I'm from the US and going to backpack through europe for 3 months soon. I'm trying to figure out if I should get cellphone service there. I'll be couchsurfing and meeting other travelers and locals along the way. My itinerary includes london, spain, france, italy, austria, the czeck republic, poland, the netherlands and germany. From the few people I've talked to there's really no economical cell plan that would work in multiple countries. Are there enough pay phones around to make due or does anyone have any other creative ideas?
My other question is about banking. I've heard about pretty high atm fees and don't want to be traveling with loads of cash around. Are travelers checks still frequently used? What kind of charges can I expect from ATM and credit cards? Do they give good exchange rates? Are there any particular banks or credit card companies that work better in europe? I wouldn't mind openning a new bank account or credit card if it'd save me a fair amount of money over the 3 months,
ATMs usually provide the best exchange rates, but generally charge a withdrawl fee from $3 to $5. You are travelling to areas with 4 different currencies: Pound Sterling (UK), Euro (France, Spain, Italy, Austria, Germany and Netherlands), Koruna (Czech) and Złoty (Poland). Therefore, if you plan well, and don't mind carrying around a bunch of cash, you could technically only do 4 withdrawals.
I wouldn't bother with traveller's cheques. They can be a pain to try and cash nowadays.
Some banks in the US have plans that waive the international withdrawal fee, but they usually have a monthly fee. I'll let some of the Americans comment on banking plans, as I don't have much information on that.
The money thing was a little tricky when I went to Italy. I found out my bank has a $350/day withdrawal limit and at a $1.5/euro exchange rate I could only take out about 200 euro at a time. That was tough when the hotel wanted the balance in cash upon checkout. Then when I got home, I found out I got charged 2 atm fees each time, $3 per transaction and then 3% of whatever I took out. In 30 days, I ended up paying over $70 in atm fees and I tried to keep my atm transactions to a minimum. I tried using my credit card when possible so I would only pay the 3% part. It seems like a scam to pay so much extra when it's all electronic nowadays. Another bummer was that many atms spit out 50 euro notes and people weren't too happy to see them when all you want is a bottle of Coke.
I had bought an Italian SIM card for my cellphone and it worked fine and I was able to buy cards to recharge minutes along the way. The bummer was that all the messages the company sent me were in Italian so I had no idea what they were trying to tell me about minute buying deals and such.
Hey there Jakub
First ATM´s in Europe.... A rip off! You should speak to your bank first and see can you do a deal with them, I did and it worked. I got a slight discount in that they didn´t charge commission on the transaction, and I´m not even a holder of a big account balance.
As for the phones, I´d just bring your own cell phone and buy a Vodafone card as they are the most accessible in Europe (as far as I know) and you can buy top up credit in each country. You can check where they operate as a stand alone company or with a partner service provider orn www.vodafone.com.
Hope that´s some help to you.
Please do note that bringing your own phone with you depends on whether or not you have a phone with a SIM card. If you don't, your phone probably won't be of much use. Generally phones from Verizon, Sprint, and some local carriers do not use SIM cards. Also frequently phones from the U.S. that do have SIM cards are locked, so that they can't be used with another carrier. I would think you'd need to get a Vodafone SIM card, but it's possible I'm wrong about that. If you have a Vodafone SIM card from one country it may be more expensive to make calls in another, but you will still be able to top up anywhere that has Vodafone. Best of luck!
P.S. "Topping up" is basically adding credit to a prepaid phone. In Europe you can top up all over the place, including groceries, airports, petrol stations, etc.