How I got my US T-Mobile phone to work in the UK

Note: this was the process for a MyTouch 4G in 2011. The process is a lot easier now. Read here: How I got my US T-Mobile Samsung S4 phone to work in the UK  ( July 2013)

This is hard-won knowledge. I had to figure out this process by myself with trial, error, calls to technical support and repeated visits to T-Mobile stores. If there’s a similar guide anywhere online, I couldn’t find it. So here you go:

I live in the US. I have a T-Mobile MyTouch 4G, made by HTC. This phone works abroad as-is, but with crazy data roaming charges: $15 per megabyte. So here’s what I did to get cheap UK service on my US phone. I recommend completing all three steps in a single visit to a T-Mobile store. Just stay there until your phone works – you will need to be physically present in front of T-Mobile staff for Step 3.

1. Pay As You Go SIM card

First, go to a T-Mobile store and buy a SIM chip with at least £10 credit on it. The SIM card is technically free: what you’re buying is credit to use on pay-as-you-go phone, text, and data. I selected the International Plan (2p a minute to the US!) To activate the International Plan, text INT to 441.

T-Mobile Pay As You Go Tariffs for UK service

You can get data service with a T-Mobile Pay As You Go Internet Booster. Limited internet costs £2.50 for 5 days (text WEB to 4410, or £5 for 30 days (text WEB to 4410) Read up on T-Mobile’s UK Internet Fair Use policy. Short version: there’s a monthly limit on streaming video and audio.

2. Manually add a new APN

OK, so now your phone can access make calls, send texts, and access the internet. Or can it? No, it cannot, because you need to tell it what servers to connect to in the UK. You need to manually create an APN: “Access Point Name”. The T-Mobile website and the store staff may try to send the new APN settings automatically to your phone. That didn’t work for me, but entering the settings manually did.

Depending on what phone you have, the settings will be different. For my MyTouch 4G, the generic HTC phone APN settings worked.

To create a new APN, click Settings, Wireless & networks, Mobile networks, Access Point Names, then click the Settings button to pop up a menu with “New APN”. Click “New APN” and enter these settings, leaving the other fields unset. The settings are case-sensitive.

Name: T-mobile
APN: general.t-mobile.uk
Username: t-mobile
Password: tm
MMS Protocol: WAP 2.0
MCC: 234
MNC: 30
Authentication type: PAP
APN type: default

When you’re done entering the APN settings, before leaving that screen, click “Settings” again, and “Save” on the popup menu. Then, on the screen that lists the APNs, click to select the APN you’ve just created.

You can also find your phone on this page: T-Mobile phone support: find your phone, click “View all help”, “Manuals”, “Connecting to the Internet”, and “Setting up the phone for Internet surfing”, then follow the instructions.

Now you should be able to connect to the internet. If not, check that you’ve entered the correct APN settings with correct capitalization and that the new APN is active, then try restarting your phone.

3. Remove content lock

Now your phone can access web pages! Or can it? No, not all of them, because your UK SIM card assumes that you are a child trying to view dirty pictures. Flickr, YouTube, and other sites of questionable morality are locked and inaccessible. To remove the content lock, you can visit the T-Mobile website with a UK credit card (which you probably don’t have), or you can show T-Mobile store staff your passport or your obviously adult face and get them to remove the content lock from your phone.

And that should be it. After I had discovered these tasks and completed them my epic quest for connectivity was complete, and my phone worked fine for the rest of my trip. I hope this post will save someone else some time and frustration.

You can get your phone credit topped up with cash anywhere you see a “Top Up” sign: UK phone top-up sign News agents, corner stores, Radio Shack, etc.

Happy travels!

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26 thoughts on “How I got my US T-Mobile phone to work in the UK

  1. Clare Post author

    Hi abid. It will work as-is, but the roaming charges will be very expensive. I recommend buying a SIM chip in the UK and following the steps I have here for setting up an APN and getting the content lock removed. You can just use the phone without any changes, but it will cost you $2/minute for calls and $15 per megabyte (a megabyte is a couple emails and maybe 1 web page).

    Reply
  2. Jess

    I’m so glad I ran across this post – and will definitely take advantage of your hard-won research for my upcoming trip to the UK in several weeks, as I have the exact same phone and have been fretting about being able to use it. Thanks so much for sharing!

    Reply
  3. Clare Post author

    You’re welcome, Jess! Good luck with your phone on your trip. I’d love to hear how it works out – I hope everything goes smoothly.

    Reply
    1. Jess

      Update: UK SIM card worked perfectly – definitely a good purchase, and was a fantastic way to keep in touch with friends & family in the US, and the many new friends made in the UK without a bazillion dollars in roaming fees! The customer service rep at the TMobile shop was less than helpful, however, and I didn’t push hard enough to get the content lock completely removed. It made looking up a pub in Cardiff impossible (!!?!?), but other apps worked just fine – was able to get around the web lock through Facebook and Yelp. Thanks again, Clare!! :)

      Reply
  4. Kathryn Vankoeverden

    I am so happy that I have found your page. I spent the past month in England looking at schools for graduate school and the only time I used my phone was when I was connected to wifi. I am taking a summer class in London so this will make my time there much easier to get in touch with my friends that live in the UK. Thank you!

    Reply
  5. Matt

    How about if I already have a UK contract and buy a handset in the US, will my sim work in it? I know they work on different frequencies but modern cells generally have “quadband” access so it should work right off the bat, right….?

    Reply
  6. Clare

    Matt, good question. There’s no obvious technological reason it wouldn’t work; it should be like putting a US sim chip into a US phone. Depending on the handset, you’d probably have some bureaucratic hassle to turn the handset on & connect it to the SIM.

