Author Topic: Q's about Europe: SIM cards, foreign currency  (Read 5570 times)

Psychstache

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Q's about Europe: SIM cards, foreign currency
« on: May 03, 2015, 12:42:55 PM »
So the wife and I will be taking an extended trip to Europe (France, Spain, Italy) for a few weeks and I have been tasked with a couple of responsibilities. I wanted to know if anyone had any advice on the following pieces:

1. I have heard about being able to get a different SIM card to put in our phone to make life easier and cheaper over there. Any truth to this? What do I need to do to investigate this possibility?  We are on Verizon.

2. As far as Euros go, when/where is the best to get them? Airport here? Airport there? Order from the bank?


TIA

Daley

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Re: Q's about Europe: SIM cards, foreign currency
« Reply #1 on: May 03, 2015, 01:08:05 PM »
1. I have heard about being able to get a different SIM card to put in our phone to make life easier and cheaper over there. Any truth to this? What do I need to do to investigate this possibility?  We are on Verizon.

Look into either Truphone SIM or KnowRoaming. KnowRoaming has the better rates between all three countries, but Truphone has the best rates in Spain. Since technically Truphone is an outright SIM card and KnowRoaming is a SIM sticker to be applied over a SIM card, one could theoretically order both and toggle between the two depending on who had the cheaper rates internationally. This said, KnowRoaming requires an Android, iOS or Windows smartphone, whereas Truphone will even work in a cheap Nokia dumbphone so long as it has the right GSM band support for the country you're in (more on this in a moment).

Obviously, both are PAYGO, so it's best to be a minimalist about your usage (especially data)... but it's probably also the easiest option, especially if you want to keep in touch with folks back home.

The only thing you need to be aware of is GSM/UMTS/HSPA bands in Europe, they use 900/1800MHz bands for their coverage as opposed to 850/1900MHz here in North America. You'll only be able to use your Verizon handsets based on two factors: 1) Is your LTE phone carrier unlocked? ...and the most important one, 2) Does the phone support these two global GSM bands? You can find out the answer to the last question by researching what bands your model phones support over at PhoneScoop and/or GSM Arena. Carrier unlocking shouldn't be much of an issue if it's an LTE handset on Verizon, but there's still a few quirky ones out there.

Psychstache

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Re: Q's about Europe: SIM cards, foreign currency
« Reply #2 on: May 09, 2015, 12:09:52 PM »
1. I have heard about being able to get a different SIM card to put in our phone to make life easier and cheaper over there. Any truth to this? What do I need to do to investigate this possibility?  We are on Verizon.

Look into either Truphone SIM or KnowRoaming. KnowRoaming has the better rates between all three countries, but Truphone has the best rates in Spain. Since technically Truphone is an outright SIM card and KnowRoaming is a SIM sticker to be applied over a SIM card, one could theoretically order both and toggle between the two depending on who had the cheaper rates internationally. This said, KnowRoaming requires an Android, iOS or Windows smartphone, whereas Truphone will even work in a cheap Nokia dumbphone so long as it has the right GSM band support for the country you're in (more on this in a moment).

Obviously, both are PAYGO, so it's best to be a minimalist about your usage (especially data)... but it's probably also the easiest option, especially if you want to keep in touch with folks back home.

The only thing you need to be aware of is GSM/UMTS/HSPA bands in Europe, they use 900/1800MHz bands for their coverage as opposed to 850/1900MHz here in North America. You'll only be able to use your Verizon handsets based on two factors: 1) Is your LTE phone carrier unlocked? ...and the most important one, 2) Does the phone support these two global GSM bands? You can find out the answer to the last question by researching what bands your model phones support over at PhoneScoop and/or GSM Arena. Carrier unlocking shouldn't be much of an issue if it's an LTE handset on Verizon, but there's still a few quirky ones out there.

Awesome.

How do I find out about unlocking the phones? I have a galaxy s5 and DW has a 3 if that helps.

Thanks!

Albert

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Re: Q's about Europe: SIM cards, foreign currency
« Reply #3 on: May 09, 2015, 12:55:42 PM »
I'm no expert on phones, but for euros I think the easiest and probably the cheapest option is to use your debit card to withdraw cash when you arrive. To save money on fees withdraw straight away as much as you think you'll use which needn't be a lot because for big things (hotels, car rental, train tickets etc) you can pay credit/debit cards. Just in case take few hundred dollars with you in cash. Those could be exchanged pretty much in any bank.

belgiandude

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Re: Q's about Europe: SIM cards, foreign currency
« Reply #4 on: May 09, 2015, 12:57:39 PM »
So the wife and I will be taking an extended trip to Europe (France, Spain, Italy) for a few weeks and I have been tasked with a couple of responsibilities. I wanted to know if anyone had any advice on the following pieces:

1. I have heard about being able to get a different SIM card to put in our phone to make life easier and cheaper over there. Any truth to this? What do I need to do to investigate this possibility?  We are on Verizon.

