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Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!): Bringing your iphone (or android) to Europe

Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!)

My goal here is to make your life easier, especially those who are in the unique situation of being a military spouse. Yes...I've been around...but in a good way...and hopefully can share those tips, tricks and shortcuts with you too. I've been on this military bus for over 40 years now. My goals in life are to have a well-run home, few money worries, well adjusted children, money socked away and whatever happiness I can scoop out of life.

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After life as an Army brat, being in the Army myself and marrying a soldier, I can honestly say I have a bucket full of life lessons I can share to help you make your everyday life easier and enlightening. Don't waste your time making unnecessary mistakes and benefit from others who have come before you on your journey through life.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Bringing your iphone (or android) to Europe

It was inevitable.  Either you are pegged to go on a business trip somewhere in Europe, moving overseas or will be taking a little vacation across the big pond.  I've gotten a bit of mail from folks asking if they should bring their iphone or not and what pitfalls there might be.  First, you might want to read my general article on cell phones overseas in Europe.  There are quite a few differences from being stateside.  The biggest being that we use SIM cards over here, so if your iphone is CDMA technology, you are hosed...partly....although you should still be able to use it in the wi-fi mode, along with any ipod touch you may bring along.  Note to self, in today's global economy, don't bother getting a CDMA cell phone as the Americans are the only major players still using it!  Here are some things on making the transition smooth with your iphone when coming over here.

Check with your provider and find out what the roaming charges are.  If you are only coming over for awhile, then you'll keep your cell phone plan at home....literally.  Most providers have outrageous international roaming charges, but to do your due diligence, just find out what they are.  We've all heard about the lady with the almost $40,000 roaming cell phone charge and don't want to be in her shoes!


  • Make sure you TURN OFF the roaming feature before you even begin your journey and get on that plane!  Even if you don't use the phone, you may be still charged data fees (which are higher) when your apps decide to do their updating and background work.
  • The next step would be to put it in "Airplane Mode" and only switch that off when you plan to use it.  It's an extra safety net.  It will basically turn your iphone into an itouch and allow you to use any nearby wi-fi networks.
  • Turn "Fetch New Data" OFF in all your apps.  You also don't want your email and contacts to constantly try to sync.  To turn off the Auto-Check functionality tap on Settings, then Fetch New Data, change Push to “OFF” and Select to Fetch Manually.
  • You might want to reset your Usage Tracker to Zero tap on Settings.  Then General, Usage and then Reset.  This way, you'll be able to track your exact usage.

If for some reason, let's say you are coming from the UK and your carrier has some kind of partnership or lower roaming fees with a certain provider on the mainland, turn off the automatic feature setting when searching for a Carrier, under your iphone Settings Menu.  That way, if there are multiple carriers operating in an area, you can choose which one you want to connect to.

Make sure you have the Free Wi-fi finder app on your iphone and also have the offline database already uploaded on your iphone ahead of time, so you can check it out offline.  It doesn't list all the free wi-fi hotspots in Europe but many of them are there.  More keep getting added from folks like me who discover free wi-fi in our travels.  Also know that many coffee shops, parks in Paris, hotel lobbies and other public places have free wi-fi.  I don't know if it's standard Europe-wide but every McDonald's I've been in has free wi-fi.  Don't discount hospitals and other public buildings either.  I even went to a comedy show in Amsterdam, Boom Chicago...granted, the free wi-fi was for us to use Facebook and Twitter as we were waiting for the show to start...and during the show to make fun of some guy's Facebook page they had singled out of the audience, but hey, I could still check my stuff while I was in there!  I've even found free wi-fi in some stores, especially bookstores.

Most of the US bases or posts, even the NATO bases have wi-fi hotspots. All over Germany, in a pinch, I've paid the $5 for access at the onpost foodcourts, which is good for one week typically at that price (credit card needed).  Many of the USOs will have free wi-fi.  Be sure you note which communities have them (not all do unfortunately).  Here in SHAPE, Belgium you'll find free wi-fi at the SHAPE Library, the Rendezvous Cafe next to the GB Shopping Center and also at the SHAPE Club.  Be sure to also look online at locations you'll be visiting and see if you can locate any that way.  As long as the wi-fi is free, you can use your iphone or itouch for free at those hotspots.  Now what if you want more options when it comes to wi-fi?



There is an alternative out there if you strictly want to use your iphone with wi-fi...ANYWHERE in Europe..anywhere with cell phone tower access that is.  Even if your phone is still locked, you should be able to use it in wi-fi mode.  There's a little device you can rent, and if you are over here for a longer period, it will pay for itself many times over!  It's called Tep Pocket Wifi and provides wireless internet wherever you go.   They can even deliver it to your hotel or wherever you'll be on the mainland.  It works just like a wi-fi hotspot, but it's personal and fits in your pocket. Not only can you use it with your smartphone but also with your laptop and tablet PC.  Up to five devices can share the hotspot and you get reliable 3G coverage where available.  Who said Europe was backwards when it comes to technology?  Hey, we've got the high speed Germans who like to be at or near the forefront, so you know we are going to have good options.

Be sure to download the app TextPlus.  This app will give you a free stateside phone number where you will be able to send and receive FREE text messages.  With the free version, you can send up to 20 free texts a day.  If you want to send more or would like to do group texts (oh that sounds dirty doesn't it?) where you can send one text out to multiple people, then upgrade for around a dollar or so to the Silver or Gold version.  Please remember that many of the apps I'm mentioning are available in the android market too!

