Traveling to UK

We’re planning on a trip to England/Scotland next year and I’m checking on iPhone compatibility there. We have iPhone XS Max…the A1921 version that says is US/Canada and not the A2101 they say is the global version.

We won’t need phone call service over there but will need to be able to do GPS navigation and internet searches throughout our month or so long trip…but it’s not intuitively obvious even after some googling and looking around Apple’s site what exactly we need to do. We’ve traveled in Canada with the phones but just disabled cellular service and used wifi only. The phones are unlocked and might get replaced in the next couple of months with the iPhone 14 when it ships…current ones are unlocked and I presume that the 14s will ship unlocked as well.

So…a few questions.

  1. Does the Xs Max work on UK carriers?

  2. If not…what’s the best option for navigation over there. Would be happy to buy a stand alone app for doing GPS but searching Garmin on the App Store reveals a plethora of choices and it isn’t obvious which one best fills the need. If we do a a stand alone app then we won’t need data service as all the hotels, etc will have wifi for the evenings.

  3. If Xs Max A1921 works fine on UK carriers…what’s the best option there for data. We can use AT&Ts International Data Plan for 100 bucks a month or we can just get a UK nano SIMM card (or even use the eSim I guess…I’ve never really researched using that capability.

Back when we went to Ireland we had a stand alone app that no longer seems to be available. And I see that Amazon has a plethora of relatively inexpensive stand alone GPS devices that cover the UK so maybe that’s the way to go…as I said voice service isn’t needed at all and if we only have wifi data in the evenings or at McDonald’s or pubs or whatever that’s probably sufficient for our needs.

Looking for suggestions on the most efficient way to get what we need for over there…assuming that the Xs Max works on England/Scotland networks then I assume that a local SIMM and using Maps or Google Maps might be the optimum solution.


I think the global version A2101 does not support CDMA, but that’s not in use in the UK.
I found this site very helpful and I think (but won’t guarantee) that your iPhone will work just fine on 4G/LTE.

You will find in many shops SIM cards for sale, EE/THREE/Vodafone/O2 are the only carriers, plus endless number of companies that hop on to one of these networks. You pay £1 at the till for the SIM, then top the SIM card up with the amount that suits you best. Some supermarket have their own brand SIM (at least ASDA and TESCO do this). Apparently, GiffGaff SIMs are always worth a look.

US$ 100 for a month (=£ 85) sounds quite expensive.

You may want to find a navigation app that is not dependent on internet access, i.e. can load the map completely. AFAIK Google Maps or Apple Maps constantly load data. No internet and you’re stuck. In areas with reasonable coverage (i.e. apart from very remote locations, most areas) either Google Maps or Apple Maps will be fine. Both suck a lot of battery power, though.

I didn’t know they had a monthly option. I’ve used it in the past, but paid $10/day. That said, I guess it depends on where you fall on the cost vs. convenience spectrum. On the one hand, when my daughter lived in Ireland for a year (with an earlier model iPhone than yours, so I don’t think mere operation will be an issue), she bought a SIM card from a local telco. On the other hand, if you can get by on just one phone, for $100 your phone just works, period. No data cap (assuming you currently have an unlimited AT&T plan), nothing else to buy/fiddle with, no settings to change/change back. Plus you can make and receive calls just like you were still home. I know you said that wasn’t a requirement, but emergencies, checking for a hotel, etc…it can definitely come in handy.

[Edit: My experience is with AT&T’s “International Day Pass”. I can’t find an “International Data Plan”, so hopefully we’re talking about the same thing.]

I think you meant to write :slight_smile:

Looking at the set of wireless bands used by the A1921 and the A2101, I find:

The differences are:

  • FDD LTE bands
    • A1921 does not support band 28
    • A2101 does not support band 71
  • CDMA: A2101 does not support CDMA

That’s it. Missing a single LTE band (28) isn’t likely to break anything no matter where you go, and no carrier in the UK uses CDMA.