    But you’d have no advantage in using the US handset – all your data roaming charges would be tied to the SIM chip. I think it would be cheaper to buy a US phone + SIM and get pay-as-you-go, so your charges would all use the local US rate.

    Reply
    1. matt

      Sorry I should have clarified. I wasn’t to buy the new (not out yet) Asus padfone from the USA when I go in August but I want to be able to use my UK Sim card when I get home. That’d work, right?

      Reply
      1. Clare Post author

        I don’t know. The technology should work, but then there might be some weird contract thing (like the i-phone being tied to AT&T in the US) that would cause you trouble. None of the problems I had with my phone were the phone itself, it was all because I didn’t have the right kind of credit card number to activate whatever bureaucratic thing needed to be turned on. I’d check the phone docs and check the contract with the service provider, maybe send their customer service an email. Good luck!

  7. matt

    I think you’re right. I was planning on buying am unlocked, Sim free one anyway so it wouldn’t be locked to any network. That WOULD cause issues. I already have a contract in the UK and will simply plop my sim into the new handset. Thanks!

    Reply
  8. Jose

    Hello there,

    I want to buy the T-Mobile MyTouch 4G from the US and use it here in the UK where I live… can I confirm that it is fully working (on 3g etc) here in the UK?

    Thanks!

    Reply
  9. Clare

    Hi Jose

    The MyTouch 4G is the phone I have, and once I got the UK SIM chip unlocked it worked just fine in the UK on the local 3g. I was able to top it up with credit and everything. I didn’t have any trouble with the phone itself. I’ve had the MyTouch 4g over a year now and it’s still working fine.

    p.s. – nice google id:)

    Reply
  10. ilhan aliseif

    well i wanted to know if i brought a samsung galaxy s2 epic 4g touch from the usa from t-mobile when i go home to the uk can i just put a t-mobile uk sim in it or do i have to unlock it or do other things?

    Reply
    1. Clare Parkinson Post author

      Hi Ilhan

      The content lock is something that applies to the UK sim chip, so you would still have to get it removed. If you have a UK credit card, it’s a simple process you can do via your phone or online. If you don’t have a UK credit card, you need to get a T-Mobile store employee to remove the content lock manually. The US phone and the UK sim chip work find together. My information is a year old at this point, so it might be incorrect. Please come back and comment on how it works for you.

      Cheers,
      Clare

      Reply
  11. Charlyn

    Hi there, I have a Tmobile UK phone and am moving to the US in a few weeks, I was just wondering if your phone was locked to a network or did you need to get it unlocked? I’d imagine Tmobile UK and Tmobile USA would be interchangeable, but don’t want to take a chance lol

    Reply
  12. Clare Parkinson Post author

    Hi Charlyn. I suppose the T-Mobile phone (or SIM) might be locked to the T-Mobile network; I’ve never had to do anything to unlock it, but then I’ve never tried to move it to a different carrier. I think that if you get a US SIM chip you should be fine, but it wouldn’t hurt to call US T-Mobile customer service and double-check. Good luck with your move!

    Reply
  13. Addie Olsen

    Gonna do this tomorrow! Thanks so much! It’s people like you that give me faith in the future of the internet :)

    Reply
  14. Addie Olsen

    Hi Clare!
    I’m in the UK now, and I will be heading to the store tomorrow morning. I have not been able to unlock my phone. In your comment to Charlyn, you said that you never did anything to unlock your phone. Does that mean that you performed this whole “experiment” on a locked TMobile phone?

    Reply
  15. Clare Parkinson Post author

    Hi Addie

    I’m not sure what you mean by “locked” or “unlocked”. I took my US T-Mobile phone to a T-Mobile store and performed the actions listed above: 1. New SIM card 2. Manually add APN, 3. Remove UK content lock.

    There were never any “locks” on my phone except for the one specified in #3 that prevented my phone from accessing some websites while in the UK. That one was tied to the UK SIM chip and APN.

    This was well over a year ago, so I don’t know what might have changed in the meantime.

    Good luck!

    Reply
  16. James

    This is great help, as I am going home to visit in the UK in a few weeks. After returning to the US, will the phone work as it was? This is my only concern.

    Thank You

    Reply
    1. Clare Parkinson Post author

      Hello James
      As far as I remember, there were no problems with switching back to the US system on return. You just swap your UK SIM chip out for the original and reboot the phone. All the UK system configurations are tied to the UK SIM chip, so your original chip sets everything back to normal. My information is a couple years out of date – please stop by and let me know if you have any unexpected trouble!
      -Clare

      Reply
  17. Dee Jordan

    I have a T-Mobile US Galaxy 2 which I would like to use when I go to England in a couple of months. I do not wish to use the internet while there; all I need is to be able to make calls to UK numbers and US numbers. Would I only need to buy a local SIM card or would anything else be involved. I am a bit technologically challenged, so need simple instructions.
    Thank you for your time.

    Reply
    1. Clare Parkinson Post author

      Hello Dee

      If you have a US SIM card in the UK, you can do this: call T-Mobile before you go and tell them to activate the “WorldClass International Roaming” service. That’s all you need for your phone to work in the UK.

      When you get to the UK, you’ll be charged international roaming rates for making calls. Looks like it’s currently $1.49 a minute : T-Mobile UK International Roaming charges

      So, your phone will work fine in the UK with a US SIM chip, it’ll just be expensive to make calls. Every call will be charged roaming and long-distance rates.

      Hope that helps!

      -clare

      Reply

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