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Five Things US Users Need to Know Before Using a Cell Phone Overseas
International travellers have long known that buying a local SIM card is usually the cheapest and best way to make cell phone calls overseas. Now some operatives are offering SIM cards that can cover more than one country - quite a convenience and not a lot more expensive. Of course, you still need an "unlocked" phone (see below for an explanation). To keep things simple, we're dealing with GSM phones here and leaving aside the NextG data options. Links here are to Telestial who sell quite a wide selection of phones and cards (see some below) and offer a service targeted at US residents (though anyone can make use of their products, actually).
1. Why can't I use my current cell phone overseas?
The U.S. is actually behind the rest of the world when it comes to cell phone technology. Most cell phones in the U.S. are not compatible with the frequency or bandwidth used overseas. To get technical, only a tri-band phone (known as a GSM phones) with a 900, 1800 or 1900 frequency phone will work overseas. You can buy tri-band phones in the U.S. but they are generally more expensive, harder to find and only a few local networks sell them. All those big telco's you know and love will only sell you what's called a "locked GSM phone"¯ meaning that you are locked into using that provider's service and there's no actual key you can use to unlock it. That translates to huge roaming fees and a big bill at the end of the month. You could use one of their phones, but why would you? An "unlocked"¯ phone is what you want, one that isn't tied to a particular network, so you can choose any network or provider and the service that suits you best.
2. How does a GSM phone work?
Cell phone users need to know what a SIM (Subscriber Information Module) card is, because it is the SIM card that operates a GSM phone. A SIM card is a small encoded chip that is inserted into the back on the phone, containing your unique account information including the telephone number and your personal address book. SIM cards are removable, interchangeable and can be purchased for individual countries or for multiple countries (i.e. a global roaming SIM card).
3. Is it true that I can get free in-coming calls, free text messages and local call rates overseas (without roaming charges)?
What is considered as normal in the U.S. is to pay for the in-coming calls. Believe it or not, most people across the pond have it much easier. In-coming calls on cell phones are actually free in almost every country in the world (with the exception of the U.S., Mexico, Canada, China, the Bahamas, Kuwait, Singapore, Hong Kong and parts of Russia). Instead of paying for in-coming calls, you can use companies like Telestial, which has free in-coming calls in 40 of the most popular destinations around the world (Yey!). You'll pay the local cell phone call rates in most destinations, without being penalized with exorbitant international roaming charges (tell me about it, I still remember some of my bills a few years ago...). With Telestial's global "Explorer"¯ SIM card, customers can also receive free text messages plus family and friends of Telestial customers can send free SMS text messages from www.telestial.com to Telestial Explorer subscribers overseas.
4. Do I need to sign a contract for my international cell service?
The beauty of owning an unlocked cell phone is that there are no contracts. SIM cards are pre-paid and can be purchased on a country by country basis. Alternatively, travellers can buy a global roaming SIM card which allows for usage in multiple countries. This is way cool. With Telestial's global roaming "Explorer"¯ and "Passport"¯ SIM cards, users have cell phone coverage in 100+ countries and can set up an auto-recharge facility with no need to go online or phone in to recharge the card. You can start with as little as $10 of air time credit.
5. Is it cheaper to rent or buy a phone?
Here's a key tip in my view: depending on the type and frequency of travel, buying an internationally compatible unlocked GSM cell phone is both affordable and practical. Trust me: get one if you're travelling abroad regularly (and maybe even if you're not, you don't have to buy a star wars option). It's especially economical for people who travel overseas often and is certainly a cheaper and easier option than renting.
Factors to be considered are the length of a trip, the purpose (business or leisure) and your budget. The down side of renting is being locked into paying the rental company's call rates, which can be as high as $5 per minute from some countries (plus many charge for in-coming calls). Buying a phone gives you the freedom to choose a SIM card that suits your needs, without being tied to a particular network or provider. And, of course, the reality is that at the end of the rental period, you have to give back the phone whereas the price of purchasing it outright may not be much higher.
Purchasing also helps avoid additional administration each time you travel, including ordering, paying for shipping, always having different telephone numbers when you travel and the paranoia of keeping track of how much each call is costing. Add in the fact that you won't need to become familiar with a new handset every time you rent, and that you can loan it out to friends, family and colleagues, and you have some pretty compelling arguments in favor of purchasing. GSM phones start from as little as $99, which is a small investment to make if you are a frequent leisure or business traveler.
Travel Signposts International SIM cards – by Telestial
Signposts has partnered with Telestial to help our visitors call home cost
effectively while traveling overseas.
Create your own Travel Phone with a Telestial International SIM card! Our SIM cards are made for international calling with the traveler in mind; they are your best option for calling home while overseas. All Telestial Global SIM cards work in over 110 countries!
You can save big bucks with Telestial vs. your home provider while calling home from overseas. Call home with Telestial’s Passport Plus SIM from just $0.29 a minute! Check them out:
All Telestial SIM Cards offer these great benefits:
Travel Signposts International Mobile Phones Packages
* The Siemens A55 does not support the 850/1900 frequency and consequently service will be unavailable in the following countries: Antigua & Barbuda, Argentina, Bahamas, Bermuda, Canada, Cuba, Dominica, St. Lucia, US Virgin Islands, United States. If you require service in these countries, then please consider our ‘Pack More’ promotion.