UK Travel: Phone Suggestions

Any good suggestions for telecom if my wife and I travel to the UK next year?

We’re both using US Virgin Mobile accounts… Which in the US is a subsidiary of Sprint and totally unrelated to the Virgin Mobile everywhere else despite similar branding and such. They seem to be, frankly, completely useless and changing from them is not out of the questions. Still, we’re about about $35 per month per phone, which is dirt cheap.

One thought was to just unlock our phones (both are well over the 12 month thing Virgin seems to use as a ‘security guideline’ to manage unlocks; I’m using an older iPhone SE, wife is an Android that’s not exactly new) and get local SIM cards before or when we arrive. Then change back to the ‘proper’ sims on the way home. This would mean we’d have different numbers while we’re there, but all we really want is to be able to call each other, access web/navigation, and social media and such.

Another thought was to pick up cheap-o burner phones when we arrive and do the same… But we’d still need to carry our ‘real’ phones for cameras and such. And find wifi for uploads and such.

The Trip is several months off (we haven’t booked anything yet!) and a max of around 2 weeks

Other things I have considered:

  • T-Mobile’s “Magenta” plan covers international usage to many countries. It definitely includes text & data, not sure how voice is billed. It’s a bit pricey for such limited use. (T-Mobile and Sprint, who owns VM, are merging maybe one day) If I knew I was traveling international more, perhaps. I’m not sure if it’s feasible to ‘upgrade’ for a couple months then revert to a cheaper plan.
  • I briefly considered upgrading my iPad Mini I travel with to a cell-capable model. It’s due for an upgrade anyway. However, it’d be a big price jump so probably not a good use. Also wouldn’t work well for phone calls.
  • The ‘who to buy a sim from’ is a possibly follow-up. “Giffgaff” has been recommended as they cater to tourists and such: They apparently are used to (for example) taking US credit cards so we can have SIM cards quickly if needed.
  • I have Personal Issues with Verizon and AT&T, but may have to put those aside.

Any thoughts are appreciated!

I have nothing of value to contribute to this conversation but I need to know if your wife knows that you talk about her like that.


We say all sorts of shit about each other, but in this case I guess I’m talking about her phone.
I mean, I’m the cranky guy who never wants to go anywhere.

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Can you enable ‘international roaming’ with your current phone plan? As you’ve found out, it’s very expensive to make calls or send SMSs, but you don’t need to worry about new numbers or the like.

I think the best option would be to unlock your phone from your current provider and just buy a cheap pre-paid SIM once you’re there. It would be a lot, lot cheaper than international roaming.

WiFi should be available just about everywhere - hotels, cafes. If not, then a burner 3G hot-spot device may be the go.

Ah. One issue you may have are the phones themselves. From what I’ve read, the US market uses different frequency bands to the rest of the world. So you may not be able to physically(?) connect your phones to the UK networks. (Please check - my info is a bit old!)

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Not easily. I’ve checked T-Mobile which has some plans that support this, but in general US plans only work in the US and maybe Mexico/Canada. Their plans also look like they’d nearly double our current monthly bills.

For my phone I think a SIM swap should work… Although I need to get it unlocked first! Apple at some point said, “Meh, let’s simplify the product line” so every phone has the hardware in it for everywhere. My wife’s Android may not qualify. I’m thinking I use mine ‘normally’ with a local SIM and she may get the burner phone.

I’ll definitely do a full backup on my phone before we go in case it gets weird.

I’m assuming reasonably wide-spread WiFi. The ‘cell-enabled iPad’

That isn’t a nice thing to say about your wife.

Oops. @dakboy got to it first.

When Brazil the Younger visited Italy last year, he complained that his phone service was sporadic. I called T-Mobile, and they were able to boost the coverage he had for a two week period at no extra cost. He said he didn’t have any problems at all after that. I have a vague recollection that if he had stayed longer, we would have had to get on some sort of plan.

I thought I heard they were going to do that, too, but think it may have been after the SE. Also, there are still regional differences for frequencies/bands. Might want to check your model number on
It shows two versions of the SE - A1662 for the United States, and A1723 for Sprint/Global.

I’m looking at which claims mine should work (assuming it’s unlocked). It is the sprint/global model. I’ll have to check my wife’s phone.

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There’s no shortage of PAYG SIMs you can buy - any supermarket, airport, etc will sell you them. GiffGaff are pretty solid though, I’ve used them in the past myself. Their rates are reasonable, and coverage is pretty solid (assuming you’re not heading off into the wilderness).

As long as your phones are unlocked, and support the frequencies, you’ll be fine.


Mine should work, and I confirmed it’s unlocked. No idea about $Wife’s yet.

We considered moving to another carrier as part of this: T-Mobile has plans with international add-ons… But for our planned trip, it would cost more to get their International Pass add-on than swapping SIMs.

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