British holiday — the cell phone adventure

Watch out England, I’m crossing the pond!  Yes, finally this summer England will move from the realm of dreams and legends and finally become a real place that I can touch, taste, smell, hear, and see!

 

As I plan the trip there are two pressing issues on my mind:  how manage the 12-18 hour long trip (from the moment I leave my flat to the moment I arrive at my final destination) and 2) how to get in touch with my friends if something in the process goes wrong (which it could).

unlocked cell phone

In our ever connected world I feel (as I am sure you do) rather naked without a working cell phone when I’m not at home, especially traveling.  I’m not a smart phone person; a phone is about phone calls to me.  But I need that phone working and close at hand when I’m away from home.  Should be simple, right?

Oh no! And in trying to work this out, I’ve found myself in a hornet’s nest when all I want to do is be able to call someone and ask for directions or re-structure a meeting because something messed up the timeline or “what does your car look like” when I get to the train station.

So let’s start with part one:  getting an unlocked phone.

When you are traveling overseas from the USA, that’s the first thing you need:  a handset that is unlocked, meaning the handset can be used with any carrier.  Okay fine, I found one at Bestbuy.com for $25.  But you know there had to be a catch and there is one.  I bought a SIM card for TMobile (which research says has roaming into the UK) and a $10 prepaid card which should have been enough.  Yeah, you know what is coming next.

Except the phone description says nothing about needing a MICRO SD CARD in order to use even basic features like an address book IN ADDITION TO the Sim card the chat clerk told me to buy.  Did I mention yet that Bestbuy.com has PISS POOR TRAINING on their products?  This is supposed to be a place that KNOWS electronics.  As of now I think it more likely I will grow feathers and fly myself to the UK without an airplane than find a bestbuy.com rep who knows anything about anything.

So I get the phone, the sim card, and $10 airtime card.  When it all arrived Friday night, it took me FORTY TRIES to just open the damn phone — and another forty to figure out how to use the TMobile SIM card kit and get the card in there!  Then you must activate the card on TMobile website.  Okay, this is getting tiresome.  Now I know why bestbuy doesn’t sell these phones in store — people would be flooding Geek Squad beginning for help!

So finally the phone is activated and charged.  I contact TMobile this morning to ask “how do I place a call?”  Simple question.  Annoyingly complex answer.

Because what BestBuy DIDN’T SAY on the website was that the 10 cents a minute rate for pre-paid is JUST for calls to USA numbers with the handset in the USA.  Well I have a tracfone for that that costs MUCH LESS.  I bought this for INTERNATIONAL calling and INTERNATIONAL ROAMING.

AND there is another fine print part about this TMobile sim card and pre-paid service:  it costs $3 per month to keep it active.  So placing NO CALLS uses up the $10 card in 90 days.  And if you let the balance go to zero and don’t re-up within 90 days the SIM card deactivates and cannot be used again (according to TMobile this morning).

At this point I’m feeling stuck in a Mission Impossible movie!

I finally get that “how do you place a call” information out of TMobile:  dial 011 44 plus the ten digit UK phone number.  So, for example, if I wanted a test call to my skype phone, I call 011 44 208 144 1662.  You delete the zero that you usually see at the front of UK numbers. This is how to dial the number whether the handset is in the UK or USA.  If the handset is in the USA, it costs $2/minute.  If the handset is in the UK and calling a UK number the cost is $1.49 a minute.

If the handset is in the UK and I’m calling USA number (perhaps to check on my birds), dial 011 1 ten digit number.  The rate is $2/minute.

At this point I’m feeling frustrated and oh yes, there was a DIFFERENT SIM card advertised on BestBuy.com:  H2O.  Since I hate the T-Mobile costs, let’s look into that.

I go back into a chat with Bestbuy.com.  MISTAKE.  Because immediately the representative tells me the T-Mobile card WON’T WORK the second I cross out of the USA.  AND he tells me that neither would an H2O card.

In essence:  the $50 just spent for that emergency phone is a COMPLETE WASTE OF MONEY (and Best Buy expects to stay in business?).

At this point I am feeling confused.  Why is something so SIMPLE as the means to place basic phone calls so bloody complicated?

Solutions anyone?  Please post your thoughts.  I cannot be the only American who has suffered angst over needing the protection of a nearby phone when traveling overseas!

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