option if you’re always with someone who has continual connectivity, because while free wifi spots are found in a lot of restaurants and cafes around the city, they can be a bit tricky to hop onto. Furthermore, you’ll need to make sure that you download Skype or WhatsApp so that you can make phonecalls without relying on data service.
Option 3: Buy a cheap burner phone that will give you basic functions like SMS and minutes, saving smart phone activities for when you have internet connectivity.
This is a great compromise between Options 1 and 2 above. You can stop into a Carphone Warehouse (there seems to be on on every block in London!) and pick up a cheapie Nokia or similar for £50 or less, together with a pre-paid SIM card to cover calls and texts. As for network providers, I recommend Three (which I use). In particular, check out the Three all-in-one £20 bundle. You simply pop in and get online, with no additional APN settings needed. It costs £20 for 30 days, and includes 12GB of data. This will also work in 42 other countries, including France. Vodaphone, O2, and Lebara (to name just a few) also offer pre-paid cards and, in my experience, £10 is plenty for a week’s worth of texting and the occasional domestic call.
Option 4: Unlock your phone (so that it works on our networks) and purchase a prepaid UK SIM card.
This is the best option, but isn’t available for all phones. You’ll need to unlock your phone, and ensure that it can operate on UK networks. Once you land at the airport, simply switch off your data plan, remove your SIM card (put it in a safe place!) and locate a Lebara kiosk or a Carphone Warehouse for a UK SIM (see Option 3 above). If I recall correctly, Heathrow has vending machines for prepaid SIMs. Just make sure you double check which size SIM you require (standard, micro or nano).
Finally, if you’re coming to London, don’t forget to buy an adaptor and/or phone charger that will fit into UK sockets! These are not the same as those for continental Europe! The UK has three prongs in a triangular arrangement, whereas the European plugs have two rounded prongs.