Help me figure out my options for using my cell phone in Eastern Europe.

This summer, I’ll be spending 16 days in Prague, Vienna, and Budapest. I have a T-Mobile G1 phone for which I should be able to get the unlock code. From the research I’ve done already, I understand that my options are basically:

  1. Use my existing T-Mobile SIM card, and pay $1.29/minute and $0.35 per outgoing text.
    **Pros: **I keep my regular phone number, and don’t have to screw around with buying any SIM cards while traveling.
    **Con: **Most expensive option (potentially).

  2. Get a multi-country SIM card and pay about half the T-Mobile rate, although more per outgoing text.
    **Pros: **Less expensive than T-Mobile rates, and no bothering with getting a different SIM card for each country.
    **Cons: **New phone number; not the cheapest option.

  3. Buy a new SIM card for each country.
    **Pro: **Cheapest option (in terms of per-minute rates).
    **Cons: **Three different phone numbers, have to spend time finding SIM cards in each new country.

One of the problems I have in making the decision is that I really don’t know how much calling I’ll be doing. Since I’ll only be a few days in each place, there’s a fair chance I’ll hardly make any calls at all. If I only make a few brief calls, I’d probably be best off just using my existing T-Mobile SIM. For instance, if I make less than 7 minutes in calls, I wouldn’t have saved any money by buying a $10 SIM, even if it had 500 minutes.

However, even if I don’t make a lot of calls, I may use the browser a fair amount while sightseeing.

What I haven’t found reliably is just what rates I can expect with a locally-purchased SIM card. Everyone says they’re cheaper, but I don’t know how cheap.

My questions:

  1. What per-minute rates should I expect to find (easily, in or near airports and train stations, without a lot of searching) in Czech Rep., Austria, and Hungary?

  2. Will text and data rates be proportionally cheaper, too? (T-Mobile = $15/MB)

  3. In what increments do you buy time?

  4. How do you refill them?

  5. What happens if you run out of time during a call?

  6. What do you suggest?



Maybe not the most helpful answer, since yours is a US phone, but we just take our UK mobiles everywhere with us. I’ve never bothered to buy another SIM card anywhere, including the three countries you mention. In terms of the internet, a lot of hotels offer it free in reception, and if not surely you could just go to a cafe. How much browsing do you really need to do while you’re sightseeing? Buy a guidebook instead - cheaper, and you get to keep it as a souvenir. Plus the things in the book are there, and you run across them as you turn the pages, rather than missing stuff on the internet because you didn’t know to look for it. Also, you can get them before you go and think about what you want to see/do, and get all excited and anticipatory about your trip!

Oh, we’re getting guidebooks before we go, probably the Kindle editions. But the Web capabilities of the phone are quite useful and remarkable, and I always have it with me.

Still looking for anyone who can give me an idea of airtime rates for locally bought SIM cards in Czech Rep, Austria, and Hungary. Thanks.

I bought one of these before I went for a three-month stint in Japan:

And just before I left the country, I set my call forwarding options to unconditionally forward to the U.S. based number they provide. The result was that incoming calls from my regular U.S. number were charged to me at $0.19/minute, which was much cheaper than the default rates from AT&T. The text message rates might be a little high, but that wasn’t a concern for me since I don’t use them that much, and text messages don’t get forwarded like the phone calls.

I just stuck my AT&T SIM in the card now and then to see if I had any text messages waiting since inbound international text messages were included in my regular text message bundle.

To save money on voice mails, I changed it to forward to a Google Voice number, which would ring the number for my pre-paid SIM as well, so I could check voice mails via my computer rather than using voice minutes from the cell phone. I could also send text messages from Google Voice for free and receive them via e-mail or text message to my pre-paid SIM as I desired.

This probably isn’t the cheapest way, since local calls with a local SIM will be the best deal for sure, but this method gives people a consistent way to call you from the US and saves you the hassle of buying a different SIM from each country you visit. However, the rates for data use are not very good, so I suggest sticking with wi-fi or something else for that.