International Calling and Cell Phone Use
It’s a nice idea, removing that phone that’s been plastered to your hand for weeks, and escape being so easily reachable. A true vacation is getting away from everything, including that constant internet connection! Unfortunately, whether it be family, friends, or work, it’s hard to travel without some contact with those at home. You at least need to let everyone know you made it there safely, and remind grandma of the kid’s soccer schedule. With that being said, you’ll need to find the right form of communication, without draining that extra spending money you saved. Here are some of your options, and the best way to minimize those calling costs.
Using your own Cell Phone
With the recent advancements of cellular technology, it’s amazing how much easier it is to use your own cell phone internationally. You can use your phone abroad if it has one of these 2 technologies; GSM (Global Systems for Mobile Communications) or CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access). Depending on which technology your carrier and phone uses, services will be offered at different areas of the world with an international data plan. It may be a service that you can add to your plan to always be connected internationally, or you can set up a plan for the time period you know you’ll be traveling. If you contact your provider, they can let you know what the best plan would be with your specific phone and itinerary.
Regardless of which plan you’re traveling with, make sure you take all precautions when crossing into roaming country. So you don’t return home to a crazy phone bill, before you get on the plane you should turn off your cellular data, 3G, roaming, and put your phone in airplane mode. These are the aspects of your data plan that if left on will lead to out-of-control fees and charges you won’t even realize are happening. These costs will occur even when you’re not using your phone, so make sure they’re not on!
Another option for using your own phone would be to purchase an international SIM card. By switching your own SIM card for that of your destination, you will get all the benefits of using a local phone (same in-country rates and local phone number), without buying a new phone. Unfortunately with a SIM card, you may see very expensive rates to the United States. This option would be most beneficial for the traveler who will be staying for a lengthy amount of time, and needs to make more calls locally.
A couple things to think about while traveling with your own phone abroad:
– Be weary of using that $700 iPhone out in public. Expensive and high-tech phones can make you a target for theft. Try to be discreet, or wait until you get back to the hotel.
– Take advantage of those apps you’ve been accumulating! If you have Skype, or a like program, use the Wi-Fi on your phone when accessible to contact those at home for free! (or for lesser charges than that of your cellular plan)
Purchasing a Local Cell Phone
Suggested for students spending a semester abroad, or someone that has family or a vacation home in the international destination, purchasing a local cell phone with a domestic plan may be a good option when traveling. A local cell phone would allow you to freely contact those who you have traveled with, or you know are in the area. This option is best for those planning to spend a decent amount of time in that one locale. When purchasing a local cell phone, you want to make sure that you use a company that is popular, and very well-known. Even though smaller companies may have more appealing pricing, they could very well be part of the large industry within the black market. Unfortunately with language barriers, it may be difficult to completely understand specific contracts or terms of a purchase, so if you aren’t 100% certain what they’re asking you to sign, DO NOT SIGN ANYTHING!
Renting a Cell Phone
Renting a cell phone would be a great option for the infrequent traveler who needs to make a lot of calls. You can rent a phone on many different websites prior to your trip, or they are available in many international airports next to the Twizzlers and magazines. When renting a phone, you need to consider the 2 rates that you will be charged. Rentals usually come with a weekly, monthly, etc. rate that you will get charged regardless if you are using the phone. This is why a rental is really only best for those who need to make many calls throughout their trip. When comparing a rental to your other options, you must consider this fee on top of the rate you will pay for your actual calling minutes. With a rental, you would avoid buying a new phone all together, and would side-step those insane fees for using the hotel phones long distance. However, if you travel often, or are staying in country for longer than 2 weeks, you will receive much lower rates by purchasing a local cell phone, or getting a SIM card for your original cell phone. Furthermore, if you only need those few calls home to let everyone know you’re alright, consider the old fashion route, and go with a calling card!
Even though many see it as an ancient form of communication, calling cards may still be the most cost-effective way to communicate internationally. With a pre-paid calling card, you know exactly what # you will see on your bill when you get home. Close to 70% of charges from international cell phone calling costs are those additional fees that have nothing to do with the actual calls made. Calling cards are an easy way to avoid those monster bills all together. Furthermore, it’s a reliable form of communication. Instead of finding an area where you actually get service, make a call from the comfort of your hotel room that you know won’t be dropped. One of the big frustrations with calling cards is figuring out which one to use. With thousands of companies, it can be overwhelming to find one that you’re comfortable with. When choosing, try and find reviews of the ones most often used at your specific destination. We’ve found great reviews on ZapTel and Nobelcom.