How do you make a U.S. iPhone work in E.U.?

One reason I got the iPhone was that it’s GSM. Meaning it should work outside the U.S. I also thought I had a plan with AT&T that allowed that. Well, now I’m in Europe and my iPhone just says “Searching…”. Did it in Frankfurt, and does it in London.

Anybody have any clues for a fix on this?

[Later…] Fixed. See comments below, and thanks to everybody.

Tags: , , , , ,


  1. David Blumenstein’s avatar


    Should it work? Yes. Might you need to contact AT&T and question if they regard United Kingdom as separate zone from Continental Europe? Quite possibly.

    My solution is to buy a chip at CarPhone warehouse and insert in my phone when in the United Kingdom and Europe. It ends up being far more economical, especially if you are staying abroad a week or more

  2. Brian’s avatar

    have you manually tried selecting O2 as your network?

  3. Richard Bennett’s avatar

    My Blackberry worked fine with T-Mobile’s roaming partner in Europe on a recent trip. I just had to activate international roaming on the account. They use GSM too.

  4. Pat Phelan’s avatar

    Have you called AT&T to enable international roaming?
    You must do this before you leave.
    Once you do this, please insure that DATA roaming is disabled otherwise you will get the usual 10k bill.
    Sorry to pump my own product Doc but you should have got a MAXroam, no monthly charges, just low pricing

  5. DBD’s avatar

    Not very helpful, but: purchase an phone with a lesser UI that isn’t otherwise so anti-consumer?

  6. Alfredo Octavio’s avatar

    Hey Doc, Most US Carriers require that you activate a free service to use the phone outside the US. This is to make clear that you are going to pay through the nose for the privilege. I don’t know much about AT&T, other than I hate them, but in T-Mobile this is called “Free World Service” and you can get it through your web account or by calling Customer Service. If it isn’t that, you should check whether you are seeing the networks, this should be somewhere in the preferences (Network Selection or something like that). Sorry I can’t be more precise, but it’s been a while wince I used the iPhone.

  7. Andrew Leyden’s avatar

    Get International Roaming turned on immediately!! Call AT&T US somehow and have them activate, else you’ll be charged for every 15 minute email check at a rather high rate.

  8. Steve’s avatar

    You need international roaming AND and international dialing plan. They tell you that you just need roaming but you need both for it to work. Its an AT&T thing, not iPhone.

  9. bruce fryer’s avatar

    Call ATT at:

    You can call them from Skype on your notebook. They will activate you. (just did this for someone 3 weeks ago)

  10. sundae1888’s avatar

    It has nothing to do with international roaming but everything to do with the frequency used. GSM in North America uses 850 MHz and 1900 MHz, while most of the rest of the world, including Europe, uses 900 MHz and 1800 MHz.

    The iPhone AT&T sold you only supports the North American bands, but not the more popular ones used in Europe. On the other hand, iPhones sold in Europe etc. only support 900 MHz and 1800 MHz. I bought the 3G iPhone and, before I subsequently sold it, read all the fine prints it came with. The manual said it only supports either 850/1900MHz or 900MHz/1800MHz.

    In other words, your iPhone is just a bigger, more expensive iPod Touch for the rest of the time you spend in Europe. If you must make your cell phone number available, you can probably buy/borrow/rent/steal a cheap unlocked phone and stick your AT&T SIM card into it.

    FYI: For those who said their Blackberries work just fine roaming in Europe or elsewhere in the world, that’s because most Blackberries have tri-band/quad-band support. RIM designed the Blackberry for business people who actually travels around the world often. Many higher end models from Nokia and Motorola, even if a few years old, have tri/quad-band support as well.

  11. Todd Carpenter’s avatar

    I’ve used my iPhone in the UK without problems as recently as last month. I did get hit by a $350 bill for data roaming, so be careful. Pat’s point about disabling data roaming is a great one. Don’t know about the continent, haven’t been there since I bought the phone.

    You should set up the international calling plan that AT&T has (at least for the month that you’re traveling). It’s $4.95 or so, but will save you more than that in discounted rates (albeit still outrageous).

    International roaming is the biggest scam by cell phone providers. It’s the last bastion of the horrible roaming fees that were charged in the 90s before companies began rolling out nationwide calling plans.

  12. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks, everybody, especially Bruce for the AT&T phone number and Flip for the page of advice from AT&T, which comes down to what many others recommend: Use a different phone with a different plan when you’re outside North America. I’ll probably do that next time.

    I don’t plan to use this phone much. I just want people to be able to reach me, and vice versa. Meanwhile I’ve turned off pretty much everything, including nearly all applications, reducing the iPhone to the aveage (at best) phone it actually is. One positive thing: it knows I’m not in the US and automatically adds the 001 (+1) to calls to the U.S. My old Nokia wouldn’t do that.

