Travel and the Telephone User Tips | GoNOMAD

By Oscar Davis

Making Calls Abroad

Phones in Hotel Rooms

This article will help you keep connected when you're traveling overseas.
There are many options for using your phone while traveling.

Many hotels and motels charge set rates for all calls made from in-room telephones. The cost of these calls is generally much higher than an ordinary call made from a residential or business phone.

There may also be other service fees for toll calls as many hotels have an automatic price required service where their telecommunications provider advises them of the cost of a toll call and the room number the call was made from.

The calls may also have a telephone service charge for calls to toll-free numbers. Check the call rates before making a call; upscale hotels can end up charging $35.00/min or even more for international calls! This doesn’t sound like a very good option for most budget travelers.


Also, take care when making calls from pay phones. Many payphone services are provided by specialist providers who charge higher fees to cover the cost of equipment and payphone booth. There can be a substantial minimum fee, which you do not notice if you pay by credit card.

Check the information in the booth if there is any before making a call.

Typically, you can avoid the worst of high charges by picking a payphone booth branded by a major carrier. Unfortunately, there are fewer and fewer phone booths now, and every year 10% of them are disabled. Most major phone companies are selling their phone booths to smaller firms that specialize in the niche market.

You may find there are courtesy phones available at airports and similar places for making local calls for a taxi or similar traveler services. Look out for these so you may not need to use a payphone. These are often brightly colored and don’t have dials, they just ring up the airport parking lot or hotel reservation desk, in other words, you can only call one number with these phones.

Pre-paid phone cards

Many telephone service providers offer pre-paid phone cards that can be used from pay phones or ordinary telephones. While most cards purchased are good for calling anywhere, some, especially those provided by not-so-known providers specialize in providing call rates to some countries more than others so it’s good to look at the poster associated with the phone card you plan to purchase to see if your home country will get some of the lowest rates.

Think twice before you pick up the hotel phone to make a long distance call. It could be very, very expensive.
Think twice before you pick up the hotel phone to make a long distance call. It could be very, very expensive.

Access to these services is often through a toll-free telephone number that can be called from most phones without charge. (Be aware that some pay phones and hotel phones charge for toll-free calls.)

These providers may be exploiting regulatory loopholes in telephone rates, so read the fine print to see when and how you can get the lowest rates – there may be particular times or days that the rates apply. The current lowest-cost prepaid cards are available at US warehouse clubs Costco and Sam’s Club (co-branded with AT&T and MCI, respectively) at under 3 cents per domestic minute. These cards also feature excellent international rates.

US FCC regulations require pay phone providers to be reimbursed for toll-free calls by the toll-free number provider, so additional minutes or a small surcharge may be deducted when using your card from a pay phone.

Now, there are pinless phone cards from several vendors: you register one phone number (for example your cell phone number) and add funds when the balance is low. One good option for calling cards is to download an app from Enjoy Prepaid, which turns your iPhone, Blackberry or Android phone into a prepaid phone. There is no card, it’s just an app that creates a dialing pad and you pay 99 cents per week and 1 cent per minute to call internationally.

Calling cards

Some telephone service providers offer a calling card option, often attached your existing telephone account. Sometimes, you can quote the calling card number to an operator. Other times, you are provided with a number to connect to your home provider in order to place calls, or you can speak to an operator in your home language.

These services are usually charged with a surcharge on top of the provider’s usual rates. Apply for a calling card before traveling. Some telecommunication companies will allow you to get a calling card linked to just a credit card without having to have telephone service with them.

Receiving Calls Abroad

In-room phones

Phone cards are available for every country in the world.
Phone cards are available for every country in the world.

Hotels and motels usually do not charge for voice calls you receive. Check for any received telephone charges before giving out a hotel or motel telephone number for people to call you. You can send friends and relatives an email with the hotel’s phone number and they can just call you, saving you the high rates and surcharges of outbound calls placed from hotel rooms. Usually, there are charges for received faxes.


If you are going to be out of range of a telephone, but still want to receive calls, Voice mail may be a good option for you. Most telephone service providers offer a voice mail option, either as an add-on to an existing landline or cellular telephone or as a stand-alone service. You can usually check your voicemail remotely–make sure to obtain the access number and login details from your voicemail provider before leaving home.

One really convenient service is offered by Google, it’s called Google Voice. If you are out of the country, or your phone is off, you can have your calls routed from your cell phone number to your Google Voice number, and then Google sends them a message to your Gmail account and transcribes the message into email. No need to have the phone you will be able to both read AND listen to the message from your laptop.

Cell (mobile) phones

There are three main ways you can use a cell phone while traveling overseas.

1. Take your phone and SIM card, and use the foreign network (roaming)
2. Purchase a SIM card at your destination, and put it in your own phone
3. Rent or purchase a phone and SIM card at your destination.


