By: Sarity Gervais
One of the most frustrating things about cell phone plans is the astronomic cost of roaming charges, both for calling and texting. In a previous article I mentioned the joys of being free of the constantly buzzing appendage (AKA: cell phone), but here I want to discuss the limited options available should you need to connect while abroad. Even a brief but necessary call can cost a fortune. Imagine being in a strange big city as part of a group and you are so captivated by the new sights that you zone out for a minute. Or visiting family abroad and needing to let someone know you’ll be late. Cell phones, when used for the utilitarian contacts of communication, can be reassuring and important. Pay phones are hard to find but more than anything, how many of us keep phone numbers in memory or carry an old fashioned contact booklet? In the age we live in, we store our contacts on our electronic devices, and as to remembering phone numbers like in days before cell phones, please, we barely remember our very own number by heart.
Which brings me to the fact that unless we are traveling by cruise, a cell phone is important. For using your phone, this is what I came up with:
1. Keep International data roaming off.
Unless you have a foreign plan, roaming charges can cost you a pretty penny, depending on where you’re going and for how long.
2. Before you depart, check roaming price with your carrier.
If you have a missed call, you’d want to know ahead of time how much you are charged per minute, before you pick up.
3. Don’t let your apps run in the background.
To limit data usage, adjust your settings so they don’t refresh and w/o your awareness use data.
4. Download apps to browse and text for free.
For web browsing use the Opera app, which uses less data than most. For texting have any or all of these free text apps: WhatsApp, Viber, or Skype. Make sure that your friends and family also have them. You’ll find that most of these also allow free calling among users.
5. Stick to Wi-Fi.
If you don’t need to be tethered to constant connection to family or your office, using free Wi-Fi spots could serve your purpose. It’s not available everywhere, and depending on the region or country you are visiting, you may find yourself Wi-Fi bereft. Some hotels provide free Wi-Fi, where others charge up to $40 a day for a very limited time of access. In an emergency it can be sketchy to rely on finding a free spot, and if you use roaming your provider could charge $5 a minute for a call. Yet, even if you are happily ensconced in a place, which provides free Wi-Fi, you still must check ahead with your service provider: some of the smaller companies like Cricket Wireless have limited or no service abroad.
Public Wi-Fi has other problems too: your information is exposed to hackers so avoid it if you’re typing in bank or credit card info.
6. Free Roaming
T-Mobile and Sprint offer 2G data free International texting and 20 cent calling. Sprint’s plan doesn’t work everywhere, though they keep widening their network. Though T-Mobile offers free roaming in 120 countries and destinations, still make sure to check ahead: remote or unusual destinations are not included in the list, and if you’re on Easter Island or a remote Slavic village, you will be without connection. The speed provided is painfully slow but sufficient for email and messaging apps.
T-Mobile will pump you up frequently to 3G or 4G but at times you can’t connect AT ALL. If that happens, find free Wi-Fi and Skype your carrier for help.
7. Upgrade your plan package.
Verizon and AT&T offer high-speed International roaming packages for a fee. Sprint and T-Mobile sell packages, which will bump you up to a faster data.
Verizon will provide 100 MGs of data for an additional monthly fee of $25. 100 minutes of talk and a 100 texts can be yours for an additional $15, but please, be sure to check their list of countries. AT&T has a very similar deal but they include unlimited texting. Both deals include free access to paid
Wi-Fi spots around the world.
T-Mobile seems to be the winner of this race, including Sprint and the rest. They’ll give you 200 MGs of high speed data over one week for a mere one time charge of $25,
Perfect for a short trip and no long term commitment. You’ll keep your phone number (which means you won’t get a local number), but with the help of messaging apps this becomes far less of a problem.
8. International SIM card.
Lots of companies around the world sell SIM cards. Some of these can be used around the world, others, while cheaper ones extend only to Europe. Examples are OneSIMcard, Cellhire and Cellular Abroad’s National Geographic SIM Telestial. They cost around $20-30 often with a credit on them. Rates vary vastly between the countries around the world so check websites for details.
Some cards get activated by a prepaid account, to which you add funds as you use. You could buy for a bit less a large amount of data, which may or may not go to waste. Make certain you don’t run empty since the fine you’ll be hit with could come to $79. With these cards your number changes and it can be a bit inconvenient, since you’d have to notify people about your temporary new number. The coolest solution is a sticker you attach to your current SIM card created by KnowRoaming’s International SIM sticker. It turns the current card into a dual card once you attach it. When you land in a foreign country it magically activates and when you return to the USA you can flip it back manually to your original Sim card.
9. There are data-only cards which are far cheaper and use free texting for the rest.
The users of T-Mobile don’t need more than that and you can also purchase local SIM cards, even before you leave for your destination, fully loaded and with English instruction. The cheapest way is to buy it when you arrive, pay a couple of dollars in addition to a prepaid credit and if you’re good with the language of place you’re set to go.
Finally, buy a country specific card, load and register it before you leave. Cellular Abroad gives you a French card with a month of unlimited calls and texts, 110 mins of free calls to USA and Canada and one gig of data all for $69.95.
Do your homework and pick the solution that best suits your purpose.