Updated: December 2017
Making Calls with your US Cell Phone While in England:I have traveled to Europe many times over the last few years and the one thing that I can't stand is making phone calls from hotel rooms and finding out later that they charged you $40 for a 10 minute conversation back to the United States. There's a connection fee, a high per minute charge, and other taxes in most countries. On my most recent trip to England (March 2009) I looked into other calling options since I knew that my GSM cell phone should work in most countries around the world. Making cell phone calls abroad is nothing new but for Americans we aren't used to it. I looked into the various options and the least expensive one seemed to be buying a cheap unlocked phone here in the United States and then purchasing a UK SIM card to use in the phone. It really comes down to how much calling you plan on doing. For myself, I was on vacation and knew I would need to call home at least every day or 2 and talk with my kids. With prepaid SIM cards you can cut your rate per minute to below $.50 which is doing pretty good. There are "Pay as you go" phones as well which start at around $45 and go up substantially based on the phone quality.
I have my cell phone service with AT&T in the States and so when I looked into their international cell phone services I found some decent deals, especially in England and the UK. You sign up for a monthly World Traveler rate which is $5.99/month. It allows you to make and receive calls in over 200 countries (Canada and Mexico are the cheapest). The best part was that I get to keep my same cell phone # that I use in America and take it with me overseas. That way my parents and my family/friends could call me on that # even when I was in England and Scotland and my mobile phone would ring. I thought that was just amazing and so I decided to go with the AT&T plan. The other cell phone plans abroad that I mentioned above are convenient enough but you have to get a different phone # for the trip and it seems to confusing for those calling you from the United States to deal with. With my mobile phone calling package I could be reached abroad as simply as if I was still in the United States. Voice mail and all the other functions on the phone still work just fine. The only thing I had to do differently was dial a "+" before the rest of the numbers when calling phones in the United States. The most important thing is to make sure you aren't going to be dinged for International Roaming rates which can really add up. My wife uses an iPhone and we received documentation before we left about changing all sorts of settings on the phone since it wants to pick up data when it's turned on and AT&T doesn't support that on the World Traveler plan. You could be looking at a bill for $100's if you use your iPhone without turning off key data retrieving functions. My cost per minute was $.99 in England and given that I was only making 5 phone calls within the 8 days I was there, I think I made the best choice. Each call was only lasting about 10 minutes, so instead of paying a hotel $40 each time I called home, I was saving money with the international service plan.