2. As far as Euros go, when/where is the best to get them? Airport here? Airport there? Order from the bank?


TIA

1. If your phone is unlocked and supports the 1800 and 900 bands then you may acquire a pre-paid simcard in any country. Roaming costs within the EU are limited, so you are not in for surprises if you decide to buy only one SIM card. In Belgium and Netherlands, you can find pre-paid sim cards for 15 eur that have 2GB of data, a couple of hours calling and 1000 text messages. Other countries are similar. If you do not need to be reachable all the time, I would install skype or a VOIP client on your phone and call from open WIFI access points or hot spots.

2. You should NOT order euro's from a bank or change them at the airport(s), unless you are willing to get ripped of. The best strategy is to exchange them with someone who has some spare euro's and is willing to change them to dollars (e.g. friends returning from Europe, Europeans visiting your country, etc...). If that does not work, then bring dollars and change them in any exchange office in the city you are staying. Alternatively, pay everything buy debit/credit card with no fees (they exist) and a favorable exchange rate.

Capsu78

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Re: Q's about Europe: SIM cards, foreign currency
« Reply #5 on: May 09, 2015, 01:57:23 PM »
I find it doesn't break the back to do a 30 day international on my existing phone- leaving all of my contact numbers intact.  DW travels international regularly and we mostly just exchange texts anyway on a very predictable schedule:
When she is about to take off, just landed, arrived at hotel and am not going out again.
Since its different time zones, in the morning she sends an "all is well" email so as not to set off everybody's phones.
We chit chat texts while waiting at the airports etc.

As for cash, ATM's in most developed countries are ubiquitous,  although they are saying bring cash to Greece for the forseeable future.  Prebuying or currency exchanges just guarantee you are paying the highest fees IMO.

Nothlit

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Re: Q's about Europe: SIM cards, foreign currency
« Reply #6 on: May 09, 2015, 03:51:38 PM »
You get the best currency exchange rate by just withdrawing cash from an ATM after you arrive. Be sure to notify your bank of your travels to avoid your card getting flagged as a fraudulent transaction. And take a backup card from another bank just in case. Some banks charge a currency conversion fee of 1-3% but others don't.

Capsu78

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Re: Q's about Europe: SIM cards, foreign currency
« Reply #7 on: May 09, 2015, 06:04:12 PM »
Oh, a card with a chip and Pin number can also be helpful in non "personed" kiosks like train tickets. 

Albert

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Re: Q's about Europe: SIM cards, foreign currency
« Reply #8 on: May 09, 2015, 11:19:36 PM »
Oh, a card with a chip and Pin number can also be helpful in non "personed" kiosks like train tickets.

That's still not a standard in USA? If so you might be in trouble. Here I have to enter my pin code for every purchase anywhere regardless if I use my debit or credit card.

Daley

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Re: Q's about Europe: SIM cards, foreign currency
« Reply #9 on: May 10, 2015, 07:41:08 AM »
How do I find out about unlocking the phones? I have a galaxy s5 and DW has a 3 if that helps.

Get me specific model numbers (such as SM-G900V), I'll look 'em up for you.
« Last Edit: May 10, 2015, 07:43:38 AM by I.P. Daley »

Capsu78

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Re: Q's about Europe: SIM cards, foreign currency
« Reply #10 on: May 10, 2015, 07:44:52 AM »
Oh, a card with a chip and Pin number can also be helpful in non "personed" kiosks like train tickets.

That's still not a standard in USA? If so you might be in trouble. Here I have to enter my pin code for every purchase anywhere regardless if I use my debit or credit card.

Not all cards have converted yet, particularly debit cards.  For the most part it just restricts you to "live person transactions"... The chip is often necessary to use kiosk transactions.

merula

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Re: Q's about Europe: SIM cards, foreign currency
« Reply #11 on: May 10, 2015, 08:11:52 AM »
Regarding money, Capital One is amazing. None of their credit cards or bank accounts have any foreign transaction fees. You'll pay an ATM fee, but that's pretty much unavoidable. I got a Capital One Venture Card for the bonus (and it came with a chip card!), and Capital One 360 is my main bank. Capital One 360 has no minimum balance, fees or direct deposit requirements, so you could just open an account to hold your vacation spending money.

I try to use credit cards as much as possible, since that way there's no cash fee or transaction fee, but credit card etiquette is different in the countries you'll be going to. Here, I wouldn't think twice about charging a $5 convenience store purchase, but that would be very odd there.
« Last Edit: August 19, 2016, 01:33:35 PM by merula »

Villanelle

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Re: Q's about Europe: SIM cards, foreign currency
« Reply #12 on: May 10, 2015, 09:40:15 AM »
I'm an American living in Europe, with most of my money going in to an American bank account. As such, I've done a lot of looking in to this.  I've found the best deal is just using an ATM.  I have a card that doesn't charge (or refunds) any out of network fees.

