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iPhone Planning for International Use


iPhone Planning for International Use

Using an iPhone as a GPS navigator in Europe has garnered many postings because there are reports about $1,000+  Internet charges to download real-time maps. A quick summary of a low- or no-cost way to use GPS on an iPhone:

  • - Go to Settings>General>Network>Cellular Data and set to OFF
  • - When at a WiFi spot in while still in the US or in Europe, download maps that install on the iPhone.
  • - With GPS on, you'll navigate comfortably both on the road and in town without carrier charges.

My contacts by chat with AT&T and a visit to an  Apple store didn't help with this solution  So let me share my mostly positive experience on a recent European auto and walking trip. First though I need to describe the communications modes of an iPhone 4 with iOS 4.

  1. Voice over GSM

  2. Data over 3G/E ( including email)

  3. Texting over SMS

  4. Positioning over GPS

  5. Internet/email over WiFi

  6. Data and voice from iPhone memory


The first three in the list incur charges by the carrier depending on the particular plan. It's item 2 (data) that can be particularly expensive for the map downloads using GPS.

MAPS IN iPhone MEMORY- To avoid mapping charges, it's easy to download street and roadmaps from any WiFi hotspot from the app store. There are three types:

  • - Completely free. The OpenStreetMap consortium provides well marked street maps of almost every European city for download to an iPhone. A complete map of Europe is also available at ------ The standard Google maps was available at free WiFi spots such as Starbucks and many hotel lobbies but once on the road, new ones aren't freely available. You can save WiFi downloaded maps as images in your Camera Roll with a on/off + home button sequence to be retrieved anytime.
  • - Small per map charge. Other apps provide OpenStreet maps which are augmented with city highlights such as museums and parking areas. Examples include------
  • - More substantial cost with audible navigation. If you have experienced  dashboard GPS systems or hand helds like Magellan, your iPhone can duplicate that experience. I used SYGIC from the app store with exceptionally good results for central Europe - for both driving to a hotel door and navigating street walks.

Overall costs are limited to the one-time cost for map downloads.


IPhone  SETTINGS for ON-PHONE GPS.  I got little advice from the carriers, because most of their experience is in ad-on services. You cannot use "airplane" mode because that turns off GPS. So here's what to do:

- Turn off cellular data. Go to Settings>Network>Cellular Data OFF. Be sure to leave WiFi on at Settings>WiFi ON.


OTHER SETTINGS OPTIONAL. Optionally, you can sign up for an International calling plan for voice calks on GSM. If you don't calls from the US will still cause charges even if you direct them to voice mail on a per call basis. An easy alternative: go to Settings>Network>Call Forwarding and set a voice mail number. Change the greeting on that phone number so the caller knows you're away.


If you're willing to do some more work,set up a Google voice account and direct the call forwarding to that number. You'll be able to retrieve your voice mail message over the Internet at a free WiFi point.


EMAIL. You can send and receive emails at WiFi hot spots.

TEXT MESSAGING. You can't turn off text messaging independently you can go to Airplane mode while not using GPS. But if you receive lots of text messages, call your carrier and either ask them to block text messages or ask to buy an International  text messaging plan. 


AN IMPORTANT NOTE ON POWER: GPS drains a lot of power. I experienced less than 6 hours before the internal power supply was drained. External power supplies that use the bottom connector are available from suppliers like Kensington. The one I used added 3+ hours.


[Subject edited to reflect new topic]

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Re: iPhone Planning for International Use

You seem to have covered most approaches very well. I don't know what your particular budget is but here are a couple of additional thoughts. I have purchased on device GPS for other countries that I frequently visit. It seems simpler to download the entire country at once rather than finding a hotspot when I get lost update my maps. I purchased an unlocked Nokia 3G phone for my foreign travels. It allows me to share European data with my iPhone by setting it up as a virtual hotspot. Additionally no Nokia gives you free turn by turn GPS for your. This generally, however, only helps when you are visiting a single country. If you are doing a five country auto trip, it becomes very expensive and burdensome to buy five different Sim cards along the way. iPhone offers a pan European hotspot solution. You will spend between nine and $16 a day for this. This is often above moany people's budgets, however, if you avoid buying hotel Internet and are sharing the data amongst several people, it becomes far more reasonable. If all you want is GPS, sells several units with European maps. Then again there is always the old Michelin guides.
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