How to use your Android phone to get on the internet in the UK

Here is the simple process for getting your Android device online with a data SIM in the UK.  It’s terribly fun, I recommend it to everyone.

  1. Before leaving, turn off your phone and do not turn it on again.  Some carriers reportedly will charge you roaming rates when people leave you voicemail if you turn on your phone out of the US, even if you never make or receive a call, because it’s “registered” there.
  2. Pick up a SIM card from the local mobile store, wireless stand, fast food chain, gas station, vending machine, cabbage shop, or hobo.  I opted for the “Orange 3G card”.
  3. Put card in phone.
  4. Hope your phone is unlocked. If not, find a way to make international calls without your phone, and call the *international* support line for the carrier that sold you the phone.  Tell them you need the SIM unlock code and explain why.  Note that only the international support line will give it out (not the usual one), and then only sometimes.  If this fails, you’ll be exploring the seamy underbelly of the internet for the keywords “unlock phone”.  Been there, done that, don’t recommend it.  Other alternatives: travel without data, fly home.
  5. Enter SIM unlock code.  Carefully.  5 or so wrong answers and your phone is a useless brick.
  6. Get on the internet!
  7. Just kidding.  Follow directions in booklet; go to  Fill out forms to load card with money.  Stare blankly at “postal code” section of credit card info and realize that they don’t support foreign cards.
  8. Call 450.  Navigate phone tree.  Get stuck again when they need post code.
  9. Curse at phone creatively until connected with an operator.
  10. Explain situation.  Provide card info, including US address, which they will accept as your billing code.
  11. Have operator ask you for UK post code “for your current location”.  Argue for a while.  Give up, google “UK post code”, and choose a result at random.
  12. Provide a witty retort when your clever operator with a perfect Pakistani British accent observes that your post code is the same as that of Buckingham Palace.  Stand firm in your assertion.  Share a chuckle.
  13. Put 10 pounds on the card.
  14. Choose an oddly named bonus plan (e.g. “Dolphin”), which is mostly irrelevant, since it takes up to 72 hours to take effect, and you’re leaving in 72 hours.  Note that they won’t mention this detail until the transaction is done.
  15. Tell them you want the 5 pound “250 megabyte” data package.
  16. Get on the internet!
  17. Ha ha, fooled you.  Still joking.   Find your APN settings.  Restore default. If this doesn’t give you something like “orangeweb” or “orangeinternet”, enter a new APN setting, name=orangeinternet, apn=orangeinternet, everything else blank.
  18. Reboot.
  19. Call back because internet isn’t working.
  20. Discover that you need to pay 25 pence for tech support, which you can’t do, since you ignored my advice previously and only put 5 pounds on the card so you have nothing left.
  21. Go through the “top up” thing, get a sales person, vent.
  22. Kindly sales person explains that your internet stops working when you have 0-balance, a fact no one mentioned, and you couldn’t find out because if you have 0-balance you can’t call tech support.  Kindly sales person puts an extra quid on the account so it should work.
  23. Get text message that everything’s working, which awakens spouse since it’s now past midnight local time and you’ve been at this 2 hours.  Disable text message sound.
  24. Reboot.
  25. Get on the internet!  For real this time!
  26. Get text message that your credit card has been declined.  Get booted from the internet.
  27. Get new text message that you have been inexplicably been granted 10 megabytes of internet, and please get the credit card thing sorted.
  28. Get urgent email from amex saying that they declined your ten pound charge just in case you’re not you, despite the fact that you called them yesterday and told them you’d be getting a phone in England so please turn off the fraud alerts.
  29. Use Google Voice to make a free call to Amex to give them a piece of your mind.  Have credit card reinstated.
  30. Call up and have them re-charge the 5 pounds.
  31. Get new URGENT VOICEMAIL from American Express fraud alert, waking wife again, explaining that your card may have been stolen.  Again.
  32. Write bitter and vitriolic blog post.
  33. Raid minibar.  Go to bed. (this step has not yet been tested)

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