Question

eSim with full UK compatibility

  • 12 December 2020
  • 2 replies
  • 199 views

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I need to buy an iPhone 12 Pro Max for my husband who is hospitalized in the UK. I thought it would be a matter of buying the phone here, and getting an eSim card from a UK carrier, so the monthly plan billing will come to me, and then mailing the phone to him. Wrong. UK carriers don’t do anything for US residents. And my husband is immobile right now and cannot get to a carrier shop - even if they would put the billing in my name - which they won’t. So I have to do everything on this end, which means find a sim or esim card (I’ve never used either so am totally ignorant about them) that I can put in my name and be billed for it, but is completely compatible with living in the UK. Does anyone have any advice?


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First off, let me be clear that you have not yet purchased the phone, right?

The way to buy an unlocked iPhone in the US is to go to the Apple website or Apple store and purchase the phone as an unlocked phone directly from Apple. You might be able to buy an unlocked phone at Best Buy but under no circumstances should you insert any SIM other than the one to be used in the UK as the phone will lock itself to a US SIM. (Apple Reseller Flex Policy)

The next thing is that there are four main wireless carriers in UK: Vodafone, O2, EE and “3” as well as a host of MVNOs that run on these networks. Each offers service that covers most cities. I used to have a list of agents who would sell a variety of SIMs for use in European countries but now (because roaming works so much better) the choices are more limited. Telestial.com sells a prepaid international SIM and CellularAbroad.com sells what seems to be one overpriced UK MVNO.

In theory, you could buy an iPhone, buy the SIM, set it up and FedEx (or DSL) ship it to your Hubbie in UK. Here’s the fly in the ointment. UK Customs is going to catch the iPhone which has not paid UK duty or VAT and Hubbie or his agent will have to make a trip somewhere to pay a bunch of tax before the phone can be delivered. Ouch!

There used to be a forum (prepaidgsm.net) that might have been able to provide better advice but it’s moribund and locked for new posts. You might be able to get some help a howardforums.com. What you need to find is an agent (dealer) in the UK who will sell you a phone set up with a SIM and deliver it to your Hubbie. The problem is that in the age of terrorism, he’ll probably need Hubbie’s passport or ID-card. I’m not sure what to suggest. I see lots of potential pitfalls. 

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Well, UK carriers don’t usually let you have a contract (postpaid) line unless you have a UK credit history. Same for US carriers. I have a prepaid T-Mobile because I am a UK resident and do not have a US credit history or SSN.

This understood, the UK is a great place to get value prepaid (pay as you go) SIMs. You could well order the iPhone from the UK Apple store and have it delivered to your husband. The get online to the  likes of http://three.co.uk or http://o2.co.uk and order a FREE prepaid SIM to be delivered to your husband. He puts it in the phone and voila! It will work straightaway to receive calls and he will get an UK number. If he wants to make calls, especially to the US, Three UK or O2 have competitive prepaid International rates of 1 or 2p per minute to the US.

In addition he may just buy a prepaid plan with a good data allowance and get a google voice number from the US, download and install the Google Voice app from the App Store and he’ll have a US number he can use to make and receive calls to/from the US for free.

With a There SIM he will even get FREE roaming in all of Europe, the USA and other countries, and he’ll be able to use his data as if he were in the UK (hear that, T-Mobile and US carriers? Free roaming in prepaid!!!).

You’ll find that UK, and European, prepaid SIMs do not differ much from contract SIMs, and you are not credit-checked. On the other hand, US prepaid SIMs are awful to say the least.

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