International Wireless Roaming

My family has been in europe for the past couple weeks. And we've been trying to keep our data roaming costs down. The Gotham Gal and I have a sweet blackberry plan on T-Mobile that provides a really excellent international data roaming deal.

My two kids who are in europe with us both use iPhones and they turned off data roaming while we were in Rome and Zurich, except for Josh who turned it on to checkin to places on foursquare and then turned it off. Turns out that Foursquare checkins don't use up a lot of mobile data. Looks like about 140kb based on ATT Wireless' user dashboard.

Even so, he is running up against his 20mb of data that comes with his current international roaming plan.

And now that we are in London, I decided to figure out a better way. It's pretty easy to get an iPhone unlocked over here. There are stores all over Oxford Street that will do it very inexpensively. Then you can get a "pay as you go" plan from one of the mobile carriers here. We chose O2 which is a Telefonica owned carrier. They have a plan for 30 pounds that gives you unlimited data here in the UK, 500 text messages, preferred rates for international calls and texts and that all comes with 30 pounds worth of charges. Once you spend the 30 pounds, you can "top off" the account.

We set this up for my daughter yesterday and I am seriously considering setting it up for my son as well. The only slight drag is they now have a new phone number. Not a big deal for The Gotham Gal and me. We can simply add that new number to our address books. But it is a bigger bummer for their friends and family who don't know they have a new number.

I am going to look into setting up forwarding their calls on their US numbers. I have no idea how to set up forwarding for text messages, if that is even possible.

You might wonder if it is worth all of this effort. Well I have had a number of europe trips that resulted in $1000+ phone bills when I got back. And that was for a couple weeks. There is no way we are going to let that happen, particularly with kids who live on their mobile phones.

I figure 30 pounds should buy my kids at least a week of full tilt mobile roaming. Maybe they can go two weeks on that amount. In any case, even if we end up spending 100 pounds on each of our two kids who are here for a month, that is a lot less than $1000 that we could end up spending if we stuck with their ATT Wireless numbers.

This whole international roaming thing sure feels like a racket to me. We have affordable plans in the US. We can buy affordable plans in the UK. Why do we have to change numbers to make that happen? Why can't we simply buy the affordable plan in the UK via our US carrier and have it work for as long as we are in the UK?

I suspect that people who live here in europe and travel a lot between countries are way more experienced with this problem. I'm curious what they do to deal with this problem.