On Vacation with an Unlocked iPhone

On Vacation with an Unlocked iPhone

We’re on vacation in France this week and next, visiting family, and it’s the first time I’ve traveled abroad with an unlocked iPhone. Quelle différence, as they say.

Two years ago I resolved to stop buying phones on contract from wireless carriers; the short term pain of buying a new iPhone at the much higher, full retail price is far outweighed by the fact that, when all is said and done with a contract, unsubsidized phones are much cheaper. What’s more, there’s a tremendous satisfaction—and greater conveniences and savings—in owning an unlocked phone. Traveling bears this out.

When we landed in Paris, I popped out the SIM card on my phone and bought a new one from a bookshop at the airport for a measly €5. That got me enough minutes and text messages to help us navigate to where we’re staying this week in Lyon.

(Tip: bring along the SIM card removal tool that shipped with your iPhone. In a pinch, you can also use a souvenir pin to pop out the SIM card tray.)

The next day I went to a Bouygues Telecom office and bought new SIM cards for my wife and me; for just €50 each (or about US$55 with current exchange rates) we now each have working local phone numbers, unlimited text and talk, and 2GB of data to last us through our vacation. AT&T would have charged us US$60 just for the right to be charged US$0.50 per minute to talk, to receive SMS at some unspecified per-message cost I couldn’t determine from their site, and to use a paltry 300MB of data. There’s just no comparison.

The only hitch I experienced was that it took about two days for each of the new phone numbers to register with Apple’s iMessage service, which I find to be indispensable not just for free messaging but also for FaceTime. For the first day or so we repeatedly saw errors activating iMessage until at some point it just started working. Not entirely elegant, but that’s Apple cloud services for you.

Now we’re all set for everything that a phone comes in handy for while traveling—not just text and talk, but maps, local search, taxi hailing etc. The best part of it is that we’re doing all of this using our own phones, and AT&T can’t do a thing about it.

Eiffel Tower icon by Olivier Guin from the Noun Project.