Will your U.S. phone work in London?
Maybe, maybe not – but do find out before you take off for the Olympics.
If you have a smartphone, it will be extraordinarily useful navigating the underground system – and, the British bus system, in particular.
Read about my trip to London
But on the other hand, if you don’t find out about international/overseas calling fees ahead of time, you could accumulate roaming charges that will come as a very bad surprise after your return home.
Check with your U.S. provider first
The best advice really is to check with your phone provider before you leave, but here are some tips that will get you started thinking in the right direction.
— If it turns out that you have a phone that will not work overseas, or if you do not have an international calling plan, you can rent a British phone, have it shipped to you before departure, and then return it via prepaid UPS shipping after you return home. Since I didn’t have a smartphone, this was the option that I chose, using a Texas-based company called cellhire. It worked very well, and ended up costing about $75 for six days.
— ATT and T-Mobile phones, which use the same GSM technology as Europe are more likely to work overseas than Verizon or Sprint phones. Rick Steves’ London 2012 is the source for this information. The book advises that phones likely to work in London include Blackberry, Android and the ATT version of the iPhone but not the Verizon version.
— Also according to this source, if your phone takes a SIM card, and if the phone can be electronically “unlocked,” you can just buy a SIM card after you arrive, and it will give you a British phone number with a certain amount of pre-paid calling time. The SIM card goes into a slot in your phone, replacing your U.S. SIM card, until you switch it back before returning home. Expect costs in the $5-$15 range.
— If you have a U.S. calling card that’s good for international calls made from home, it either won’t work from abroad or may be prohibitively expensive. The best use for this type of card is to leave it with friends or family staying in the U.S. so they can use it to contact you at no cost to them in case of emergency. Also, leave them clear instructions for dialing internationally, starting with 011, followed by the country code (44 for the U.K), followed by the local number. British local numbers start with “0,” but the “0” is dropped when calling there from the U.S.
So, while 020 8283 7727 is the general number for Heathrow Airport, the syntax for dialing it from the U.S. is 011 44 20 8283 7727.
— Ask about charges before using the phone in your hotel. Sometimes local calls are included in the cost of the room, sometimes not.
— Think twice before asking to borrow someone’s phone. While many of us in the U.S. have inclusive plans that cover all of our domestic calls, Londoners may be paying on a per-call basis.