Sunday, September 2, 2012

Travels with a Paperclip - overseas with an iPhone 4S Verizon

I know that many of you travel from time to time and also have iPhones.  Having heard the horror stories of $1000s of dollars in roaming charges, I felt dread, taking a smartphone overseas so I thought I would share my experiences of our recent Australian trip.

The facts:
1) I had an iPhone 4S with service by Verizon.
2)  I wanted to be able to use data and phone but was not concerned about maintaining my home number.
3) I was not prepared to pay a fortune.
4) I mainly expected local calls with a few international 'ET phone home' exceptions.

After researching the international plan, the international chat, the cost of international calls and the potential for roaming charges to occur unless I had roaming off and / or was in airplane mode, I decided I would buy an international SIM card when I arrived in Australia.

I chose Telstra because they have good coverage countrywide, are well supported and had good reviews from other international visitors.

Before we left I called Verizon and asked for my phone to be unlocked so I could use an International SIM.  I told them that I did not want to use their international plan.  They read me a required user agreement disclosure thing which I had to receive via email, also saying this only lasted 3 months or 10 months, I forget which.  They then gave me instructions about what to do to to activate my international SIM and asked me to power down my phone.

With the phone turned off, it took a few minutes while they unlocked it and then I could turn it on again.

While websites I had read warned me that I would have to log into iTunes to complete the unlock, I never did.  I ignored all the Verizon instructions and simply popped out the Verizon micro-sim when we were on the runway.

Note, remember to travel with a paperclip so you can pop it out when you want.  In an emergency an unravelled staple works well too.

When we arrived at Brisbane International, I found that micro-sim cards are sold in the airport concourse newsagents.  I made a note of the ID number on the SIM (KEEP THE PACKAGING as it has your phone number and the SIM ID required for activation) and tried to activate it via the wifi activation screens.

These are extremely tedious and frustrating.  At the end of various screens in which I had to input my name, passport number, a local address, the sim number, the sim ID etc.... it said that the process had failed and I should call the service number to have it done by an operator.

I couldn't do that because I didn't have a phone.  I needed the phone to call the dimwits!

Thankfully, I used Mum's cellphone to call and it took only 5 minutes to activate.

I purchased a $30 pre-paid Telstra Micro-Sim starter kit.  These kits require you to choose from various offers.  Despite patient explanation, I could not grasp what these were for.  As it turns out, they offer different lengths of time for which the prepaid credit is valid (mine expired after a month), costs for calls vs texts and data.  They also offer some credits which can be used.

Here was my charge basis in Australia:

These are the main charges used to calculate your usage
in Australia.
Telstra Pre-Paid Cap Encore™
Standard calls 39¢ call connection fee and
89¢ per 60 seconds or part
Standard SMS 29¢ per message sent per recipient
39¢ call connection fee and
retrieval 89¢ per 60 seconds or part

A week before I left, I had used my 'free credit' 400 MB of data and had to buy a recharge "$10 Data Plus Pack" for a further 200 MB.  

I checked my account and found I had used none of my "recharge amount" on calls (but wasn't really chatting, just calling for short periods and texting to find someone.

So, for full data and phone and txt for my month in Australia I spent $40.

On the runway in LAX I popped in the US Verizon SIM and was back on my US network.

All in all, despite some confusion about the Telstra offers, my iPhone use in Australia was  successful.   My concern was actually that it was so cheap that I was secretly being charged somewhere else.  This would have been difficult as I paid cash for the SIM but it felt extremely affordable and easy.

My only difficulty was that since my number was new, only people I was seeing called me!

I will definitely try this again when travelling abroad.

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