I was on a recent trip to Paris and before I left I was wondering how I could keep my cell phone bill to a minimum but at the same time be able to use it when and where I want.
Being directionally challenged, having access to Google maps was important so here is what I found out about using a SIM Card overseas. Whether you are going on vacation or you are moving somewhere permanently I will talking about some of the major issues you should think about before leaving or what you should do once you get to your destination.
Simple put, there are a lot of options out there when it come to using your phone when in a foreign country. So to start this off right, let me say what a SIM card is for those that don’t know: A SIM card is simply a small removable card that stores your information and is on phones that support the GSM network.
If you would like to keep your number then you will have check with you carrier to see if they support the GSM network. Most foreign countries are going to only GSM so hopefully your current carrier supports this network. If not, I will let you know what your options are.
Of the larger carriers in the US, AT&T and T-Mobile run on GSM networks, while Sprint and Verizon Wireless use CDMA. Carriers with GSM networks make it easier for their customers to swap phones as GSM compatible phones use the SIM card. After you know which type of phone you have, you will have to see if you your phone is locked or unlocked phone.
To know if your phone is locked or unlocked is pretty easy because basically If you bought the phone outright, its probably unlocked or can be unlocked. However, if you financed the phone through your carrier by being on a payment plan then its locked in which case your options are more limited.
In either case you are going to want to decide is whether you can’t live without your home number or if you are ok with using a separate local number for the country you are visiting or moving to.
If you do not have a payment plan and you bought your phone directly through your carrier or via a site such as Amazon, your phone may still be locked but its easy to change this. I would recommend either giving your cell phone providers a call or go to their website. You should be able to have your phone unlocked without any problems. Once this is done you will want to get a SIM card for the country or area you are visiting.
You can contact companies such as:
- GO-SIM that offers a World Pack for $49 to get you started
- WorldSIM Global roaming service covers 200 countries, with voice call rates starting from $0.15 per minute and data from around $0.10 per MB, plus incoming calls are completely free in over 95 countries!
- OneSimCard for the more hardcore traveler, they offer roaming mobile service in more than 200 countries, with a standard saving of 85% on voice calls.
- Telestia has a few packages geared to to travelers, including its World SIM Card for $19.95
- GigSky is unusual in that it only offers international data access. However, its service does extend to over 180 countries and includes both SIM cards and a GigSky mobile app for easy activation and payments.
- eKit has service with no connection charges for voice calls, and free incoming calls at many popular destinations.
If you use one of these one of these services, or similar and you will get a separate SIM card to use overseas and you will get a different number to use. If you want to keep things very simple and take your phone abroad, we recommend ignoring traditional phone and texting services and relying on free communication services (WI FI) that rely purely on data connections. These services are good for sending messages and placing calls over a data connection and/or you are connected to WI-FI. Here are just a couple of the Iphone options out but there are others for Android:
- iMessage – Text message to those with a IPhone
- FaceTime – A good way to talk with your family and friends (as long as they have an iPhone)
For those who aren’t sure what this is, it is basically a small device that you can carry around and that will allow single or multiple users to connect to it wirelessly.
For international travel here are a few places that you can go to:
- KeepGo – currently costs $99.00 and give you 1GB of data. It covers 70 of the worlds most visited Countries
- Sky Roam – Here you buy just for the days you need it. Each day pass gives you unlimited global internet access for 24 hours from the time of activation, for service on up to 5 devices at once. The current cost is $8.00 a day and you can either rent or buy the sky roam device. To buy it costs $149
- Le French Mobile – This is more Eurocentric but you can get a hotspot, SIM card, connect up to 10 devices ( that’s a lot of devices!) and 2gb for $79.00 and is valid for 90 days from activation.
This is a more expensive option but the good news is it is a lot less hassle: Usually you have a locked phone if you are on a payment plan (did not but the phone outright) with you current carrier. I this is your situation, I think the best way to proceed is to go to website such as Amazon and purchase a unlocked phone that is unlocked. You can find a phone that fits your budget and needs and take that one with you. If you decide to travel with your locked phone its could be expensive if your not careful BUT the good news is you can keep your current number!
The more expensive option is a lot easier and depending on your situation paying your carrier a little more is the most convenient option for taking your phone abroad. In order to go this route, all you need to do is , assuming your phone is GSM compatible, is call your carrier and ask them what international plans they offer. The prices are always changing so I won’t list them here as you will need to call them anyway and at that time they can give you their current prices and options.
If you moving overseas for an extended period of time but want to keep your existing number its still a bit awkward. I think you would be better off getting a phone in the country your moving to or pay off what you owe on your current phone so you can get it unlocked. In the end I think you will find it much easier and life a lot simpler.
That said with moving overseas, one of the first things you need to ask yourself is how long will you be gone for? Is this a temporary move or a permanent one? For my purpose, I defined permanent as meaning we plan to be gone for a along time and we are not sure when we will be back as we have no idea where life will take us.
If you plan to be gone awhile and want to keep your phone number, here are a couple of options to look at:
- Google Voice – With google voice, you will be able to receive calls and messages from friends and family and you can port (transfer) the number to the carrier of your choice when you return to the US. Currently It will cost you $20 in and $20 out but no monthly fees.
- Tossable Digits – This service lets you keep your current number by just forwarding any calls made to this number to your “new” number in whatever country your at. For example, you move to France and you get a French phone number. This company will just forward you any calls to your old number to the new French number and nobody pays international prices!
For most people I would recommend using a unlocked phone and getting a SIM card for the country you will be visiting or moving to. However, If you are traveling for a short period of time and going to a few countries, for example, France and Spain and Belgium you may need a separate SIM card for each country, and the price of this could add up so in that case you might want to think about just getting an international plan from your carrier.
The bottom line is that there are lots of plans out there these days for using your phone while abroad and everyone’s needs will be different. There is not 1 plan that is good for everyone and every situation. You just need to do a little homework to find which option fits your budget and needs and remember that you can save a lot of money if you plan ahead and don’t leave it to the last minute.