In prep for the trip, I called our cell phone carrier, AT&T, to see if they had coverage in Europe and what international roaming would be. They didn’t offer a plan, but did offer to put my account in a sort of low-cost, paid hibernation.
My iPhone 6 and Michelle’s iPhone 5 were both locked to AT&T, so we couldn’t just buy a SIM card when we got to Europe and use our existing devices. Instead, we’d have to buy new devices (at $500+ a pop, assuming we wanted to decent smart phones). That was a non-starter. I needs my Internetz!!
I asked AT&T if they would unlock our phones so we could use a European-based carrier’s SIM card during our travel, but they refused: in order to carrier unlock our phones, I would have to pay $420 in “early termination fees” (“ETF”). $420 to use my own phone? Robbery!
Fortunately, it turns out that T-Mobile will pay our ETF for us if we open a T-Mobile account and turn in an old phone. AND, T-Mobile has a great plan for travelers: unlimited minutes, text and data in the US, Europe and many other parts of the world. Free roaming! It even comes with up to 5G per month per phone of data tethering (meaning I can use my phone as a cellular modem to connect my laptop to the Internet). Best of all: we can keep our existing phone numbers while we travel in Europe!
Of course, I had to turn in one phone for each line that I was requesting the ETF reimbursement for. Fortunately, T-Mobile doesn’t care what phone you’re trading in: it doesn’t even have to turn on. So I scrounged a couple old phones out of a drawer and Zevin’s toys, and traded those in.
Net-net: I paid AT&T the $420 ETF, AT&T unlocked our phones. I converted our existing numbers to T-Mobile and canceled our AT&T account. T-Mobile is reimbursing me for the ETF costs, and I now have unlimited minutes, text and data while we travel in Europe on our existing phones, with our existing phone numbers, for roughly the same cost as I was paying AT&T (plus about $100 in one-time start-up costs for T-Mobile).