Thursday, August 11, 2011

Using Your iPhone and/or iPad Abroad

When traveling abroad to Europe or other countries, many of my friends always ask how do you enable your iPhone for Phone Calls, Text Messages and Internet Usage when traveling abroad so you don't end up with a phone bill more expensive than your plane ticket. Here is my plan this trip to Prague.

Phone Calls
When on vacation with my wife or "the W", I do not take incoming business phone calls to my iPhone. In Prague, that would be $2.29 per minute and $1.99 with the AT&T $5.99 per month International Plan reduces this rate (You can subscribe online and cancel when you return.) If I need to make a business call or phone family or friends, I will use Skype from my laptop or iPad in the Hotel Room. Skype now has an iPhone/iPad App so it is possible to use a Free Wi-fi connection from a Restaurant, Cafe or Hotel Lobby to call from my iPhone or iPad using my headphones. Skype rates for calls back to United States landlines are 2.3 cents per minute or just over $1.00 per hour so $25.00 in a Skype Account should give me 20+ hours of talk time which would be plenty. I can then use my iPhone for outgoing calls in an Emergency situation rather than walking around Europe without a cell phone.

Before Leaving the U.S.
- Add the AT&T International Plan to your account by calling AT&T International Care at 1-800-335-4685 or adding this service online.

- Go to your Skype Account and ensure you have enough money in your account. The last thing you will want to do is to try and add money to your Skype account from overseas.

- iPhone Settings - Make the settings changes on your iPhone to ensure you don't have huge Cellular Data charges.

Settings, General, Network, Data Roaming: Off (Turns data roaming off when abroad to avoid substantial charges when using email, web browsing and other data services.)

Settings, Mail, Contacts, Calendar, Fetch New Data:Manually

Google Voice - To signup for a Google voice, sign-in to your Google Gmail Account then go to

Right Before The Plane Takes Off

iPhone Usage Reset Statistics - Reset the iPhone Usage Statistics

Settings, General, Usage, Reset Statistics (This allowed me to track my Cellular Network Data Sent and Received).

Before I get on the plane, I will do is Forward my iPhone number to my Google Voice Account. Google Voice provides this really cool Voicemail Transcripts feature so if a caller leaves a voice message, a SMS message will automatically be sent to my iPhone. The transcription feature will make a "best efforts" attempt to provide a text message of the callers actual message. It's not extremely accurate but good enough.

SMS Messages
I would like to communicate with "The W" or my wife during our trip. To me, this is extremely important since she likes to shop and I'd rather not follow her in and out of each store since she will cover 1 or 2 shops for my 10-20. Although to keep her as the W, I need a way to contact her in the event we can't find each other or she want's my opinion on some item she wants to buy. I enabled the International Plan on both our phones, that will enable outgoing text messaging at $.50 per message. Incoming messages are covered by our Unlimited U.S. Plan. In the past in some smaller cities in Europe, I have found AT&T International SMS unreliable. Hopefully, AT&T SMS to AT&T SMS will work. This is huge if it works and while she is shopping, I can be taking pictures, sipping a cup of coffee or checking ESPN on my iPad.

Internet Connection
For this trip, I decided to subscribe to a 3G Internet Connection on my iPad 2 rather than my iPhone. Some of us in the United States are really spoiled having "Always On" or Unlimited Connectivity to the Internet 24/7. Having an Internet Connection when traveling is important if you need directions or want to check your email. I added this service directly from my iPad as follows:

Settings, View Account, Login Information (email/password), Add International Plan

At the screen below, select your plan. Remember, you will need the email and password you used to activate your iPad 3G Connection.

You can check your wireless phone bill to see your past data usage in the United States. My gut feeling is if you do graphics intensive searches like maps, you will eat through the bandwidth very quickly. You should frequently monitor your usage.

Before the Plane Takes Off
Settings, General, Usage, Reset Statistics
Settings, Cellular Data, Data Roaming: Off

After the Plane Lands
Settings, Cellular Data, Data Roaming: On (see if it works)
Settings, Cellular Data, Data Roaming: Off (AT&T recommends keeping it off if you don't need it)
Settings, General, Usage (frequently check your usage!)

*Note: if you don't have a 3G iPad, you can use your iPhone with the same general instructions above.

When Traveling
1. Frequently check your Data Roaming Usage: Settings, General, Usage. I received an email notifying me toward the end of my trip that I had less than 25MB remaining.

2. While Traveling in Prague, Czech Republic and then to Vienna Austria, my 3G Service kept switching between T-Mobile and Czech Wireless. Every so often, I would lose the connection completely. I knew something was wrong with my iPhone or iPad because sometimes one had service and the other one read: No Service. Toggling the Phone to Airplane Mode On/Off did not fix the problem. The only way to resolve it was to Hard Reset the Phone/Ipad: Home, Power.

3. The Skype Application worked perfectly from most Wi-Fi connections, especially the ones from the Internet Cafes that give you the password after you order your Latte. I found the Skype App on my iPhone much easier to use than the headset with my iPad.

Returning Home
1. Cancel your AT&T International Voice Plan. Remember to use the AT&T Wireless Online Interface to cancel all phones. You cancel the AT&T World Traveler Plan by selecting the Expanded International Roaming Plan.


Expanded International Roaming (Effective Date:) $0.00


AT&T® World Traveler(SM) (Effective Date:) $5.99

2. The iPad Data Roaming Plan is good for 30 days. You will not need to cancel it. It will not automatically renew. When you subscribe, you will receive an email letting you know this, if you take the time to read the details. Although, when I returned home, I did call AT&T International Customer Care, spoke to Reuben. He was not able to see that I had purchased an International Plan in his system. He said I had $2,000 in International Roaming fees. After I explained to him the emails I had received, he reluctantly agreed that I was correct. Apparently, it was not covered in his training.

Other Notes
1. In Prague, T-Mobile and Czech wireless were horrible, much worse than AT&T. At times, it felt like their Phones were turned off at night. If you absolutely need to talk on the phone to someone locally, I would bring an extra iPhone and get a Vodafone Simm card as suggested by a friend that lives in Prague. Unfortunately, I left my extra iPhones at home.