UK Travel Tips: Giffgaff for Cellular and Apple Pay for Transit

(douglerner) #21

I may be the only one in this group in this situation, but I wanted to mention the absolutely best way of visiting the U.S. from Japan (where I live) with your iPhone.

If you are a SoftBank (one of the major carriers here) user, then with no extra charge at all during your trip you can use “America Houdai” (unlimited America) on Sprint, which SoftBank owns.

And it really is unlimited. Believe me, I asked a lot of questions prior to my first U.S. trip on this. They don’t slow you down no matter how much data you use. I used my iPhone as a mobile hotspot with my MBP during my last two trips to the U.S. and used 30+ GB each trip and there were no problems.

In addition, you have unlimited calling to phones in the U.S., and unlimited calling to and from Japan.

The only thing you have to be careful of is you are using your Japan phone number the whole time. So people in the U.S. would need to make an international phone call to meet you at your regular number. My solution to that is to use my Skype-in number for the U.S. calls, which usually turns out to be easier.

Anyway, this method is super simple. No SIM cards to fiddle with. You just turn on your phone when you land and you are using Sprint. And it also applies to your cellular-equipped iPad.

(Tommy Weir) #22

That’s excellent Doug.

The best option coming from here in Ireland (and I think the UK) when visiting the US is Vodafone with their RED roaming, it’s €3 a day, unlimited calls and texts. Only 200Mb per day though. It only counts the days you use it and not the others, there’s no need to opt in or out. My wife’s over and back six times a year or more and she’s found it the best option.

(Lynda Cook) #23

What are your recommendations for travelers to Japan? My husband has T-Mobil and I have Verizon. We can get by with only the T-Mobil if we have to.

(Simon) #24

Lynda, if you have T-Mobile ONE you’ll have unlimited data and texting in Japan. Data is of course not LTE speeds as in the US, but when I used it a few months ago on a business trip throughout several European countries (same deal as for Japan) it worked very well. I’d say it was comparable to what I see here in the Bay Area when it displays 4G. Voice calls are $0.20/min unless of course you use VoIP apps like FaceTime, Skype, etc. in which case that’s free too.

I was able to tether too. So since you get free data through your husband’s T-Mobile ONE you could just tether your Verizon phone off his for data.

(Lynda Cook) #25

Thanks. That’s what we’ve found in Europe, but wanted to confirm for Japan.

(Jolin Warren) #26

Note that they have removed all ticket desks from Tube stations. Instead they have one or more customer service people (in blue tabards) circulating in the area around the ticket gates. You can have a youth card (or other concessions like a senior railcard) added to your Oyster card at any station by one of the customer service people. They do some magic at one of the ticket machines to load it on.

You can also purchase and return Oyster cards at any Tube station at the bigger ticket machines. As others have said, when returning you get the balance+deposit refunded. You can then hand the actual (deactivated) card to one of the customer service people.

(Glenn Fleishman) #27

Yes! TfL was still describing a counter on its site recently at least, but we found someone quite easily, and he was able to get us set up in a couple minutes.

We wound up not doing the card refund. We had a couple pounds left on each of the cards, and we took a shuttle from an airport hotel to Heathrow, and didn’t have time to cash out.

(Glenn Fleishman) #28

My report on giffgaff was quite different than the Engsts’ experience, so I’ll share it briefly. We were mostly in central parts of London (the city, Camden Town, Kensington, etc.) with a few trips further out (Acton, Watford Junction). In the core, we frequently had trouble connecting with at least 3 of our 4 family phones.

We had an iPhone 5, 6 Plus, SE, and 8 Plus (mine), and I’ve been wondering if it was a frequency band issue. The three older phones would often drop onto 3G and then have little or no connectivity. I was often on 4G or could flip Airplane Mode on and off and get back on 4G. Many times when my family had no or little connectivity, I had no problem. We thought about tethering, even, to help out with that.

It might have been O2 network weirdness, the age of the phones, or particular places we were in. I’m not sure another carrier would have been better! The cost was very good. We got £10 bags with 3GB and used relatively little. I thought I used it heavily, but only consumed 1GB. We did have Wi-Fi in the home we were staying in, and we were staying on the Southeastern rail line, and it had on-train Wi-Fi, too.

A good reminder as well that giffgaff seems to auto-renew subscriptions, so after getting everything set up and purchased, I went to each of the four separate accounts and disabled recurring billing.

£40 ($55-ish) was pretty good to have four phones active for nearly two weeks with what turned out to be plenty of data. If only I could pay that little in the States! We pay ~$100+ a month for two phones with I think 6GB of pooled data.

(Alan Forkosh) #29

There is full service staffing at the TfL Visitors Centres at the major airports, key train stations, and Piccadilly Circus. Note that the Visitors Centre may or may not be in the underground station. See for details.

(Simon) #30

I think that’s a more general issue between Europe and the US. Cellular markets in Europe apparently are much more competitive.

