Cell Phones

Most of us are lost without our cell phones.  We have been conditioned to be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and for some of us this isn’t by choice, but a necessity of our professions.  Staying connected with your cell phone while traveling shouldn’t be a problem if you follow a few of these suggestions.

Does your calling plan allow for international roaming?  Most cell phone carriers will add a monthly option for international roaming for a small monthly fee.  Check with your carrier to see if they will allow you to add the feature for only the month you are traveling.  And verify what the per minute charge for calls will be in the countries you are visiting.  Even with the international roaming plan added, you could be looking at very high per minute charges.  As an example, AT&T will add the international roaming plan for an iPhone but still charges $1.99 per minute for call in most European countries.

Will your cell phone work in the country you are visiting?  There are two main types of cell phone technology, CDMA and GSM.  A majority of the world uses GSM technology, but CDMA is very popular in North America and almost non-existent in Europe.  If your phone technology is not supported in the country you are going to visit I would recommend renting a cell phone from a company like Wireless Traveler (1-866-700-3883).  Rental phone rates are based on country and time, include a phone and a charger compatible with the areas you will be visiting plus a charge for usage depending on the plan you select.

GSM phones use SIM cards (subscriber identity modules), tiny electronic chips that hold a cell phone’s “brains”. GSM customers can avoid high roaming charges by replacing their American SIM cards with ones from other countries. For example, travelers to Britain can pick up a SIM card from the British carrier Vodafone; once inserted, it gives the phone a temporary British phone number. Calls within Britain and to the United States would be much cheaper.  Larger airports will have kiosks when you arrive selling SIM cards for the local area, or you can purchase one before leaving home through online services such as Telestial www.telestial.com.  In order to use a new SIM card in your GSM phone it must be “unlocked”.  Most US carriers lock their cell phones to their networks so you must contact your carrier to have them “unlock” your cell phone so it will accept a different SIM card.  Another option is to buy a cheap unlocked GSM cell phone and buy SIM cards when you travel.

When dialing a number outside of the US always add the plus (+) sign and the country code.  For some phones holding the “0” key down for a few seconds enters the (+) symbol.  The website www.countrycodes.com is a great place to find the codes for areas you will be visiting.

On your GSM phone, it helps to store your contacts on the phone itself rather than the SIM card.  If you do this all your numbers will be available if you swap out your SIM card.

For iPhones and other devices that have data and texting plans, be sure you have a data and/or texting plan that allows for use outside of the country.  Not including this can be a costly mistake to make, as data roaming charges are very expensive.  And make sure to monitor your data use so you do not go over you plan limit, a spendy mistake this author once made.  AT&T provides a very comprehensive document for iPhone users traveling outside of the US.

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