Prying open an iPhone4S to change the SIM card, which is a good idea for overseas use.
Taking your Smartphone Abroad
Companies Offer Choices to the Cost Conscious
Everyone has a smartphone these days. Uploading pictures, updating statuses, tweeting, browsing the web, checking email, or using gps; people are on their phones all the time. When you travel, the urge to upload a picture of you and your family at some famous attraction or to find out where the nearest restaurant can be found is even greater. But if you’re traveling abroad you might want to rethink using your smartphone.
Wireless carriers charge anywhere between $15 to $25 for each megabyte of data used. For instance Verizon charges $20.48 per megabyte used in the UK. You might not even know about the charges until you received your next bill that is hundreds of dollars more then usual.
One company working to provide a lower cost in international travel communication is Telestial. A provider of international phones and SIM cards, Telestial provides customers the ability to find out exactly how much they are paying while making calls overseas and using their wireless applications. And what their customers are paying is much less than what someone would pay using a traditional cellphone carrier’s service abroad.
First thing you will need to do if you plan to use a phone internationally is check to see if your phone is internationally compatible. Most Verizon smartphones, for example, are not internationally compatible. Carriers that have phones that work on the GSM service in most countries outside of North America include AT&T, Virgin, and T-Mobile. Often phones that have a SIM card (Subscriber Identity Module) are internationally compatible, the global roaming setting simply needs to be turned on, but this can be expensive.
When your phone’s global roaming setting is turned on it can cost from $1-$6 per minute phone call, whether you place or receive the call. This is fine if you only plan on using your phone for emergency or short calls, but with the popularity of using phones for everything, this would be a very expensive option.
If you do not have a phone that can be used in a foreign country, many companies, such as Telestial, sell new phones that all work in other countries. If you don’t want to pay for a new phone, search online for used international phones. But be careful to make sure the used phone is in good condition and won’t leave you stuck in an unfamiliar country with no means of communication.
Once you have the phone
Once you have a phone that works on the GSM service, you’ll need to choose what service you want. Telestial offers numerous options to meet any type of travel you might be doing. Countries have specific SIM cards that can be purchased for $30-$60 online or when you get to the country.
The cards give you a local number and allow local calls for the regular rates and no charge for incoming calls. That means your friends and family back home can make a call to you with no extra cost on your bill. This is a good option if you plan on traveling to one country, and don’t plan on placing international calls.
Telestial.com and Travelcell.com both offer different options for travelers who plan on using their phones more or who are going to multiple countries. These companies have developed special SIM cards that work in a large number of different countries. One benefit of this singular SIM card is that your friends and family will have one number to contact you no matter what country you’re in.
Rates are a little more expensive then if you bought local SIM cards, but are still a lot less then the price tag of using your US phone service. There are multiple SIM cards you can purchase through these websites, tailored to your travel needs. If you’re traveling to multiple countries or not, how often you travel, using your phone a lot or a little; there are different cards to meet your needs.
Many phones now have applications that automatically update, using data you might not be aware of. Before you travel make sure you turn off apps that have this feature or you might use up your prepaid data on the SIM.
A Telestial global GSM cellphone that's unlocked.
If you have an AT&T phone, you can pay for one month of up to 50 international text messages that will cost you only $10 a month. Just be sure to cancel the service when you return to the states since you won’t need this extra option, and it will automatically be charged unless you cancel it.
Also make sure your phone accessories are internationally compatible. Purchase a compatible phone charger before you go so you can actually use your phone.
Make sure you know exactly what type of traveling you will be doing with your phone and look around for the service options will best fit your needs and budget. You don’t want to be stuck with a service contract that doesn’t meet your needs.
If You Run into Trouble
Good customer service is a must when you are dealing with technology. If you have issues with your phone, Telestial has amazing reviews for their customer service. Matt, a Telestial customer says he was, “Very impressed with their customer service. A+.”
A customer of Travelcell.com says, "I have been ordering phones and data services from TravelCell for the last 12 years. Their customer support is tops and they are up to date on the latest technology.”
Hannah Monahan is an editorial assistant at GoNOMAD and a communications major at the University of Mass in Amherst. She updates the Travel News Notes blog on GoNOMAD.com.
Read more about traveling with cellphones on GoNOMAD:
Renting a cellphone abroad
User Tips for using your phone overseas