If you have a modern cellphone you should have no trouble using it when you travel in Greece. But there are some particular issues you need to be aware of, or to do before you leave for your trip. This way you will not be surprised with no service when you travel, or with high bills when you return home.
First things first. You should call your mobile carrier to let them know you will be traveling internationally. In many cases, making calls from abroad is blocked and all it takes is a phone call to have this ability activated (usually for free).
Also check the rates you will be charged by your mobile carrier.
It is not unusual for unsuspecting travelers to charge hundreds of Dollars (or Euro) in roaming charges, and that can be a major source of distress upon their return home.
Roaming charges add up quickly once you are in a foreign country. All your phone apps use data constantly behind the scenes, so even if you don’t surf the internet, you are still using data.
The most radical option is to turn off data in your phone’s settings. You will still be able to make calls and send text messages, but your phone will not be using the more expensive data.
If you turn off “data” in your settings, you can still surf the internet and check your email when you are within WiFi range.
Even without data, international rates for voice and text can be expensive.
Before you depart for your trip, you should decide if you want to keep the same number when you travel, or if you would not mind changing your number to a Greek number when you arrive in Greece.
If your live in another European Union country, you don’t have to worry about a thing. You can roam like at home.
If you Come from Another European Union Country
Recent EU legislation allows citizens of Europe to “roam like at home”. This means “when you use your mobile phone while traveling outside your home country in any EU country you don’t have to pay any additional roaming charges.”
Typically, when you travel to other EU countries, you will not be charged any extra fees for calling, texting, or for using data. The fees you will be charged when you travel to Greece will be exactly the same as what you pay back home.
There are some conditions you should be aware of, so check out the official Europa page for more information.
For example, when you travel by air, or by boat (or a cruise ship) , you will be charged like at home only if you are connected to a land-based network.
If you are connected to a satellite-based network, “roam like at home” does not apply, and you will be charged ultra-exuberant fees.
If You Come from a Country Not in the European Union
Using your cellphone becomes slightly more complex if you don’t come from an EU country.
Mainly, you have to worry about two things: connectivity, and roaming charges.
You have three options:
- You may use your existing phone and number
- You may use your existing phone, but change to a number (SIM card) you buy in Greece
- You may buy a new phone and number in Greece
Using Your Existing Cellphone Account and Number in Greece
If you choose to keep your own number, look at your mobile company’s offerings and options carefully.
Most companies offer discounted international roaming fees in exchange for a small monthly fee added to your bill. Some cellphone companies would require that you use a different devise in Greece.
For example, Verizon, the wildly popular mobile provider of the USA relies on a CDMA network and their older cellphone models are not compatible with large parts of the outside world, including Greece and the rest of Europe where GSM technology is in use.
If Verizon is your carrier, you should contact them well ahead of time to find out if your cellphone is one of the newer “world device” as they call them.
If you don’t have a “world device”, Verizon can send you another cellphone to use on your trip. Of course, they will still charge you a small fee and all the hefty roaming charges in addition.
If AT&T is your mobile carrier, their phones have been using the GSM network so you won’t need to change cellphones to travel.
While you are on the phone with your mobile provider, ask about mobile data rates, and of course how your calls would be charged (will each call be rounded up to the nearest minute?), and if there are any other fees you will be responsible for.
Once you have this information, you will be in better position to decide if you can afford keeping your existing number, or if you should buy a SIM card (or even another phone) while you are in Greece.
If you decide you keep your phone and number, pay for the international plan, and go on your vacation.
This is probably the more expensive option, but also the one that can be setup with the least hustle on your part.
Getting a Local Mobile Account While in Greece
To get a mobile account in Greece you would need to visit one of the ubiquitous Wind, Vodaphone, or Cosmote shops in any large or small town.
Vodaphone has a kiosk where you may buy a sim card in Athens Airport.
You need to provide your passport (they are required by law to make a photocopy of it) and an address. Billing your credit card automatically is not an option.
