Using a cellphone in Europe and the UK
Unfortunately for American travelers, most U.S. cellphones do not work in Europe. I'll save the detailed explanation for the technical experts, but the bottom line is that U.S. cellphones operate on CDMA chips/bands and Europe's phones are programmed on a different standard...GSM. Just like the electrical outlets and plugs, cellphones are configured differently too.
So, unless you're one of the lucky few to have a global phone (Blackberry's 8830 is one example), Americans must consider alternative means of communication while overseas. You could purchase a pre-paid phone card and utilize it on a land line from your hotel room, but you'll find yourself longing for a portable cellular option after about a day--especially if you have business to conduct back home. A better option to consider is renting a GSM cell phone from your carrier in the States.
For my recent trip to the UK and Western Europe, I rented a GSM phone from Verizon at $4/day. I also paid a 2-day shipping charge of $21 (the fee includes the return shipment). I could have opted for a Blackberry rental, but at $15/day x 11-day trip, the cost for email access "on the go" was tough to justify since I could receive/send emails from my computer each evening. In addition to the per diem rental charge, Verizon also charges a per-minute usage rate of $1.49/minute throughout most of Europe. However, and this is a BIG plus, incoming calls to the phone while in the UK are free!!
In other words, if I dialed the States from anywhere in the UK, I would be billed $1.49/minute. However, if someone called me from the States while I was on the streets of London, Manchester, Birmingham, etc., there was no usage charge. And, since I arranged with my cellphone carrier to have all calls placed to my U.S. cell number forwarded to the new GSM phone, people calling me from the States were not charged international rates either (since they were dialing my U.S. cellular phone number). This freebie disappeared when I arrived in Paris and reverted back to $1.49/minute for calls in both directions. Two days after I placed my order, a thin and sleek Samsung phone arrived at my office in a small leather handbag.
Even better, all of the plug adapters necessary for my trip were also included inside the pouch. Simple directions made it easy to forward my calls from my U.S. cellphone. And pre-printed FedEx tags were supplied for returning the items. Overseas, my phone worked like a charm. At times, callers from the States went directly into my voicemail, but I'd say the success rate was around 90 percent. Recharging the phone with my plug adaptors was a breeze. Overall, I'd give the entire cellphone experience an A grade and highly recommend this mode of communication.