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Using Your Cell Phone Abroad

September 21, 2010

In today’s world, we are increasingly connected to each other by electronic media and one of the great facilitators of this has been the advent of the smart phone. We use them for far more than just phone calls: we can text or email, get directions, choose a restaurant then calculate the tip, play music, video or podcasts, surf the internet, and manage our social calendar just to name a few. The ubiquitous smart phone has become a staple in our lives and we have grown to depend on having all of our favorite apps at our fingertips at all times. But when we travel overseas, smart phone functionality can cost a bundle. If your smart phone is your lifeline, here are some things to consider before you travel outside North America.

  • The mobile telecommunications industry uses two different technology standards: CDMA and GSM with GSM being more prevalent in international destinations beyond the US. Know which one your phone supports and verify that the countries you will be visiting use the same.
  • If your own phone will not be sufficient for your trip, consider a loaner from your service provider or renting a global phone for an individual trip. If you travel frequently, consider purchasing a global phone that allows you to only pay for airtime, without a long-term service committment.
  • Understand your calling plan roaming charges. Rates vary from country to country and inbound versus outbound communications. Text or data also have different roaming rates than phone calls.
  • If you are traveling on a cruise ship that supports your mobile technology, understand that you will be billed at the published cruise ship rate when you are in international waters. When you are in port, you will be billed at the applicable roaming rates for that country. These can vary significantly, so do your homework before you run up a large bill.
  • Understand the difference between using your phone services, i.e., 3G (high-speed data) and wifi. If you use your phone’s 3G service you will be charged applicable data rates per megabyte by your phone provider. If you access available wifi service you will pay locally at time of service  and is likely to be much less expensive or even free.
  • Manage the megabyte flow of data by turning off your data roaming feature and sync features. Check email and calendars manually instead of allowing everything to be pushed through automatically.
  • Monitor the amount of data and control roaming cost by resetting the data counter in your smart phone so you can keep an eye on the amount of megabytes used.
  • Helpful travel applications like currency converters, language translators and sightseeing maps are available for many different destinations. Be sure to read the description or test any fun travel apps that you intend to use when away from home to know if they require internet service to use.

These days you can stay connected almost anywhere in the world. Just be sure to manage your costs and don’t forget to put down the phone sometimes and just experience travel the old-fashioned way!

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