7 Things You Should Know About Using Your Phone Overseas

If you travel much internationally, you already know that using your cell phone overseas can be a huge hassle – and expensive! (And if you don’t travel much internationally, you’ll find out as soon as you leave your home country.)

Cell or mobile phone carriers (depending on your term of choice) vary greatly by country, and that plan you have at home doesn’t translate out of your home area. For example, while you may have an unlimited data plan at home, using that same amount of data overseas may cost you hundreds of dollars.

Some phone won’t work on other networks. And even though companies like T-Mobile might be international giants, that doesn’t mean their mobile phone plans work across various countries.

Ken Grunski, President of Telestial, an international SIM card provider, offers the following advice for travelers going overseas.

Purchase a prepaid Sim Card

Mobile phone providers charge exorbitant fees (data and roaming) to use smart phones/mobile phones in foreign countries, thus we understand why many travelers leave them at home. But with a Telestial prepaid Sim card, travelers can easily retain control over costs while keeping their mobile phones, smart phones and tablets operating. With a prepaid Sim card, rates to make an international call are as little as 49 cents per minute and it’s free to receive calls in over 75 countries (using a global UK number). And prepaid data is available in 135 countries for as little as 39 cents per MB.

Know your carrier

The major cell phone carriers – Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon – charge anywhere between $1.29 and $2.59 per minute for international roaming. Compare that to Telestial’s rates as low as 49 cents in more than 95 countries. For data, it’s even more dramatic. The major carriers charge between $15 and $20 per MB for data. That’s $20-$40 to upload a photo of the Eiffel Tower to your Facebook page. Telestial charges as little as 39 cents per MB for data. Upload photos, check emails or download music for a fraction of the cost of the major carriers.

Get free calls on your mobile phone

Sounds simple enough, right. You’re already spending thousands on airfare, hotel and transportation, why spend more cash on incoming calls when you can get them free? With a Telestial Sim card, you are assigned a US number and a UK number. Give the UK number to family and friends, and incoming calls cost you nothing. Need to dial out? Not a problem. Telestial offers roaming rates for as little as 49 cents per minute.

Invest in an unlocked GSM Phone

To use a prepaid SIM card (like Telestial), you need an unlocked GSM phone. There are two mobile phone standards in the United States: Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) or Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA). Sprint and Verizon Wireless use CDMA, which is not meant for global travel. AT&T and T-Mobile use GSM, considered the global standard for cellular networks. Most mobile phones sold by GSM carriers in the U.S., however, are “locked.” The iPhone, for example, is “locked” to AT&T. If you’re with a GSM carrier, and want to purchase a prepaid SIM card, you have two options: unlock your phone yourself (www.unlockingcodesforphones.com) or purchase an “unlocked” international phone

Beware Skype overseas

Skype can be a great communication tool, but be careful how you use it overseas. When connected to Skype, make sure that you’re using free WiFi (from the hotel or a coffee shop), and NEVER use AT&T/T-Mobile’s roamed data services. Also, some countries with state-run telecommunication and Internet-providing companies block VoIP services like Skype. See How to Get Internet Service While Traveling

If you use an i-Phone, turn off apps, data roaming and fetch data

Every time these update, you’re burning precious data … which is precious cash.

Don’t upload vacation pictures while roaming on smart phones

This can be extremely expensive, as many photos are more than 2 to 3 MBs each. Instead, hold the photos until you have access to the internet (at your hotel) or wait until you return home to share your experiences with the family.

Purchase an international charger adapter

You brought your iPhone to France, but you don’t want to run out of juice. Foreign countries have different electrical systems and your US phone charger probably won’t work overseas. Purchase an adapter that will be compatible wherever you’re traveling or you won’t be able to charge your phone.

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Janna Graber

Janna Graber is an award-winning American travel journalist and current editor of Go World Travel Magazine. Since moving to Austria at age 19 for college, she's been in love with world travel, and has covered destinations around the globe for more than 55 newspapers, magazines and websites. She's the author of three travel anthology books, including "A Pink Suitecase: 22 Tales of Women's Travel".
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