Our rental car this summer in Iceland.
Our rental car this summer in Iceland.

During our recent trip to Iceland, we decided — for the first time ever — to have Verizon enable one of smartphones so it would work overseas.

It was a terrible mistake, and four months later, we’re still dealing with the mess they made.

Problems setting it up

While still in the planning stages for our trip, we called Verizon several times to inquire about options for using the phone abroad. Each time the person we spoke with was nice, but each time we also received contradictory information.

For example, during one early phone call a Verizon employee said we’d need to buy two months worth of the $40 international plan — an overpriced plan that we reluctantly chose as our best option — just because our week-long trip happened to bridge the end of our billing cycle.

However during other calls — including the one where we bought the plan — no one mentioned anything about that and we were told we would simply be charged $40.

Another bothersome part of the plan is that it includes 100 MB of data. That’s not much, and at least one of the Verizon people actually suggested we disable data on the phone so as to avoid getting charged more. Which raises an important question: Why does this already overpriced plan include a useless amount of data? In case I need to make an emergency Facebook post?

Ultimately we ended up disabling the data and buying a local, pre-paid SIM card for our iPad when we arrived. We used that for things like Google Maps, and almost didn’t touch our Verizon data, which was probably exactly what Verizon wanted.

In any case, the result of this process was that we weren’t even sure if the phone would work when we landed.

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Problems on the go

And indeed the phone did not work when we landed!

During one of the calls to Verizon, we were told we might need to turn the phone off and then on again, but that otherwise it should just automatically connect. Jim asked about this repeatedly, and was assured by multiple people that there shouldn’t be any problems.

However, we spent at least the first hour and a half in Iceland — the entire time in the airport, plus the 40 minute drive into Reykjavik — turning the phone on and off and waiting in vain for it to work. At some later point it finally did connect, but our experience did not match what we were promised when we bought the plan.

Later while on the road it was difficult to use the phone because the coverage was poor.

Problems after we got back

To top it all off, after we got home we received a bill charging us for two months, due to the billing cycle issue.

Verizon also put the global service as a recurring monthly charge — something we had never asked for and which none of the Verizon employees mentioned. It took an hour on the phone to sort it all out, remove the recurring global service, and get credited the amount of the second month.

Laura was making the calls at this point, and after that long call thought she was done.

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But she wasn’t!

Fast forward a couple months, and we saw that we were still being charged a recurring monthly global service fee. The agent had only taken it off the one month, not permanently.

So Laura went through the whole ordeal on the phone again. The agent we spoke to most recently said that there was no record of the previous phone call, and no notes on our file. How is that possible, at a phone company?

After another hour on the phone getting it all sorted out, the agent said that this time everything was sorted out, and that he notated the file in case there happens to be any future problems.

We’re not holding our breath.

There are much better options

Thanks to this experience, we would strongly discourage anyone from trying to use Verizon’s international calling plans. Not only are they overpriced to begin with, but they also come with a mountain of sneaky additional charges and hours of work on the phone.

But it’s not just that Verizon was bad, it’s that other carriers promise so much more. For example, with T Mobile you could get two lines with 3GB of data each for $100 — which is less than we’re paying for comparable service on Verizon.

For travelers, what’s really great about this plan is that it comes with unlimited data and texting in 140 countries, and unlimited calling in Canada and Mexico. Sprint also offers plans that are cheaper and more comprehensive than Verizon.

We cannot personally vouch for how well these services work, though we’ve talked to people who have used them and their experience has been vastly better than what happened to us at Verizon. And given our recent frustrations, it probably won’t be long before we’re testing these other options ourselves.

— Laura Rowley and Jim Dalrymple II

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Written by Laura Rowley

I am an artist, flight attendant, and travel blogger.

6 comments

  1. Good to know! I have Verizon and was thinking about trying that travel plan while I go away to Germany and Cape Town in April. Now I don’t think I will bother after hearing your story. I think I will just rely on wifi (and taking screenshots of directions) or buy a pay-as-you-go phone while away if needed.

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