    Oh, didn’t mention the $.50/$.20 charge for sending/receiving text messages. Pretty sucky.

    The irony here is that I worked out everything over the “phone” with AT&T by calling the +1.916.843.4685 number through Skype on the laptop. The laptop as a speakerphone worked very well, which it needed to, since the only place in the hotel room that the phone works is by the window. There I get five bars of signal. At the desk here I get one or none.

    I don’t know how much SkypeOut call credit I had before calling AT&T (not more than $10), but now it says, “Skype Credit balance $8.75. Almost 6 hours of calling at SkypeOut Global Rate.”

    That beats the shit out of AT&T’s deal, about which Todd (last comment above) is right.

  13. Pat Phelan’s avatar

    Just a couple of extra hints
    Download Fring from the App store, its free
    Allows you to use skype on the iPhone when in wifi, really fantastic application
    Glad to see you got it all sorted
    Would love to get you out a MAXroam sim, drop me a line

  14. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Pat, when I’m back I’ll bring my Nokia N75, which needs to be unlocked. If I do that I can take your sim. That work for you?

  15. Andrew Leyden’s avatar


    See Pat already mentioned it too so just second that recommendation. Fring will let you use Skype over WIFI on your iPhone. Great little app.

    My current overseas package includes:

    * unlocked GSM phone + local pay as you go SIM for country I’m in (for local calls to folks and to receive calls from US)
    * iPhone for mobile data access (usually via wifi) and Fring
    * Laptop with Skype (for calls from the hotel)

    I also forward my Skype in numbers to my overseas mobile so people can call me on a US or UK number and it will flip to me wherever (when in the US I forward Skype In to my iPhone).

    I used to spend about £100 a week on overseas travel phone calls. That’s down now to about £10 a week thanks to Skype.

  16. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks, Andrew. That’s pretty much what I hope to do next time, which is in Amsterdam later this month. Perhaps by then I’ll have an Android phone to play around with. Lacking that, I’l get my old Nokia N75 unlocked, bring that, and get a local SIM.

    FWIW, last night the iPhone did an amazing job of navigating me from the South Kensington tube stop to the small pub about a mile away in Chelsea, where I was meeting some other folks. Of course, Google deserves most of that credit; but the GPS in the iPhone made a big difference too. I also see it took 1.2 Mb of my now-budgeted 20Mb/mo to make the walk.

    I also have a real Garmin eTrex Vista CX GPS I can take. I’ll need to get local maps for that, but it would be a cheaper alternative. Meanwhile the cost of “data roaming” has me steaming. I mean, I have no problem paying carriers for services rendered. But there has to be something broken with any service that makes you hate the provider(s). This is one of those cases. T-Mobile’s “roaming” within their own damn system is another example. I know T-Mobile is in some ways the best of the lot; but there’s a lot wrong with that particular “service.” Shit, I pay T-Mobile $29.95/month to use their wi-fi access points. Those points access the @#$% Internet fergoshsakes. Why act like a phone company and create artificial scarcities across national boundaries that the Net transcends? If it actually costs more to provide Internet service in some country, do this: say so, on the login page. Customers have no problem paying for passed-through costs that can be understood. But in the absence of that customers see this kind of shit as pure shakedown and Old Skool Telco mentality at work: screw your captive customers… because, well, what else can you do?

  17. Pat Phelan’s avatar

    you can get that down further with MAXroam, forget locals sims, they are a pain point, credit runs out, sim doesn’t work etc
    Doc drop me a line and I will sort out that Nokia, in London at the moment myself, its cold damp and wet 🙂

  18. James Morrison’s avatar

    you should try to call AT&T, and ask Global Roaming feature of the iPhone to be activated before you get out of the country.. be sure to bring another cellphone if all else fails..

    usually, when im out of the country, i just bring my tabletPC to connect and play boeing 747 flight simulator games.


  19. mafia wars guide’s avatar

    Like james mentioned above, I actually called AT&T because I had the same problem. When the gloabl roaming feature was activated on there end, it worked 🙂

  20. Christopher’s avatar

    You probably were off grid , or as james said, roaming was not enabled. I had similar problems, when traveling in other countries, like text messages not being delivered.
    Solution i use: I have a phone which lets you put in 2 sim cards…so usually i just buy a cheap local sim card so i can make cheap local calls or send text messages. Thats what the iphone is missing…. a slot for a second sim card.

  21. Darren’s avatar

    As the guys have said, you need your roaming facility on, but you can get a European sim card on your flight which fits any phone and the call charges are cheap enough. I always bring a old phone with me, because I find the battery life in the i phone does not last long which becomes a pain when you are traveling.

    And I always bring my laptop to play my jet flight simulator just in case.

Comments are now closed.