But if you are concerned/curious about the lack of band 28, according to Wikipedia, it is part of the Asia-Pacific Telecommunity band plan. So that band won’t be used anywhere in the UK anyway.

So enjoy your trip. Consider getting an international calling plan or a local UK SIM card so you can turn on the cellular radio and not pay insane roaming charges.

A local SIM will cost less, but it means you’ll have a local (UK) phone number whenever it is installed. So people calling your US number will go straight to voice mail and people calling your UK number will be paying for an international call.

Keeping your US SIM but using an international calling plan will probably cost a bit more and will likely have bandwidth caps, but you’ll keep your US number.

As another option, your phone also supports dual-SIM operation (one physical and one eSIM). If you can get a UK SIM of the opposite type (eSIM if your US SIM is physical or physical if your US SIM is eSIM), then you can use both at once.

With this, you will select the one to use for cellular data. You will select a default for outbound voice calls and SMS (which can be overridden on a per-call/message basis). You will receive calls/messages on both.

See: Using Dual SIM with an eSIM - Apple Support

Enjoy your trip.


I used an iPhone X in England in 2019 with my Verizon SIM and had no issues at all. The XS will be fine.

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I last visited London from the US in January 2020. Among other electronics, I brought the iPhone Pro (an 11). I put my AT&T plan on the eSim and bought a SIM for one of the phone companies at the WHSmith concession at the airport for about $26 (£20(?)), I believe it had an initial 1Gbit data allocation and some amount of calling credit that was plenty for my one-week trip. I should note that I enabled the daily AT&T international plan as a backup. If I hadn’t gotten the SIM at the airport, I might have enabled it for the first day (one thing convenient about the AT&T daily plan is that you only pay for the days you actually use it).

I had familiarized myself with the cost of plans from various companies before the trip, so I was pretty sure I wasn’t being gouged by the plan I bought. WHSmith had several different SIMs from different companies available and it was convenient to get setup at the airport

Note: be sure to fully turn off the AT&T cell plan once you load the UK SIM so that you won’t accidentally activate it. You won’t see any text messages sent to it or voice mail. But you also cut off any accidental international charges.

One nice thing about having your normal plan on the eSIM is that changing back to your local plan at the end of the trip only involves playing with the Phone settings rather changing SIMs in the SIM slot.

One other phone tip: if you have a landline via VOIP at home that comes with a mobile app, you can use that to make calls back to the USA. If you can do it when the phone is connected via WIFi, there won’t be damage to your data plan. You can also use the VIOP app to call in to check messages on your AT&T voice mail.

With regard to downloading maps in advance, one option is to use the Google Map download option. Since your GPS should still work in areas where there is no cellular coverage, you should still be able to track where you are. Of course, there are many apps that load maps from OpenApps or their own proprietary sources. There’s usually some in-app fee for those maps.

If you’re going to spend any time in London at the beginning of the trip, I recommend a stop at Stanford’s Map Store at 7 Mercer Walk near Covent Garden for maps and travel guides.

I have T-Mobile which gives me unlimited free access to UK’s networks at 2G speeds (although most of the time, I still get LTE speeds). That’s fast enough for texting, email, and GPS. Plus calls for .25¢ per minute.

I use this in Israel all the time and the only issue we had when they called me. I might be down the block, but we had an American number, so they were charged international rates. I use to get an Israeli number on my phone via my VoIP provider. That was $5 per month.

However, most people now use WhatsApp, so that’s no longer the issue. They call or text me on WhatsApp. It’s free both ways.

I’m surprised the other carriers don’t have similar plans. Both Verizon and ATT is $10 per day per number. Verizon will give you a plan for $100 per month. I guess that’s cheaper than what they use to charge, but it’s way more than T-Mobile’s free.

Look at getting a SIM card here before going over. I don’t know if there’s an expat British community in the US. Most expat communities have really cheap SIM deals.

With all the discussion about SIMs and calling plans, I think the most important starting place is to look at what your current contract includes. You might decide not to do anything.

