How to use your mobile phone while visiting the UK

Thinking of heading to the UK from abroad? Here's a guide to help make sure that your phone is working properly when you need it the most. 

GSM vs CDMA networks

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There are two different types of mobile network currently in use, 'GSM' and 'CDMA'. These two types of network use completely different technology to make and receive calls, meaning that a CDMA phone is 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 won't 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. In the USA, for exampe, Verizon & Sprint use CDMA whilst AT&T and T-Mobile use GSM. If you're not sure which system your carrier uses, you'll need to check with them to find out.

If you're on GSM

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If you have a GSM phone and SIM card then using the UK mobile networks is 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 super-expensive

Your network might let you add a special holiday bundle to your account to make it cheaper to use the handset when you are in the UK. This is usually a one off payment that will cover you for a certain amount of time, and should save you a lot of money if you use your phone a lot.

A data connection can be particularly expensive, so most phones will not let 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, you can do it by connecting to a Wi-Fi network. Most hotels will have Wi-Fi available and there are 1000s of free Wi-Fi hotspots across the UK.

If you're on CDMA

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If you are using a CDMA handset, then you won't 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 things will work automatically without you having to do anything, as long as you have a Wi-Fi internet connection.

Free internet calls and instant messaging apps

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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, either on a smartphone or on a computer. You can also call landline and mobile numbers from Skype for a small charge. WhatsApp is another popular way of sending free text message over Wi-Fi. Unlike iMessage, WhatsApp is universal, so there's a version available for iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, Nokia and Blackberry. That means you can contact pretty much all of your friends and family who have a smartphone with WhatsApp installed.

There are lots 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.

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