Also, chip and pin is a very, very minor problem.  I hear people talk about it but have had 2 experiences where I would have needed it, in 2.5 years.  Know the PIN code for your CC.  Sometimes, that is a substitute for real chip and pin.  But in general, places that have real employees, and especially those in more tourist heavy areas, know how to deal with swipe cards.  And for any large purchases, that should be fine.  Having ~20 Eu, hopefully some of which is coins, will protect you from the rare chip and pin issue.

rachael talcott

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Re: Q's about Europe: SIM cards, foreign currency
« Reply #13 on: June 25, 2015, 09:15:26 AM »
Avoid currency exchange kiosks.  As others have said, ATMs are good, especially if your bank does not charge a fee.  You can easily find these ATMs at the airport when you land, so no need to have euros in advance.

mandy_2002

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Re: Q's about Europe: SIM cards, foreign currency
« Reply #14 on: June 25, 2015, 09:48:00 AM »
You'll pay an ATM fee, but that's pretty much unavoidable.

Earlier this year, I got a Charles Schwab debit card.  It works on the chip and pin system (I've only run into issues with this in Denmark, with slight issues in public transit necessitating standing in extended queues), has no international conversion fees, and refunds ATM fees for something like 6 transactions a month.  I took it to Turkey, and it worked like a dream.  You sign up for a brokerage first, then a checking account with debit card, but there are NO fees or minimums, so I have $0 in the brokerage and however much I need to travel in the debit.  One hick-up I ran into is that they didn't recognize automatically when one ATM in Turkey charged a fee (this literally the first international ATM fee I received, after 10 years of international travel).  If I can get them the receipt with this spelled out, they will refund the fee. 

Verizon works on a completely different system than Europe.  Verizon historically had no SIM's.  I believe the 4GLTE phones typically have SIM slots, however they still may not be compatible with the European systems.  If they are considered Global ready, you may be in luck.  You also need to ensure that they are unlocked for your trip; I know T-mobile will do temporary unlocks if the phone isn't totally paid for, and will let you unlock completely if it is, but Verizon is a different beast. 

Nubs

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Re: Q's about Europe: SIM cards, foreign currency
« Reply #15 on: June 25, 2015, 10:02:11 AM »
For phones: 
You'll need a GSM phone which is unlocked.  AT&T phones are GSM, but Verizon and sprint are not (they use CDMA).  In general terms if your phone has a slot for a SIM card, it is GSM.  Some smart phones will work on both network types I believe. 

It will only be worth it to buy SIM cards in each country, and load them up, if you stay for a long enough time and actually have people you need to contact.  The point of buying a local SIM is so you can have local rates for calling within country or within EU.  Still expensive to dial out directly from the phone, but you can set up a local number in the country through Skype -- which you can call from your phone and then dial through to reach any country through your Skype account using your Skype credit.  Alternatively, bring your smart phone and just find wifi when you need it and use apps for calling/texting using the wifi connection. 


For Money:
Get a credit card that does not charge fees for foreign transactions.  Call and set up a PIN number on this card, just in case you need it to withdraw $$.  If you want to use cash, withdraw from NORMAL BANK ATM's.  Bank ATM's are required to give you the actual market exchange rate when you withdraw, but you might be charged a small fee for doing so by your bank.  Regardless, this is a MUCH better deal than money changing kiosks which are a rip off.  Also, some airport and touristy location ATM's can also be rip-offs.  A general rule of thumb is to google the exchange rate before you hit a certain country so you know what looks good.  Don't order euros from your local bank, also a rip off. 

Schnurr

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Re: Q's about Europe: SIM cards, foreign currency
« Reply #16 on: June 25, 2015, 05:27:57 PM »
I agree on ATMs being the best option. Just stick with ATMs that belong to a major bank and if given the option to have your account charged in the local currency or in USD, ALWAYS choose local currency. If you choose the USD option, you are allowing the bank to use its rip-off rate to convert to USD before taking the money out of your account. If you choose the local currency option, you are guaranteed the much more favorable interbank rate. The same goes for credit card transactions: some places will ask you whether you want to be charged in local currency or in USD. Always choose local currency.

mandy_2002

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Re: Q's about Europe: SIM cards, foreign currency
« Reply #17 on: June 26, 2015, 01:24:50 PM »
Also remember that if you use a credit card at an ATM you will be charged a cash advance rate immediately, no grace period. I've never been able to get the card to tell me if this is the case for a standard purchase, using a card without chip and pin, in a foreign country where pins are expected. At the manned stations, they can run your card, but they'll sometimes ask you for a pin. Because of this, I always used a debit card before getting my C&P card.

Nubs

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Re: Q's about Europe: SIM cards, foreign currency
« Reply #18 on: June 26, 2015, 03:39:14 PM »
Mandy brings up a good point.  The PIN on your credit card is more so you can use it as a backup.  Always good to have multiple ways to get at your money.