“Keeping connected by cellphone while outside the United States can be one of travel’s most maddening experiences, and can quickly — and often unknowingly — blow your budget. Plan ahead and you can save a bundle and still stay (or be) in touch. Consider the following tips as you plan your foreign travels.
YOUR CARRIER’S INTERNATIONAL PLAN . . .
For most US cellphone carriers, plans can be pricey. Find out what type of calling and data plan you can get through your local carrier, and what it covers at your destination. If you’re a T-Mobile customer, check out the company’s new rate plan, Simple Choice, which offers unlimited data and text messaging in more than 120 countries, and incoming or outgoing calls at 20 cents per minute while outside the country. Data transfers at 2G speeds internationally, but you can pay extra for increased speed.
UNLOCK YOUR PHONE
Buying a local SIM card at your destination can be one of the most affordable ways to stay connected. But to use a foreign SIM card, you need to make sure your phone is unlocked and compatible. Some carriers will unlock your phone within a month of purchasing it; others make you satisfy a long-term contract first. Also make sure your phone works on the right cell frequency band for your destination, or has dual-band capability. Carriers such as AT&T and T-Mobile, for instance, operate on GSM technology, whereas Verizon uses CDMA.
“Most of the rest of the world (with the notable exception of Japan) operates on GSM technology, so if you are traveling internationally, you must have a GSM-capable phone or it won’t work with local SIM cards,” says Barbara Weibel, a globetrotter currently traveling in Thailand.
BUY A LOCAL SIM CARD
After landing at your destination, buy a prepaid SIM card, often for just a few dollars, and add credit. You will generally pay less if you purchase a card outside the airport. To avoid frustration (it’s not always a smooth and glitch-free process), go to a local cellphone office or department store and find a knowledgeable salesperson who can help with setup, and who may let you return the SIM card on the spot if it doesn’t work. Once you’re up and running, cards can typically be topped up at a phone store, service station, newsstand, post office, or other local spot, or by calling a toll-free number. . . . .”