Buying a Mobile Phone Overseas: Tips for North Americans Travelling in Europe 


Travelling to Europe – whether you’re meeting with international business partners or sunning yourself on a southern beach – doesn’t have to mean unplugging from life back home. There are plenty of reasons why you might still need to have access to a mobile phone while travelling.

However, it isn’t as simple as just bringing your phone with you and using it the way that you would at home.

For one thing, European phones work on a GSM network, while many North American phones use a CDMA network. Even if your phone can operate on a GSM network – as more and more North American phones can – using your own phone overseas isn’t necessarily the most cost-effective choice. Roaming and data charges can be astronomical if you haven’t made arrangements before leaving.

The solution? Use a local provider.

European mobile phones use SIM cards – small, removable microchips that store the phone’s data and can be switched from phone to phone. SIM cards are relatively inexpensive in Europe and very easy to find. In fact, you can pick one up at most supermarkets or convenience stores. Once you have a SIM card, you can just pay as you go, buying more data or minutes to top up your phone as needed.


The problem with SIM cards, however, is that they can’t be used in every phone. Most phones sold in North America are locked, which means that you can’t switch providers and use a local provider while in Europe. While there are ways to get around this and unlock your phone, it’s no longer legal to do so in the United States.

Besides, even if you have a legally unlocked phone, bringing your North American phone to Europe can be troublesome. For one thing, you’ll need to carry a plug adapter so that you can recharge your phone using European sockets. You might also need a voltage adapter, depending on your phone – and if you want to connect to European computers, you might need to carry a phone jack adapter as well. That’s an awful lot of adapters to carry, just so that you can use your phone.

Your best option may very well be to purchase an inexpensive mobile phone to use while in Europe. Mobile phones are readily available all over the continent. You can purchase an inexpensive phone and a SIM card, and then simply pay as you go, topping up as needed. You won’t need to bother with adapters or worry about roaming charges. When you get home, you can simply tuck the phone away and save it for your next European trip.

One thing to keep in mind is that most SIM cards work only in the country of purchase, so you may need to purchase new ones if you’re travelling from country to country in Europe. Still, using local providers will probably be the most cost-efficient choice, even with the added expense of purchasing new SIM cards.

Whether you’re travelling to Europe for work or for play, to learn or to lounge by the ocean, there’s no need to feel cut off from your life back home. It’s easy to stay in touch – with your loved ones and with your world – by using local providers while overseas.