Using your phone in places other than its home area is called roaming. The price varies depending on your provider and the part of the world. While roaming is convenient, charges can be very expensive and are unlikely to be included in any plan you are on.

If you have an iPhone, you can’t take the SIM card out, so this is not an option. Also, AT&T and Verizon charge HUGE fees for data, so once you land in a foreign country you should turn off data roaming, and just wait until you get to somewhere with Wi-Fi to check your email.

You can also set up a plan for a minimal amount of additional fee to give you about 50 text messages and a limited amount of data transfer on your iPhone while you are abroad. You will be charged for receiving calls even if this is not the normal practice of your carrier in your country. Calls to your home country are international calls while roaming. A call made from the country you are roaming to will still be an international call to the person making the call and you will incur roaming charges for receiving it.

Check with your home carrier to find out what the approximate rates are beforehand, or you may unsuspectingly be making a $5.00/min phone call even if it is just made from a neighboring country. Take care with voicemail and diversions. If your phone is on, you can incur roaming costs to receive a call that gets diverted to voicemail, and international costs to divert your call to your home voicemail, and international costs to retrieve the voicemail.

Consider using SMS (short messaging service) as a cheap alternative to making per-minute phone calls. These text messages can be sent between phones, with up to 160 characters per message. While SMS messages can be more expensive when overseas (from $0.30 to $1.00 each), they are cheaper than international calls and can be very useful for keeping costs down.

Sometimes receiving them can be free. Moreover, those who send you an SMS using a carrier back home will be charged at local rates. Look into a package that allows a certain number of these text messages per month, it isn’t that much additional and it is much less than calls or data roaming.

Your phone

Cell phone technologies fall into three technologies widely used around the world today. GSM (sometimes called 2G), UMTS (sometimes called 3G) and CDMA. The most widely used cell phone standard in the world is GSM. If your phone type is CDMA, it is unlikely to roam outside of the Americas, Japan, and Korea. Most phones from Verizon are CDMA, but the newest iPhone model 4GS is now compatible and will work overseas as well as in the US.

Many modern GSM phones also have UMTS (3G) capabilities. There are no phones made with only UMTS (3G) capabilities.

• The United States has very heavy use of both CDMA (Verizon, Sprint, Alltel, Tracfone, Virgin) and GSM (AT&T, T-Mobile).

• Japan and South Korea have no GSM coverage but have UMTS (3G) coverage, and most modern phones with 3G capability should be able to roam there (Korea has 2G and 3G CDMA coverage as well as 3G UMTS coverage).

Pre-paid SIM Cards

As an alternative to roaming, local pre-paid (sometimes known as “pay as you go”) SIM cards are a godsend. The SIM “chip” in GSM phones can be swapped out effectively changing the carrier and phone number of the phone. Most countries sell prepaid SIM cards that you can buy for cash, quickly establishing a new phone number and credit for making calls.

No account setup, credit card numbers or bank accounts are necessary. However, passports or IDs are often necessary (to reduce the use of phones by criminals). To add credit to these SIM cards, you can buy “refill” (common in the US), “top up” (common in Singapore, the UK, Canada and New Zealand), “recharge” (common in Hong Kong and Australia), “reload” (common in the Philippines) or “add value” cards/vouchers from newsstands, telephone stores or convenience stores.

A removable mobile phone SIM card.
A removable mobile phone SIM card.

Electronic top-up methods like ATM, online credit card top-ups may also be possible depending on the country and provider. In some countries, someone who has credit (prepaid or plan) may top-up someone else’s prepaid mobile phone account by sending an SMS to the provider as long as the recipient uses the same provider.

In an increasing number of countries, there will be some kind of cellphone shop at major international airports outside of security so that you can buy a prepaid SIM without leaving the airport.

Some countries even have a specific SIM card product, exclusively marketed to visitors as well as nationals of certain countries.

One of the major downsides to prepaid SIM cards is that both the SIM card itself and the credits topped-up have very limited lifespans. A SIM card (and effectively the mobile number you have been making calls from) will expire if it hasn’t been topped-up by any amount for several consecutive months.

Therefore unless the mobile phone provider accepts credit cards from your home country to top-up or you have a friend in that country willing to top your phone up, you will end-up buying a new sim anyway if your next visit is more than six months away. As a general rule – lower top-up denominations tend to expire more quickly.

For people who travel through different countries, an international card may be an alternative. These usually allow free or cheap incoming calls in a significant number of countries and offer relatively cheap outgoing calls via an automatic callback service. Their phone numbers are usually based in the UK or smaller European countries. There are many different ones available, so shop around as the cards sold at airports may not be the cheapest. This also saves the person the trouble of notifying others of multiple changes of numbers. Enjoy Prepaid is a reliable provider with several different tiers of service.

