Subject: Cell Phone in Europe
Greetings and a Happy Thanksgiving (USA) to all,

My wife and I just returned from 10 weeks in Europe and we leased a car from Renault. I know that's another thread but leasing is a great deal. This year I decided to get a cell phone that would work in Europe. I don't even use one at home but a friend had rented one with his rental car while in Europe and paid quite a bit. I decided to see if I could do it cheaper.

First you have to get a GSM tri-band (or quad-band) phone that is "unlocked". Unlocked means that it is not limited to one particular carrier. If you get a real good deal on a cell phone and have a monthly plan the phone is usually "tied" to that carrier and cannot be used with another carrier without being unlocked. Tri-band means it works with the frequencies 800/900/1800 MHz which include the frequencies used in Europe's pay as you go, no contract, cell plans. GSM is the cellular system.

You can find companies on the Internet that will sell you a GSM, tri- band, unlocked phone and a SIM phone card. They are expensive.

I went on Ebay and bought a GSM, unlocked, tri-band, Motorola Cell Phone, Model V66, for $51US. I charged it but it would not work without a SIM card. A SIM card is a small postage stamp sized chip that makes the phone work and has a phone number imbedded in it.

Getting service in Europe was easier than I thought. When I arrived in Italy I found a cell phone store with the TIM logo. I'm sure there are others. I asked the salesgirl if she could help me, she spoke no English and I spoke no Italian. She sold me a SIM card for 5 Euro and a "top up" or re-charge card for 10 Euro resulting in a credit for my pre- pay phone number of 13 Euro. She even inserted the SIM card for me and programmed the system to give me English language help from the TIM company.

Since this was a Pre-pay, you can only talk as long as you have a balance and if you talk a lot, then you have to top up or re-charge your phone. A couple of nice features is that all incoming calls in Europe (in the country where you bought the SIM card) are free, even calls from the USA. Another bonus is that once a phone has a SIM card installed, even an expired or no balance phone, you can always call the Emergency numbers. The cost of phoning the USA from Italy was 50 Euro-cents per minute and you could send a text message to the USA for 20 Euro-cents. Incoming calls, from anywhere, and incoming text messages were free. I had an Italian phone number. The cell phone charger was an international voltage sensing charger that worked anywhere. Another benefit was that the cell phone worked in other countries too. The per minute charges were more but I didn't plan on spending a lot of time on the phone.

The phone came in very handy for calling a restaurant or hotel to make a reservation. It also helped one night when we were locked out of our B&B (the owner had left a key in the door which prevented our key from working on the outside). No one heard us knocking so we rang them up.

I also purchased a SIM card in France through a carrier called SFR but this SIM was the most expensive, 30 Euro for the SIM card and a 15 Euro Top up for 45 Euro resulted in a new French phone number a 21 Euro credit. Everytime you buy a new SIM card you get some credit and a new phone number. When you top up or re-charge a SIM you keep the same phone number. Topping up or re-charging is as easy as going into a tobacco shop, paying 10 Euro and then getting a receipt with a 15 digit number on it. You dial a number from your phone and enter the 15 digit number from your receipt and presto, you have recharged your phone.

Another nice thing is you can take an Italian SIM card out of your phone and buy a French SIM card. Then go back to Italy and put the Italian SIM card back in and it still works. The "brains" are in the SIM card.

When we got to England we got the best deal. I was in a Tesco Supermarket and they had a SIM card for sale for 4.47 British Pounds ($7.70US) and I got a top up for 10 pounds giving me an 11 pound credit. Tesco only charged 20 pence (35 cents US) per minute to call the USA and 40 other countries including New Zealand. You can re-charge at any Tesco or with a credit card on the phone. Tesco also sold cell phones, unlocked and tri-band GSM for less than 30 pounds ($52US).

Car-phone Warehouse was another pre-pay company I saw in the UK but Tesco was the best deal.

The benefit in buying a phone is that I can now use it anytime I travel to Europe by just buying a SIM card. I had some credit on my Tesco Sim card when I returned home and set the frequency to the USA 800 MHz only to find out AT&T allowed me to call out. The European GSM frequency is 900/1800 and that is the only setting you have to make when you go to Europe. We had a rental car problem in Scotland and called Hertz. The man said since I was on cell phone, he would call me right back, incoming calls are free.

If I hadn't bought the French SIM card the whole thing would have cost me less than $100US and now I have a cell phone that I can use in an emergency in Europe even if I don't bring it up to date.

Just thought I would share this.

Cheers, John Vittoe