I paid about $25/month for unlimited data on my phone while I was staying in Sweden. That BTW got me true LTE and not the phony “4G” we get displayed here in the States that in terms of data rates is equivalent to what Europeans smilingly refer to as 3G (I think technically it’s HSDPA). Back in the States my wife and I pay $110/month for two lines and that’s on T-Mobile with autopay discount.

It’s funny how although often technology markets are much more competitive in the States, when it comes to cellular we pay top $ in the US and yet data rates and coverage leave much to be desired. And nobody give me the ‘sparsely populated’ baloney. If you’ve ever been far up in northern Sweden you know it’s about as remote and empty as Badwater, CA (I can wholeheartedly recommend visiting both, just don’t bring the same attire). If our carriers cannot do better, at the very least they shouldn’t be charging double.

(Glenn Fleishman) #31

I think it’s not competition so much as regulation. The EU regulators have been brutal in forcing carriers to justify costs and fighting for things like cost-free roaming within EU countries, etc. Regulators were fully supported in their battles. And carriers are still making money hand over fist.

That’s not entirely accurate. LTE in the US is not true LTE, but almost nobody has that. But much of the LTE networks can do 20 Mbps+ downstream. HSDPA/HSUPA, which is 3G or 3G+, is in the low Mbps. I do think you’re right that HSPA was shown as 4G? I can’t recall now! But LTE is really LTE, just not the full evolution that LTE promised.

Hardware markets are very competitive here, because they have a mix of worldwide and domestic competition, and there’s better enforcement and observance of rules around how costs are set (and prosecution when there’s price fixing). All the wireless and wired telecom seems to be “whatever the companies say.” Net neutrality had no effect on competition or pricing, despite the FCC claiming it would…

The most important factor in the US market was T-Mobile not being acquired by AT&T, as the company has been very aggressive in pushing prices down and services up. So we may overpay for service, but we get a lot more for it than we did.

(Simon) #32

Yeah, I wasn’t being very clear there. I agree, LTE here is definitely LTE. What I meant to point out is that as soon as your LTE signal drops you fall down to what they labeled as 4G (at least on T-Mobile). This however turns out to be HSDPA which is of course not 4th gen, and what in Europe is still labeled and sold as 3G (possibly with a plus or .5). When my Swedish carrier said 4G, they meant 4th gen as in LTE, not 3.5G or any other rebranded shenanigans. It’s clear you can’t always expect best signal and highest throughput, but this notion of underdelivering and then trying to compensate by rebranding just shows where our carriers put their priorities. Again, I’d have no problem with any of that if this stuff were truly cheap, but it’s actually really very expensive compared to the rest of the developed world.

You’re absolutely right. T-Mobile has done a lot for this market. I don’t even want to be reminded of how it used to be. :smiley:

With that in mind, it’s a shame the Sprint merger is back on the table. It won’t be as bad as the AT&T merger would have been, but considering the shape this market is in, I don’t see why competition should be reduced one iota.

(Enrico Franconi) #33

Just for you to compare, in Italy I pay:

  • my mobile SIM with 5GB of 4G internet and with 1,000 minutes of calls,
  • a landline phone with unlimited calls,
  • unlimited High Speed Fiber-Optic Internet 1,000/100 Mega with wifi router,

30€ per month (real).

I have added a second mobile (5GB/1,000minutes) for 10€ more.

Clearly you have to be resident in Italy for this offer to make sense.



(Adam Engst) #34

Clearly we all need to move to Italy. :slight_smile:

(David Ross) #35

Some random thoughts from my 48 hours in Paris a couple of summers ago and 5 days in Ireland last summer.

We had the $10 / day per device thing with AT&T. We just turned off cell data and disabled roaming on my wife’s phone so she stuck with wifi. My phone got the same plan as in the US for the $10 / day. T-Mobile has annouced something similar. My cost is $5/device/day but I may have a special deal and public plans might cost more.

If you think you might want to use a hair dryer in the UK or Ireland take an extension cord. It is against the electrical codes to have more than a shaver outlet in a bathroom and outlets are not as frequent on the walls as in the US. We still had a few times with a 6’ zip extension cord where it was suspended in the air for my wife to use a hair dryer in front of a mirror.

Take a few of those 2 wire plugs that allow you to plug in 3 more things. Several times in a hotel they allows us to extract the power form a small well with a flip lid on the hotel room desk.

As to the 120/240v issue we take an adapter for the countries and plug a US power strip into it. And only take power devices which can use either voltage. So one adapter (and a spare just in case) plus the power strip and we get a row of power plugs for our US plugs. I’ve since found a compact small strip with an 8’ cord at Target for our next trip.

Take a 10,000 mha battery. I’ve got one that is almost exactly the same size as my iPhone X. I use it on the plane when if there isn’t working electrical power. (My seat row wasn’t working going across the Atlantic on a new 787. Go figure.) This lets you get off the plane with a charged phone. And it’s easy to carry around during the day in case you run your phone down. Typically you can fit 10,000 mha into a pants pocket.