If someone calls on your normal home number call them back from the local SIM, it will be cheaper. You could pay as much as $3.00/min to receive a call on your home number whilst roaming, but $0.50/min to call back using a local SIM. Make sure the old phone has the required frequency band(s) as mentioned above.

Dialing 411 is a reliable method of obtaining phone numbers and addresses. Phone carriers typically charge about two dollars per 411 call, although directory assistance is also available for free via 1-800-Free411, which is ad-supported, and which provides business, government, and residential listings, as well as turn-by-turn, driving directions to a listing.

Another free 411 service is 1-800-GOOG-411 (1-800-466-4411), provided by Google. This number provides only business so check for coverage in the area you are ttravelingto. You may have to orient the antenna of the device towards the satellite for best reception.

Satellite phones

For truly global walk-and-talk roaming you are going to need an Iridium [2] handset. Iridium uses a constellation of low-earth orbit satellites, so unlike Thuraya, you can use Iridium everywhere so long as you have line-of-sight with the sky. Iridium works on all land masses and oceans including both poles. Expect to pay about USD $1.50 minute for outgoing calls though this can be as low as $.99/minute to call another Iridium phone. Iridium does not sell direct and only sells phones through dealers who may also rent units as well.

Get online

Where you have full access to the Internet at a reasonable speed, making phone calls over the Internet is the cheapest option, it can even be free. If your phone has Wi-Fi built-in and the ability to install apps, making cheap phone calls may be as easy as getting connected at a Wi-Fi hotspot. You can achieve the same thing from a laptop or PDS with a softphone and a headset.

You should install an app on your phone to allow VOIP calling and signup to a voice service provider (VSP) and make sure to test your configuration before departing. Skype is the main provider of this service. Google Voice also has a suite of amazing free calling services with lots of features.

• Skype. Free computer-to-computer calls: pay a fee for Skype-Out service to call anyone else or pay a fee for Skype-In service to get a phone number where people can call your computer. Skype claims to be secure by using strong encryption to protect your messages, but some experts have been scathingly skeptical about those claims.

Calling Cards Websites

Phone cards like ones made by Nobelcom give you 15 free minutes and allow you to buy worldwide calling cards. There are many other features from this company that make it a good choice to consider.
You can manage your account online – and manage your PIN yourself, whenever you want (refill, upgrade plan, configure Speed Dial, etc) You can also win Nobel Points – which you can use to get discounts on refills, to upgrade your calling plan or to transfer to another account.

Tips on Using calling cards:

Please make sure you DO NOT PRESS CALL or SEND BUTTON on your phone after you enter the destination number. This is to avoid being charged by your cellular provider for the international call.
Your call will be connected in just a few moments; for an easier dialing process, we recommend you activate PINless dialing and Speed Dial.

What calling card plan should I choose?

Enjoy Prepaid offers a variety of calling card plans, each created to meet the different needs of different customers. Use the guidelines below to determine which plan best fits your requirements, based on your calling patterns:

If you place long calls frequently – get a calling plan with a 5-minute or 2-minute rounding. The rate per minute is lower and this will give you an overall lower cost for your calls.

For shorter and less frequent calls – select a plan with a shorter rounding period (1-minute or 1-second), and no connection fee. Even if the rates are a bit higher than on the higher rounding plans, this is still the best option for calls placed once in a while, which only last a few minutes.

You can also call any number from your PC… The advantage of PC-2-Phone is that you can now call any number in the world, directly from your PC. Sign up now, install the application, and you’re good to go!

FREE Feature

PC-2-Phone comes with all Enjoy prepaid plans for no extra cost, and allows you to make international calls directly from your PC – to any number (cell or landline), anywhere in the world. All you need is a PC with internet access and a headset.

Using PC-2-Phone is as simple as dialing from your phone, yet much more convenient. Watch the video below to see exactly how it works or you can download the application right now for free and start calling!

Virtual Numbers

Have your friends call you at local rates, wherever in the world you are!

Sign up and get a Virtual Number in the country/city of your choice; give out the number to your friends and family and when they call you, you will be able to answer from PC-2-Phone, regardless of your location.

You only pay to rent the number for: 1, 2, 3, 6 or 12 months (but you do have the option to extend the subscription before it expires). There are no charges for the calls you receive.

The greatest advantage is that, if your friends are in Mexico for example, and you get a Mexico Virtual Number, they will be charged for a local call when calling you! And the best part is that you can have multiple Virtual Numbers, for various locations around the globe!

You can also get free phone cards from Nobel–15 mins are free before you actually sign up for the phone plan (within 48 contiguous US States and Canada.)

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