Americans Abroad: Using Your Mobile Phone While Visiting the UK

by on ‎07-27-2012 11:14 PM - last edited on ‎04-20-2016 11:28 PM by (6,860 Views)

Thinking of heading abroad this Summer? In this connected world, we take our smartphones everywhere. Here’s our guide on making sure your beloved device works the way it should during your holidays!




In the USA, there are two different types of mobile network, GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications, originally Groupe Spécial Mobile) and CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access).  These two types of network use different technology to make and receive calls, making a CDMA phone not compatible with a GSM network and vice versa.  

In the UK, all mobile networks use GSM, so if you have a CDMA handset then you will not be able to connect it to a UK mobile network at all


If you want to know if you are on GSM or CDMA then you just need to know which carrier you are with.  Verizon & Sprint use CDMA.  AT&T and T-Mobile use GSM.  If you are with a smaller carrier, you will need to check with them to find out which system they are using. This is definitely something to check before you travel, as you could get a nasty surprise when you touch down and try to make a call! 


Good news, I’m on GSM!


 If you have a GSM phone and SIM card, using the UK mobile networks will be as easy as turning your phone on and waiting for it to connect.  The phone should automatically pick up a UK network and you should be able to start making and receiving calls and texts as normal. 


Make sure to check the charges with your carrier before you travel.  Making calls from abroad can be very expensive.You don’t want your fond holiday memories spoiled by a huge phone bill when you get home. 


Your network may allow you to add a special holiday bundle to your account, making  it cheaper to use the handset when you are in the UK.  This usually involves making a one-time payment to will provide you a  pre-determined amount of time and will likely save you a lot of money if you intend to use the phone a lot.


A data connection can be particularly expensive, so most phones will not allow you to use data services while abroad unless you specifically turn on data roaming in the settings menu.  If you do need to get online to check your emails or update Facebook, it is best to do  this by connecting to a Wi-Fi network.  Most hotels will have Wi-Fi available and there are thousands of free Wi-Fi hotspots across the UK. 


HELP, I’m on CDMA!


If you are using a CDMA handset, then you will not be able to make or receive calls or texts on your handset via any UK network. However, there are alternative ways you can communicate with your friends and family back home if you have access to a Wi-Fi connection.


If you have an Apple iPhone on iOS 5 or above, you can use Wi-Fi to make and receive free video calls using Face Time.  You can also send text message to other iPhone users using the free iMessage service.  Both of these options work automatically without any further setup if you have a Wi-Fi internet connection.


Free internet calls & instant messaging apps

If you have a different brand of smartphone, you can use applications like Skype or WhatsApp to make internet calls and send free instant messages over Wi-Fi. Skype allows you to make free calls and send messages to other Skype users, on either a smartphone or a computer.  You can also call landline and mobile numbers from Skype for a minimal charge. 


WhatsApp is another popular way of sending free text message over Wi-Fi.  Unlike iMessage, WhatsApp is universal, so there is a version available for iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, Nokia and Blackberry. This means you can contact pretty much all of your friends and family who have a smartphone with the WhatsApp app..


There are a number of other messaging applications you can use depending on what your friends are using on their handsets.  Facebook messenger for example, is another popular app that allows you to communicate with any of your Facebook friends who have messenger installed. And of course you always have the option of just sending an email from your phone.


We hope you have a safe, happy trip in the UK. If you need assistence, don’t forget to pop in and see your friendly neighbourhood Geek Squad Agent at a Carphone Warehouse store.


By Agent Hall (UK)

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