We’ve come a long way from the days when the best phone-home option when traveling internationally was the hotel room phone at your destination and all the negatives that imposed, including telephone bills higher than Mt. Everest. Now, with the coming-of-age of international cell phone service, you can be on a mountaintop, in the desert, adrift in the middle of the ocean or in almost any bustling metropolis or sleepy burg in the world and still stay connected to your office and your clients.
The challenge lies in figuring out which international cell phone service best meets your needs. This requires an evaluation of how you travel now and how you expect to travel in the future. Will you need international service just once a year, or are you a global road warrior who must be in touch at all times? Because most cell phones in the U.S. are not adapted for international use, you’ll also need to determine whether your current phone is geared up for international mobile phone service.
Depending on your needs, there are several options available to you:
1. Use your own cell phone if it has the right features.
2. Rent a phone and the international service to make it work.
3. Access service in several countries with a single “account.”
4. Access “local” service as you travel.
Use your own phone for international cell phone serviceThough it’s not a standard feature of U.S. cell phones, some cell phones are designed to work in many parts of the world using GSM (Global System for Mobile communications). If the cell phone you use in the U.S. is GSM-ready (If you have a T-Mobile, Cingular, or M-mode type service with AT&T, then you have GSM service), and if it is tri-or quad-band (the latter is recommended), you will probably be able to access international mobile phone service with your present phone. Note: you might have to contact your phone company ahead of time to be “turned on” for international roaming.
Infrequent traveler? Consider an international cell phone rentalWhen you rent a phone to access international cell phone service, it will cost you more because there is another middle man involved. But this option makes sense if you travel abroad infrequently or don’t require a lot of features.
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Access international cell phone service in several countriesWith an international prepaid or post-paid roaming SIM card (this Subscriber Identification Module identifies you to the wireless provider) and a GSM-ready phone, you can move from country to country with the same U.S. phone number, making and receiving calls as you go. The potential downside to this option is inconsistent service and quality from one country’s network to another. And rates for this kind of flexibility can be quite high.
Access international cell phone service with several SIMsIf you’ll be staying in more than one country for a period of time, consider purchasing a prepaid SIM for each country and switching them as you move about. By using local service you’ll access air time at a lower cost-per-minute and local calls to your phone will cost less or be free of charge. You might also be able to use additional features such as data service (make sure the phone you’re using can support these advanced services).
- Japan and South Korea roam on different frequencies than other countries. If you’re traveling to either of these countries you’ll need a handset that’s compatible. In this case, a rental is probably your best option unless your stay will be lengthy.
- Rental phones often don’t have all the latest features; if you need (or want) them, consider buying a phone instead.
- The company you bought your cell phone from may have “locked” it so you cannot use that phone with a different wireless service. There are a number of Internet-based services that can unlock your phone so you can switch SIMs as you travel.
- The downside of using several “local” SIM cards as you travel from country to country is that you will not have a single phone number that travels with you.
- Prepaid SIM cards are rechargeable; when you have used up your air time, you can add more.
- With a prepaid SIM card, you won’t have to set up an account, submit to credit checks, or pay a monthly bill.