For example, as @david19 wrote, T-Mobile includes unlimited 2G data access in Europe.

When I visited Italy, several years ago, I did nothing. My Verizon plan at the time included unlimited texting to/from EU countries. When I was there, I disabled data roaming (which would have cost $20/MB without an international data plan) and enabled Wi-Fi voice calling (where the calls are free - treated as local from the US). I was able to send and receive calls and web surf normally while in my hotel. I prepared each day’s travel itinerary from there - writing directions on paper and using printed maps (how quaint) - for getting around.

I chose to not accept incoming calls from unknown numbers and (due to the time zone) was usually in the hotel when I was talking with friends and relatives in the US. This resulted in a total of 2-3 short calls that I was billed for. I think it cost about $6 total, which was less than I wold have paid for an international calling plan or a local SIM.

DIrt cheap both domestic and international. Uses T Mobile if iPhone in the US. Connects overseas without any issues, it just works.

Does the iPhone XS have dual SIM capability? If so you might be able to use it like I use my iPad when travelling. I use an Apple SIM card (it was before they were built in) and a GigSky subscription. Reasonable data costs and I have found it works in Europe and Japan. That way your current phone number will continue to work and you can use the GigSky service for “free” phone calls (Whatsapp/Facetime etc) and online navigation etc.

Ok, I did some more looking and could never find a definitive answer on Apple’s site or elsewhere so ended up remembering that I had texted Apple support before…still had that info so messaged them and the US version works in UK just fine.

Thanks for the recommendations, my wife remembered using Navii when we were in Ireland so I’ve grabbed that and the maps for UK as well so we’re good for navigation.

For Jeff…yeah, it’s the International Day Pass…which as you remember is $10/day that you use data and after 10 daily charges you get the rest of the billing period for no more charges which is where the $100 came from…so we’re talking the same plan.

I think we’ll just get a SIMM on arrival and pop it in…with Navii we will be good on GPS and while the AT&T pass is good for emergencies for 5 or 6 weeks in country it’s worth it to have something between ‘emergency only’ and 'full access which is what the Day Pass gives you with ATT. I will check with ATT to make sure though…we found wifi readily available in Ireland before in 2014 so I assume that England/Scotland will be pretty much the same…and with wifi, the stand alone GPS for navigation it might be that the occasional usage of the Day Pass is cheaper anyway…and besides, even if we pay the whole $100 for the period (we’ll just one one phone only if we do this)…the whole trip is going to be well north of $10K anyway so $100 is pretty much decimal dust as we used to say in the government budgeting biz.

For David…yep……danged auto correct. Also…I thought about looking at bands but decided that ‘works’ vs ‘doesn’t work’ was a much better way of analyzing that rather than a detailed comparison…bands are too much down in the weeds to worry about.

We won’t be giving anybody the number of the UK SIMM…its strictly for our use for data in country. Our US numbers will get forwarded to my google voice number so we’ll get emailed voice mail transcriptions there. We get practically no actual phone calls these days except spam anyway…and if we get any while we’re gone we’ll just respond via iMessage or email anyway.

We could use the eSIMM as well…but with the lack of actual call volume and the google voice forward anyway don’t really see a need to do that.

We’ve been to Canada numerous times with our ATT phones and just disabled cellular at the border while we were there in our RV and did the same in Ireland…but it’s been 8 years since the latter and going on 3 for the former. The landscape (and capabilities in the phones we have) has changed so researching the current state of the art seemed a good idea.

Thanks all.

When traveling abroad we’ve used a combo of an international plans, Travel Pass, from Verizon, our service provider, and they have many versions. We did most all of our calls via WiFi calling and FaceTime in hotels, which can be a big savings. The Verizon cellular plan we used is $10.00 per day for cellular calls and texts to the US, and you are only charged for the days you used the service.

Keep in mind that Apple and Google Maps stream via cell services in real time if you are in a location where WiFi is not available. You can upload and download a route, but live traffic and other information won’t be available. And if you plan on using an Apple Watch, directions in versions 1 to 4 might not work well outside the US.