While many cards will give you Comp/Collision coverage in the US many do not overseas. But a few premium cards will give you Liability and maybe Comp/Coll. Check out your card portfolio and mabye avoid $100 to $400 for insurance for a week rental. Remember that we think of as a compact car in the US they think is a standard in much of the world.

As Adam noted, make sure have credit/debit cards with no extra fees for foreign exchange. And you can search for web sites to find out the conversion rates of various major bank CCs.

Google Maps will allow you to cache areas on their iOS app so it only fetches data for things that have changed since you loaded the cache. Plus it means you can have a working map if no cell coverage. So the day before we left for Ireland I cached the entire island.

Ireland has cross country buses that are basically the same as flying but more comfortable. Free wifi, great seats, etc… 20euro coast to coast. Departing from the major cities every hour or two.

Paris had a fantastic subway system. And they do their best to hide it. Seriously. It must be amusing to the locals to watch the tourists searching up and down the street for the unmarked entrance. Oh, and heaven forbid they tell you that no you can’t buy a ticket on this entrance. No go back up to the street and find the one for the other side of the track.

Roads in Ireland are wide enough for 2 of their standard cars to pass. Maybe. Meeting a tour bus is, ah, interesting. 3 times we were hitting leaves from the shrubbery on the side of the road. All the while knowing that 4 inches past the shrubbery was a wall of rock.

If you know your schedule, check to see if you can buy tickets in advance. We spend 4 hours in line for the Eiffel Tower as we were not sure of our schedule.

Changing the subject a bit, if you can handl a $1000 or few per month in credit card spend and have a decent credit rating you can get points for airfare and hotel stays before you go. 3 of our 5 nights in Ireland were paid via points. Google is your friend.

(David Ross) #36

If you are thinking of travel to the UK around or after the Brexit date, beware thing might get, ah, strange. Or difficult. Especially if you want to go between the UK and EU. And remember that Ireland (the country) is not a part of the UK. The politics of Brexit will make you think of US national politics just now.

(Tommy Weir) #37

And in front of it a small ditch… In Ireland we develop a deep understanding of the road bend to car speed ratio.

Yes, recommended, both private and public bus service is excellent. Do bring headphones in case your version of music taste doesn’t match the drivers… The trains also have free wifi and power sockets. All Apple devices are 110/240 and 50/60hz so we have both US and Ire/UK plugs for our various devices.

No one knows what will shift precisely yet, it seems interminable. The roaming issue is one I have pursued with my carrier, 3, but no firm answer of yet. I travelled over and back every week for my recently completed MFA and bar the currency, the effortlessness of no borders and EU roaming made it easy, I never had to worry about phone or data usage.

Yes please remember that. :slight_smile:

(Will M) #38

I received my Giffgaff SIM. Thanks for the tip, Adam!

When I go to the activation page and enter the code, I am immediately dropped into the page where I would buy a goody bag. However, I will be in England for 30 days, so I don’t want to buy a goody bag until I’m about to leave the US. I see no indication that I have activated my SIM. Is the goody bag purchase a required step in that process? I would like to get some indication that the SIM works before I depart for England, but I don’t want to buy a goody bag now and then need another because time ran out.

Each goody bag is a standalone purchase, yes? In other words, when I buy a goody bag, I haven’t enrolled in a program that will buy another one in a month, have I?

Finally, what are premium telephone numbers and how would I know if I’m calling one? The voice minutes (or unlimited minutes) are not sufficient for calling premium numbers, as I understand it. I assume I need to put some money on my account if I will call a premium number, and something I read implied that £10 is the minimum to put on an account. That seems like a stiff price. Any ideas?


(Adam Engst) #39

My memory for the specifics is starting to fade, but I think you can wait until a few days before you leave. In our case, we were going for 10 days, so there was no worry about it expiring if we did it a week before we left. If you’re going for 30 days, you’ll likely need a second purchase anyway unless it works out perfectly.

One tip: I used PayPal to fund our SIMs and I heard recently that using a US credit card didn’t work. I was under the impression it was supposed to, but if you have PayPal, that’s easier all around.

By default, the goody bags do automatically renew, so you’ll want to go into your account and turn that off.

We all used more data than we expected and had to buy additional goody bags in the middle of the trip. Once one falls to 50 MB, you can enable another. But it would have been better for us to buy larger ones to start.

Perhaps @glennf or @jzw has more advice here.

(Will M) #40

Thanks for the added detail. I could buy a cheap goody bag now (to be sure I can and to get the SIM activated, if that is required) and then buy another goody bag during the trip. This would also let me test using a US credit card. (I do not have a PayPal account. Perhaps it’s time to get one.)

Do you have any feel for whether the goody bag automatically renews when the data (or voice or text, but those are not concerns) runs out, or only when the 30 days runs out?