Thursday, April 15, 2010

Taking Your Phone Out of the Country

Over the past few weeks we expanded our very popular Mexico Roaming Page to an International Roaming Page. We haven't quite approached George Clooney's frequent flier miles, but we have traveled out of the US enough to know that wireless is almost as universally available in other countries as it is here. Even at the airport in Pokhara, Nepal, west of Kathmandu, is a huge billboard with the picture of a GSM SIM, inviting visitors to buy Nepal cellular service.

On our new Global Roaming page, we try to explain how using your phone overseas is just a little different. We have compiled the experiences of worldwide travelers into a list of global roaming options as well as Tips & Considerations. The majority of us want to know if we can just pack our own cell phone in our carry-on and head abroad. This includes those who want to take a cruise, but can't bear with the idea of leaving the cell phone behind.

For travel around most of the globe, AT&T and T-Mobile phones have, by far, the widest roaming capabilities. Some CDMA carriers will loan you a CDMA/GSM phone as GSM dominates outside the US. Even then, international roaming is not cheap. We found less expensive alternatives but how many hoops are you willing to jump through to find the best rate?

I have traveled from the airport to the hotel many times, with no way to find a local prepaid phone or SIM, until I was able to venture from the hotel, which may be far from any stores. That's where the roaming abilities of your current phone help you at least get through the first few days. We may be talking about dollars per minute roaming fees instead of the pennies we expect at home. There's a whole bunch of considerations: like on a cruise ship, you can either pay the $3 per minute roaming rate (or more), or find a way to connect through wi-fi, which is also not free. Or the fact that a prepaid phone or SIM purchased in India roams more cheaply in surrounding countries than most US phones. The experience can be fun as you deal with foreign businesses at a "locals" level, even in Mexico.

If you're taking a foreign vacation or business trip, we hope to hear from you. Just don't pay too much for the call.

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