OK, we’re getting close now!  One more day and we’re on our way!  During the past several days, I have tried to get two of our older iPhones configured with European SIMs so that we can hit the ground running.  I had ordered two SIM cards from Lebara, which were free.  There is a lot of information on the internet about how to obtain and activate these SIM cards.  The first challenge is just ordering the cards from the Lebara website.  One curiosity is that the order form has no provision for “country”, so you need to enter “US” in some other field.  As such, the mailing label actually says “France” and “US”, but somehow the postal service figures it out, as the free SIMs showed up about a week after I ordered them.

I received the SIMs about a month before our trip and I then proceeded to install them in our unblocked cell phones for activation.  I have a pre-paid T-Mobile service on my old iPhone 4S and when I powered up the phone with the new Lebara SIM card in it, it came back up showing a T-Mobile signal.  I then followed the instructions to receive an SMS text with an activation code and voilà, it all worked! 

Once I was satisfied the SIM cards were properly activated, I held off for several weeks to actually “charge them up” with funds,  I didn’t want to buy a large block of minutes until I had some assurance that our two phones would work separately and together.  Therefore I waited until about a week before our departure to buy minutes through the website.  I opted for the minimum purchase size of 10 Euros, which would give different lengths of usage depending upon whether the funds were to be used for voice calls, text, internet, etc.  I was able to navigate to the payment screen and enter my charge card information, but then upon submitting the information to the website, I invariably received an error to the effect that my information had failed verification.  As the error message is short and cryptic, one’s first thought is that the data was improperly entered.  This is particularly the case, as several fields on the payment form are there for mysteries reasons, like “county”, which was not starred as a required field.  Another curiosity is that the address field limits entry to 41 characters and comes initialed with my full, correct US address, but all strung together in an abbreviated sequence to fit within the 41 character limit.

Nevertheless, I submitted several combinations of address forms with varying degrees of abbreviations and I always receive the same error message,  So next I tried using two different charge cards, thinking that perhaps that was the issue.  But no, the results were the same.

I scoured the internet postings to see if others had similar problems and I quickly discovered many posting complaining of virtually the same issues.  However, there are also a limited number of success stories of people claiming they were  able to fully pay for their Lebara SIM card from a US location.  I also read one suggestion to wait 24 hours, then retry.  I did try waiting 24 hours before trying again, but that made no difference. So I sent Lebara an email help request and received back a form response stating that it was not possible to “top off” a French phone number from a US location for fraud prevention reasons.

I then had a brain-storm to try an “anonymizer” service wherein my IP address would be modified to appear as if I was logging in from France.  I found several sites offering free, French-based IP sourcing and proceeded to give them a try.  I found that the Lebara website allowed me to proceed through the anonymizer proxy to a certain point, but failed on the actual payment screen,  I appears that Lebara has cleverly anticipated and blocked this sort of approach.  At this point I decided to wait until I was actually in France to charge up the phone.

We did have one bit of fun with our traveling companions Rich and Dawn Davis.  They traveled to the airport in Seattle independently of us and they arrived about an hour before we did.  We figured we would play a little joke on them to get them into the pre-trip festivities mood.  We actually took the 11:30 AM ferry from Bainbridge to Seattle, which was going to get us to the airport about 1:00 PM in plenty of time for our scheduled 3:30 PM departure.  But when Dawn texted Jill while we were on the ferry, we responded back that we were going to take the 12:20 ferry.  We actually arrived at the airport about 1:00 PM, but to complete the practical joke, after we cleared Security at the airport, but before we arrived at the departure gate, we texted Rich and Dawn that we had a major disaster, in that Jill had forgotten her passport at home and we had to return to Bainbridge to get it!  Naturally we all had a good laugh when we walked into the waiting area and met up with Rich and Dawn.  It turned out that Dawn had somewhat believed the text, but Rich suspected a gag, based on many years of having known me.  Oh well, it was a fun start to the trip!

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