Preparation

Using a cell phone in Iceland, Part 2: International Plans

This picture has absolutely nothing to do with cell phone plans. But it IS much more interesting … it was actually taken at the Reykjavik zoo.

Option 2: Use your existing phone with an international plan

In our last post, we mostly covered what not to do—don’t use data without an international plan! Here are some of the basic options for adding international plans to your current phone. Let me first warn you that this is a baffling process. Sorry. Take a look:

Extra monthly fee Talk (per minute) Megabytes of data Text (per outgoing text) Text (per incoming text)
AT&T #1 $40 $1.00 200 Unlimited Unlimited
AT&T #2 $60 $0.50 300 Unlimited Unlimited
AT&T #3 $120 $0.35 800 Unlimited Unlimited
Sprint (7 days) $25  200 higher speed  Unlimited  Unlimited
Sprint (14 days) $50 500 higher speed Unlimited Unlimited
Tmobile (7 days) $25 200
Tmobile (14 days) $50 500
Verizon #1 $25 100
Verizon #2 $40 100 included 100 100 included Unlimited

Sources:
http://www.att.com/shop/wireless/international/roaming.html
http://www.t-mobile.com/optional-services/roaming.html (click “more roaming Q&A” at the bottom)
http://www.verizonwireless.com/landingpages/international-travel/
https://www.sprint.com/landings/international-value-roaming/

Self-explanatory, right? Just in case, here are a few notes:

  1. If a space is blank, that means the add-on does not change that part of the existing international service. Again, see those terms here. For example, Verizon will still charge you $1.79 per minute of talk.
  2. With Sprint and TMobile (Simple Choice and One plans), you are just paying for faster 3G speed vs. the 2G speed they provide for free.
  3. AT&T and Verizon plans are all good for a month. Sprint and TMobile only work for 7 or 14 days.
  4. Tmobile does not currently advertise these add-on data packs on their web site. You’ll have to call to see if they will still give you the faster data options.

In all cases, your phone needs to work on the GSM network; Sprint and Verizon use the CDMA network, though some newer phones can handle both bands. Check your phone at willmyphonework.net. (Note that this site might be a bit conservative in its results; this article says that your Verizon iPhone 4S should work on any carrier in Iceland, but willmyphonework says it will not. In general, though, the site is excellent.)

Verizon offers some different and potentially interesting options not listed here. In late 2015, Verizon introduced TravelPass. For $10 a day, you can use your existing allotments of voice minutes, texts, and data in Iceland (and 64 other countries). Just activate the TravelPass service on your account, and they will automatically charge you $10 a day only for days when you use your phone in one of the foreign countries. They will only charge you if you actually use minutes, texts, or data; carefully use Wifi only, and you won’t have to pay.

It isn’t clear what happens with Verizon TravelPass if you exceed your data limit; hopefully they won’t charge you their excessive overage fees? Besides that, for about the same price as one of their add-on International plans from the table above, you can potentially tap in to your existing plan, which should give you a lot more usage from your phone. It’s still not as good as getting an Icelandic Sim card, but it’s also less of a hassle.

Remember that Verizon uses the CDMA network, which is not used in Iceland. If your phone will not work on the GSM network, Verizon will rent you a phone for $20; that includes shipping both ways. You’ll still need to pay for an International plan, but you’ll have a phone that works and you can keep your phone number.

So are any of these worthwhile? Maybe. If you really want to keep your phone number so people can call you as usual, one of these plans is probably your best bet. For example, for $60 with AT&T, you get 300 meg of data, reasonably priced calls at 50 cents a minute, and unlimited texting.

The downsides: You have to call to activate the plans on AT&T and Verizon, and you have to watch your bill (or call again) to make sure the service is turned off after your trip. And, even if 300 MB sounds like a lot, you may still blow past that, and pay overage fees. The good news is that overage for that 300MB plan with AT&T is just $0.20 cents a megabyte. Compare that to the $2 per megabyte you’d pay without a plan- even using an extra 100 MB would only set you back $20.

TMobile and Sprint don’t look so great here, but that’s because you’re already getting free (but slow) data. Just make sure you have a Simple Choice or One plan on TMobile, and that your Sprint phone works in Iceland! All you’re paying for here is an upgrade to faster Internet speeds.

In summary, if you want to use some data and also use your existing phone, there are some reasonable options from AT&T and Verizon above. If you’re on TMobile Simple Choice / One or Sprint and don’t mind slow Internet speeds, then you’re good to go. But I haven’t tried the 2G (slow) service from these carriers, and online reviews are mixed.

The option I recommend, even though it’s a little more work, is to buy an Icelandic SIM card when you arrive in Iceland. If you want your data to be measured in Gigabytes, or you just don’t want to worry about overage charges, you’ll want to consider getting an Icelandic SIM card to put in your unlocked phone. (Crazy as it sounds, you can buy a perfectly adequate unlocked phone for $60 if you have Amazon Prime.) All of that is covered in our post about Icelandic Sim Cards.


Updated October 2016 with new prices and new Verizon options. Added affiliate link to the cheap Blu R1 HD cell phone.

Using a cell phone in Iceland, Part 2: International Plans was last modified: October 1st, 2016 by Eric