(I mean, Charles Dickens did used to live 15 minutes from my flat.)
Even after going back and forth with AT+T across the pond and getting intimate with the lovely, anachronistic Apple Store in Covent Gardens, my handy-dandy, trusty-rusty iPhone 6 will not be making its daily rounds with me any longer. Here’s how it all went down.
Plan A: Use an AT+T partner service for my semester abroad
As I was putting in travel notices and packing my life into a carry-on, I looked into international phone plans. I came across AT+T’s International Day Pass, which charges a whopping $10 a day for service abroad.
To that, I said a brusque, “Hell no!” and opted for the AT+T Passport. Ooh, I thought I was so keen. So clever!
“It’s just $40 per month!” I exclaimed. “That’s not too bad!”
Wrong! Every few days, my phone would tinkle its sweet little notification bells and I’d hop into iMessage to see AT+T texting me about data overage charges. That’s not who I wanted blowing up my line.
I started putting feelers out for SIM card costs and switch-out processes. It was time to enact Plan B.
Plan B: Get an English SIM card and pay for data as I go
Frustrated with my (lack of) international data disaster and how money was bleeding out of my pocket, I decided to take the L and purchase a SIM card. I bought mine from a Three store, like the rest of my peers. Oh, and I had been so delighted, too. On Saturday, I had swung by a Three in Soho and found it closed. Sunday was my lucky day: there happens to be a Three shop right by the Tube station in Brixton.
At Three, £20 gets you the standard 3,000 minutes and 3,000 texts. All costs are incremental in proportion to the data. £10 is 1GB, £15 is 5GB, £20 is 12GB and so on. It’s pay-as-you-go, which means that you “top up,” as they say, once your month is up. (“Top up” is also used for replenishing money on other items, such as Oyster cards.)
I made a point of balancing on the tiny, wobbly Three barstool and replacing my SIM card with an employee’s watchful eye. You know, in case anything went amiss. And go amiss it did. Lucky me: turns out my iPhone isn’t “unlocked.” So the SIM card I had just purchased could not be used with my regular phone. Joy.
That night, I gave my favorite phone company, AT+T, a ring to ask them about the unlocking process. I found out that in order to unlock my phone, I would have to pay off the rest of my phone bill. Suffice to say? I don’t got it.
I was going to have to buy another phone.
Plan C: Buy a
trap phone TracFone (or the British equivalent, anyway)
Yesterday, I went up to a school staff member and asked them about the best place to buy an affordable phone. They wrote down Argos, told me to do some research on the website, figure out which location is nearest and shoot my shot.
Argos is like a RadioShack with more home goods or a BestBuy with no media. The closest equivalent is Walmart in terms of scope of wares, but there isn’t any food and it isn’t an oversized materialist wonderland like WallyWorld is.
I took the staffer’s advice. I accessed Argos’ website, I compared phone prices and today, I run down today on the 50 minutes I have between class and a meeting.
I find the Argos, I figure out the line system and I consult an employee for my best bet. The SIM card I had bought from Three includes web data. In order to access the Internet, you’re going to need a 3G phone. Not just a 2G phone.
And besides, even if I had wanted to settle for texts and calls alone, my Three SIM card works exclusively with 3G and 4G phones. Because in this day and age, who would just settle for texts and calls alone?
I ended up paying more than £60 for a decent phone. I say “decent” simply to mean a “phone with 3G.” Trust me, I made sure I picked the cheapest option.
This was all on a 50-minute gap in my schedule. I was cutting it close, but this was a crucial matter. I couldn’t let the anxiety of having an unreliable phone plan eat at me anymore than I could allow.
Again, I make a point of sitting down in the store (this time on a bench, my back against the wall) and investigating my phone under an employee’s supervision.
I slide in the SIM card. It’s oriented the correct way, as demonstrated by visual cues on the Quick Start pamphlet. I clip in the battery. I go through the motions of setting up my phone. And?
Lucky me: turns out the SIM card I purchased is too small for the phone. An employee then told me I had to go find a SIM card adapter.
Argos sells sofas and Furbies and turntables and virtual reality headsets and drones. But they couldn’t sell me the little guitar-pick sized scrap of plastic to help my SIM card fit into my phone. They didn’t have it. I’d have to go find another store selling phones or phone accessories and get an adapter there.
Let go and let God See if the phone store sells SIM card adapters
After my meeting finishes, I bump into a staffer and recount the situation at hand. They recommend going to an EE store across from our nearest Tube station. I head off in that direction and come across a phone store that is in the right place, but doesn’t quite fit the description.
I speak with an employee there for a bit before they tell me there’s a Three store down the street, actually. A few blocks down, yeah?
So I’m walking and walking and walking. I’ve passed hotels and cafés and restaurants and boutiques. I have walked so much and have covered so much ground with no indication of a Three store in the area. I am thisclose to giving up and asking for help in the stationery store up ahead. And then I stop short. Right next door, tucked into the street, is the Three store.
I square my shoulders and march inside. I tell the person at the counter my grief. They take their co-worker aside and mumble some numbers before they reach into a drawer and withdraw a translucent cube filled with little black plastic cards. There are two types of SIM adapters on each card. You just punch whichever one is needed for the corresponding phone.
“How much is it?” I ask.
“Oh, this?” They slide it to me across the glass, tapping the adapter I need. “It’s free.”
We make a team effort. Off comes the back of my phone. Out comes the battery. Out comes the SIM card before its placed in the adapter and everything is snapped right into place. And like that, one of the key moments I’ve been waiting for (since I first got here) has arrived. And I wasn’t even aware I wanted this moment so much until it came.
As a communications student, there’s something beautiful about being able to communicate. Am I right?
But more than that, not having a working phone gave me veritable anxiety. It wasn’t just about the security blanket of the Internet.
It was about not having access to a working map or to Tube updates. It was about being alone in a big city without any reliable way of contacting anyone (my friends, my family, my love, but also London peers and professors and staff and tour guides). Not having a working phone posed a barrier to communicating with the few others I can rely on for vital information as well as companionship in London.
Today, I walk the streets of London with two phones. My hotline can now bling internationally. I can pick up the phone, when you know that I’m home. I can now call my lovely. Even my phones will miss your call, by the way.
Apart from being frustrated with the situation and how unnecessarily convoluted the path was to arrive at victory, I am frustrated with myself. I wish I had bitten the bullet sooner and bought a SIM card when the rest of my peers did.
Buying a SIM card early on wouldn’t have solved the unlocking issue. But at least I would have found out sooner that my phone was locked. That would have set the main events of the past three days in motion more rapidly.
I would have been able to plan more efficiently for buying the proper SIM card and phone, with way less hiccups.
Nevertheless, that’s water under the bridge now. I am grateful I have come to some sort of conclusion, verdict, denouement.
I have bigger issues at hand, such as getting accustomed to a whole new keyboard and doing something about these gumdrop-looking Android emojis I have to contend with.