Will My Cell Phone Work in the Alps?

Will my cell phone work in Europe and in the Alps? The short answer is Yes. Cell phones have so quickly become an essential part of daily life. So,  the answer I’m giving you today is very different from what I would have told you just a couple of years ago.

Cell phones are essential for international travelers today. There’s no getting around it. Today’s geotravelers find that their phone is more valuable and more frequently used when traveling, than when they’re relaxing at home. You’ll use your phone to check the weather, check train schedules, carry your travel documents, find directions, make dinner reservations, translate languages, take photos and video, share on social media, get news, send and receive texts and emails—and so much more.

For most people the thought of traveling internationally or even leaving the house without the security and convenience of a cell phone is unthinkable. Cell phones also enable you to travel lighter. We find that guests who might have traveled with a laptop in the past, use just their cell phones now. Quite simply, it’s the most valuable piece of equipment you have when traveling internationally. Don’t leave home without it.

Surprisingly Good Coverage

Cell service in Europe and even in high alpine valleys is excellent. Coverage is every bit as good as you would find on a cross country road trip or mountain excursion anywhere in North America. Coverage, speeds, and service options get better every year. But international plans, data roaming services and costs vary considerably from carrier to carrier. So, you’ll want to plan ahead and make sure you have the international package that’s right for you.

Avoid Costly Mistakes – Call Your Provider

Before you leave, check with provider and find out what international options are for calling, texts, and data roaming. Ask your provider what the cost is. Will it work in the EU? Is it limited or unlimited? Is it for a short duration—just a month—or a long-term commitment? What options and promotions do they offer that will work best for your particular needs?

Once you have an international phone plan in place and roaming turned on, functionality of your phone should transition seamlessly. However, your phone still needs to communicate with cell towers in the Alps and there are a few remote locations where your connection will be extremely weak or non-existent. 

Prepare for a Digital Detox at Mountain Huts

On the Tour du Mont Blanc you could be without a cell signal for a few hours as you cross the Col de Bonhomme, and similarly at the Col de la Seigne and in the Val Feret. But these are such beautiful areas that going with a cell signal for a few hours is a small sacrifice.        

On the Chamonix-Zermatt Haute Route, you won’t have a signal at the Cabane de Louvie—but by walking just 5 minutes to a promontory you’ll be able to make calls and send and receive texts.

As you cross the Col de Louvie, the Grand Desert, and the Col de Prafleuri plan on not having a signal, but then be pleasantly surprised when you get occasional texts on the high glacial basin. You probably won’t have cell service at the Cabane de Prafleuri, and service is spotty from Prafleuri to Arolla. And there is no service in Gruben, after crossing the Meidpass. 

If your travels in the Jungfrau Region take you to the remote Upper Lauterbrunnen Valley and Obersteinberg, you won’t have cell service, but the setting is so exquisite, you won’t miss the phone distractions one bit. Everywhere else in the Jungfrau Region the coverage is great.

Finally, in the Dolomites, service is patchy in the mountains, but there aren’t specific places we stay, with no coverage. Even many of the rifugios have WiFi. I would guess that while hiking in the Dolomites you would have coverage about eighty percent of the time, depending on how remote you are.

I hope that gives you a good picture of what to expect. As always, if we didn’t mention a specific location you’re going to, please let us know and we’re happy to share our experience with you.

Greg Witt

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