Not quite current, but perhaps of use.

Here’s a bit of an update from my 2020 trip:

Your article mentioned not seeing a way to get a SIM card at Gatwick. In 2020, I stopped at the WHSmith at the exit from baggage claim where I was able to evaluate several cards and have a clerk get me setup She actually had a SIM extractor on her neck chain, so it was pretty obvious that the store did a lot of business selling SIM cards.

As soon as AT&T allowed you to transfer your SIM to an eSIM , I did that. So I didn’t need to worry about keeping and exchanging SIM cars anymore. Prior to that, I used camera flash card cases to store them and kept them with the cables for my carry-on tablet or laptop.

I took advantage of using my Watch ApplePay on London Transit (TfL), using the Express Transit Card option of Wallet Settings to default to using my Apple Credit Card. Adam noted the issue with an occasional gate not working at first. Unfortunately, when that happened to me early in the trip, I instead just walked through the open emergency exit. That was a mistake, as I got a charge for the maximum trip you could take. The transit folks do have a procedure for removing this. However, the procedure requires entering the full numeric credit card number of the associated account. Apple never openly reveals that, although, if you’re clever, you can find it in the OFX and OFX downloads of the credit card statements. Unfortunately, it’s hexadecimal (letters representing the numbers 10-15), which is not much help when the form requires decimal numbers.

Over several phone calls with the TfL folks (at their expense when COVID was initially striking), we were not able to successfully resolve the issue. However, I finally realized that since the Apple Credit Card was US only, this was not an important issue for them to resolve, and, it just made sense to eat excess fare.


Providing you have the space on your phone, Google maps allows you to download the data for quite a sizable area on wifi beforehand and you can have several different ‘maps’ stored. I live in the UK and love Apple Maps but apart from in the big cities, Google’s data is currently much more complete and up to date.

I use for when I don’t want to use data. Always found it useful. The maps are open source and frequently updated. Just refresh before each trip. I tend to keep it as a backup and always used it for navigation when outside our coverage up until recently. These days I’d probably use Apple Maps in conjunction with using eSIMs for data.

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I would suggest to consider getting a GiffGaff SIM at a store. It has a very extensive coverage (the actual a carrier is O2) and excellent customer service. It has a “goody bag” for £8 ($9.5) that last a month and gives you 3 Gb of data. From my experience using Apple or Google Maps, that data allowance should be enough for a 2-3 weeks trip. There are other virtual carriers (Smarty, Lebara or Lyca) with cheaper plans but these either run on networks with a smaller coverage (such as Three, the UK’s Hutchinson subsidiary) or have a less than stellar customer service. There are some eSIM providers but I have no reference on reliability or customer service.

True and true, but in my experience, there is insufficient detail saved in an off-line map from Google. In other words (again in my experience and I would like to be taught how to save more detail), when I zoom in, there is not much there. Not only can I not get information for a business by touching its icon, much of the time, there isn’t even an icon to touch. Off-line maps are better than nothing, but fall far short of what they could be. It’s not a space issue; I have over 200 GB of unused space on my iPad and less than 0.5 GB of Google Maps data.

Interesting! I have just returned from Scotland where I had downloaded a fairly sizable area to my iPhone (103MB), as the network coverage is full of holes up there.

I just turned off wi-fi and mobile data and tried to access areas of the UK that I hadn’t downloaded, and, like you describe, when I click on a location, it just says that I am offline. But when I do the same in the area that I have downloaded, a window opens with rudimentary details, such as address and opening times and a cloud with a line through it, to show I am offline.

I’m not saying you are wrong, but it strikes me as a whole lot better than nothing!

I should have note that my experience is pre-Covid. Since then, Google has made at least one improvement, changing the expiration time of off-line maps from something like 90 days to something like a year. Perhaps (and I hope) Google made another improvement and downloads much more information than before.