The whole process is rather simple. Within the span of about 15-20 min a service representative will have your account setup (it might not be active for a few hours), and you’ll be on your way.
If you have your own unlocked cellphone (see below for more details on “unlocked” phones), the service rep will ask you to choose a number from an available pool and will replace your old SIM card with a new one.
This will give you a new cellphone number that you can use while you are in Greece.
Contract or Pre-paid
Besides your new number, you will be asked to choose one of their mobile packages. These are moving targets, but roughly you may opt for a “contract” or a “pre-paid” account.
With a pre-paid plan, you will buy a certain amount of “minutes and data” to use. Typically, you will buy € 10 of minutes, and when this budget is depleted, you may replenish it by buying another € 10-20 unit.
If you are in Greece for less than a month, a pre-paid account is the best option, but for a longer visit you might want to consider a contract that would save you considerable amount of money in the long run.
Once the new SIM is in your phone, keep the old one in a safe place so you can replace it in your device when you leave Greece.
Depending on your settings, having your old SIM card in a safe place means that all your old data will probably be out of your cellphone – and that includes your contacts.
Just because your old contacts are not available after you insert the new SIM does not mean they are erased. They are still stored in your original SIM card, so don’t panic. The service rep might, or might not, be able to move your contacts to your new SIM.
It’s a good idea to have your contacts backed up before you go to the store in Greece.
Poke around your settings and move all your contacts to the phone’s external memory card from the SIM (there might be a menu item for “back up your contacts to the SIM or the storage card). You should do this before you get to the store so you don’t delay there.
Buying a new sim and pre-paid plan when you arrive in Greece will save you money. But there are a few drawbacks. The process requires a bit of knowledge on your part, mild tech-savviness, and a bit of your time.
It will take at least a few hours off your vacation to find/visit a cellphone provider’s shop, for setting up, and fiddling with the phone.
And there is always a slight change that something might require a second visit to the store (or phone calls to tech support–which can be tricky if your phone is inoperable).
Is your Cellphone “Unlocked”?
The above paragraphs describe how you can get a local Greek mobile number for your “unlocked” cellphone device. This is a critical detail.
Mobile companies in the USA lock the devices so they cannot be used with another carrier’s SIM card.
If you bought a subsidized cellphone (for example, if you are paying for your phone in installments through your phone bill), then your cellphone is almost certainly locked.
This means you will not be able to simply put in a new SIM as described above.
You need to ask your mobile provider to unlock your phone. In most cases, they will decline, especially if you are in the middle of a long contract, and they will ask you to use their roaming plans.
In this case your options will be: paying your cellphone provider for an international plan, or getting a second cellphone device while in Greece.
Buying a Second Cellphone Device to use in Greece
This is not as radical as it seems. Most mobile providers in Greece offer pre-paid packages that include an inexpensive cellphone (about €50).
If money is no object, you may purchase a new “smart phone” in Greece, but in most cases travelers opt of the cheapest option.
The cheaper phones are not adequate for using the internet, so most likely you will keep your regular cellphone to connect to the internet when you are on areas that offer WiFi (hotels, cafes, etc.)
In this case you’d be carrying two devices with you, but this might be cheaper than getting charged roaming fees.
This is also a cleaner solution since you won’t have to change anything on your original phone and you can still use it in an emergency (or to look up your contacts and other data, or to use it in wifi hotspots).
A new pre-paid phone comes with a small amount of “minutes and data”. But depending on your use, you may need to replenish those. You can purchase more “minutes and data” when you buy the pre-paid, or at most kiosks in Greece.
The drawbacks include the extra expense for a phone you will have no use for after your Greek holiday. The local phone will most likely be a “non-smart” kind.
So you might be inclined to carrying around your regular cellphone for the things you can’t do with the new one (for example you may still use the internet on your regular phone when you are in WiFi coverage.