How to Take Your iPhone Overseas

Skip costly international roaming packages and BYOS (Buy Your Own SIM) .

Skip costly international roaming packages and BYOS (Buy Your Own SIM)

Are you ready for summer travel? If your destination is anywhere outside the United States and you plan to bring along your trusty iPhone, you’ll want to read on to find out how to save a bundle by using local wireless service, no matter where on the map you’ll be heading.

There are two ways to use your cell phone while traveling abroad: The first involves expensive international roaming packages from your U.S. carrier, which may not even be an option for Verizon or Sprint customers without world phones, since these carriers use the incompatible CDMA technology. The better method is to unlock your existing GSM-compatible device and use a prepaid SIM from the country you’re traveling to, leaving you with more money to buy souvenirs for loved ones.

What You’ll Need:

>> Unlocked GSM-based iPhone (excludes Verizon iPhone 4)
>> Micro-SIM cutter (for iPhone 4/4S or 3G/4G iPads only)
>> Prepaid SIM card(s) from the countries you're traveling to

1. Find Out Where It'll Work

First you’ll need to determine which wireless technology is in use where you’re headed. Verizon and Sprint use CDMA here in the U.S., but this standard is mostly MIA abroad. AT&T and T-Mobile use GSM, with swappable SIM cards that work almost anywhere in the world. A world map of GSM coverage can be found online at

2. Leave Your Carrier Behind

To avoid roaming charges, you’ll need an unlocked phone for overseas travel. With the iPhone, this has historically required a complicated jailbreaking process, but AT&T is finally unlocking off-contract handsets free of charge. Users can request this by calling 611 from your handset or using AT&T’s chat service (International Support recommended). You’ll want to do this at least a week before your departure, since unlock requests may take up to 72 hours for receipt; the process requires a backup and restore via iTunes so allow ample time for this.

3. Go Unlocked

You can buy an unlocked iPhone for full price at the Apple Store.

Apple has specific instructions on how to go about using an unlocked iPhone.

Unfortunately, iPhone 4S users on AT&T are out of luck--the latest model is not eligible to be unlocked until your current agreement lapses or you upgrade to another phone, which starts the clock ticking all over again. However, unlocked and contract-free iPhone 4S models are available direct from Apple starting at $649 (16GB), but these devices cannot be used with Verizon or Sprint in the U.S.

4. CDMA "World Phones" Can Still Go GSM

The SIM slot is easy to open with just a paper clip.

If you’re using an iPhone 4S on Verizon or Sprint, the story is a bit different. While these handsets use CDMA here in America, they include a GSM-friendly micro-SIM card slot for use overseas. This feature comes locked out of the box, but a call to 800-711-8300 (Verizon) or 888-226-7212 (Sprint) can get it unlocked, assuming your account is in good standing and active for at least 60 days. (You won’t be able to use an AT&T or T-Mobile SIM, however­--they will appear as a foreign device roaming on the network.)

5. Pick an Overseas Carrier

Picking a carrier overseas is much more cost effective.

Before you pack those bags, it pays to research which companies provide prepaid voice and data services in your destination country. You won’t have access to your U.S. phone number this way, but it’s the most cost-effective solution--we recommend finding reliable Wi-Fi overseas and using FaceTime or Skype to stay in touch with loved ones back home while traveling. We also recommend avoiding companies offering so-called “universal” SIM cards that work in any country--the voice and data costs will likely be as high as sticking with your U.S. carrier’s roaming service. A Google search will provide a list of potential candidates at your destination--big names to look for throughout Europe include Vodafone, Orange, T-Mobile, and Telefonica.