When I first bought my iphone, second-hand mind you...I used it for an entire week just via wi-fi while I waited for my SIM card to arrive.  One great thing about being around soldiers...a lot of soldiers have been looking to upgrade to the iphone 4, so want to get rid of their 3s...I can see the same thing happening when the next version comes out....so, if you are near a barracks or some soldiers, get the word out that you have QUICK CASH for their used iphones!

Now, if you are coming over here for a longer time period and would like to use the cell phone part of your iphone or handy as it's called over here, you're going to need it to be unlocked.  If you are under contract in the US with a carrier there, they are obligated by law to unlock your phone at the two year mark.  It's funny, but most cell phones over here, to include the iphone are sold UNLOCKED.  We don't have all these issues of AT&T and other carriers hogging all the prime cell phones and iphones.  We are also a few years ahead of the US in general with cell phone technology.  Why that is, I just don't know.  Maybe one of you can explain it to me, cause I'd sure like to know...it's been that way ever since I can remember...the newest models always come to Europe first...then the US...hmmmmm.

Anyway, SIM cards are sold like candy over here.  You can find them at most electronic stores, bookstores and even convenience stores.  Many of us over here don't have cell phone plans but buy minutes as we need them.  Cell phone plans tend to be a lot more expensive over here and are hard to get out of.  The average European will have whatever cell phone, which they bought unlocked and then buy the SIM card w/minutes separately.  I have SIM cards for every European country I typically travel to (along with their in country cell phone numbers).  Again, you can only exercise this option if your cell phone is UNLOCKED!

I've noticed in Germany, not all carriers reach all towns for some reason, so I always recommend people check their new area as well as what carrier their spouse might have for their military issued cell phone.  Many military units have iphones and blackberries they give to their key leaders.  If you use your own personal cell phone, most folks will then add minutes online through their carrier or buy the little tickets at the checkout.  These tickets will give them a code on their store receipt, which they then punch into their cell phone to reflect the new purchased amount.  You have a whole year to use up those purchased minutes.  These minutes cover voice and text messaging.  Many will even let you upload minutes thru Paypal or your local bank account too.

Now for those who want a bit more, then buy a SIM card through a carrier that offers it with data....usually 2 GB limit per month.  Here in Belgium, I use Mobile Vikings.  How do you know you went over your data limit?  Just by a gentle reminder.  Like everything here in Belgium, things are slow and not taken too seriously.  The only catch with this is that voice calls are more expensive than usual.  In that case, I mostly end up text messaging and using the data portion.  It offers roaming throughout the continent, but since those fees are a bit higher (even when receiving calls which are typically free with options, not data), I end up using my supercheap prepaid regular phone for use outside of Belgium for my voice calls.  Now, I still access free wi-fi on my iphone where available and end up carrying both with me on my travels.  Or, I'll just switch out the SIM card for an in-country one....I hope that makes sense!

If you will be in Germany at least 30 days and want a SIM card (and its respective German cell phone number) that will handle data and the use of your smartphone, check out FYVE and Smartmobil where you can get these services without a contract.  You will need a German address for these choices though and will need an UNLOCKED device.


If you have extra money to throw away and the thought of purchasing a SIM card in a foreign country scares you....or maybe you are one of those people who likes to travel but have everything set in place before you go, then go with Smart Free to purchase a European SIM card.  It's expensive, I'm not going to lie...more than I would pay, but again, it gives peace of mind BEFORE you leave.  That's why I am mentioning it here!  I've also known a few business people who were happy with Telestial.




One more thing...there is one more option for you if you like to fly by the seat of your pants...okay, so the other end of the spectrum then!  As long as you are tech savvy or know someone who is, then this is for you!  I've found yet again, that there are many soldiers out there who have mastered the art of jailbreaking iphones, and just getting the word out that you have one that you want jailbroken, can really free up your choices in Europe if your phone is NOT unlocked.  To indulge in all these goodies, your iphone has to be both UNLOCKED and JAILBROKEN.  Read this article here for the how-to on using your iphone in Europe after the jailbreaking process.


So now what?  Well, there are a whole lot of apps that can be a huge help in your travels throughout Europe.  But, since I'm done for today, I will end here and blog more about those choices later!

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4 Comments:

Blogger Damsel said...

Thanks for this post! We'll be at NAS Sigonella at the end of the month, and, while I'm not a technophile, I think I'd die without my iPhone. It's just THAT integrated into my life!

July 9, 2011 at 2:29 PM  
Blogger Seasoned Air Force Spouse said...

Thanks for this 'news you can use' info. I got a phone with GSM for our visits over there. Will have to dig further if we (please.please) get orders.

Military Monday Linky

July 11, 2011 at 11:08 PM  
Anonymous Sharon F. said...

I love this post! There's another app which I use all the time - Touchnote Postcards.
I like sending postcards and this app is a little gem. Basically lets you send a printed postcard by snail mail to your partner with any photo that you choose. You just choose the photo from your iPhone or Android, add some text and the address. They send it for you for $1.49 anywhere in the States or say in Europe. Takes about a week to get to Europe and longer anywhere else.

July 15, 2011 at 7:55 AM  
Blogger ****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** said...

Ohhhh Sharon...that sounds very neat! I wonder if I could hit two birds with one stone and use them as bday cards too? That would clinch it for me! I try not to be too generic if I can!

July 17, 2011 at 12:51 PM  

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