Unless you own a GSM tri-band international phone, you may have trouble using your US phone in any other country. Never fear, there are several companies that can get you hooked up with the right mobile technology for your next trip.
You basically have a few choices when it comes to your cell phone usage overseas. You can rent a phone and get billed for calls or you can buy a GSM phone outright and keep it without paying access fees. Then you can either buy prepaid SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) cards for each country, get a global SIM card or buy a proprietary SIM card and get billed for calls as you go or upon your return. The SIM card can be transferred between phones as it stores information such as the user's phone number and phone book. If you wish to trade up phones, or even if your battery dies, you can retrieve your information and make calls billed to your account or prepaid card using a friend's phone. Sound confusing? Well it can be, so be sure to read the fine print, check the rates for each country and choose a system that best suits your needs and usage patterns.
Telestial (tel. 858/274-2686; www.telestial.com) can provide you with a prepaid service pack for an individual country that you may be visiting or a global service pack if you are traveling to multiple destinations. These SIM cards can be inserted into any GSM compatible cell phone that you can purchase here or abroad. An International cell phone is classified as GSM if it operates on a 900 or 1800 frequency. An international cell phone with the appropriate SIM card, will provide coverage in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Pacific Rim (including Australia). A world cell phone with the a GSM 1900 frequency will expand coverage to include the United States, Canada and several countries in South America. These phones start at $99 (Motorola 3788) from Telestial and you can keep them for use on your future trips. Prepaid SIM cards can typically be purchased from $17 to $79 and almost always include free incoming calls originating from anywhere in the world. The main benefit of this system is that you are paying the same rate as local people, not an artificially imposed US rate. Prepaid will save you a lot of money, allow you to control your spending and will avoid a hefty bill when you get home
The Australian cell phone promotion -- the "Meat Pie and Dead Horse" (don't be alarmed -- dead horse actually means "sauce" i.e. ketchup) is $179 and includes a Haier D6 World Phone (usable in 170 countries), world charger and adapter, an Australian SIM card with local phone number, voice-mail, free incoming calls, $0.60 domestic or US calls and a $21 starter credit. Recharge prepaid cards are available at local stores throughout Australia in $23 to $75 amounts.
The "Toro Rojo" Spain cell phone promotion is $199 and includes a Haier D6 World Phone, world charger and adapter, a local phone number, free incoming calls, $0.36 domestic calls, $0.45 calls to the US and a $30 starter credit fees. Additional airtime vouchers can be purchased in 10£ to 50£ ($12 to $61) increments. For more special promotions and phone/SIM card package deals, visit the Telestial website.
So far, the lowest price I have found for a GSM world phone is through Mobal (tel. 888/888-9162; www.mobalrental.com) where a Nokia 1100 with a Mobal World SIM card included (not prepaid and with a UK phone number) is only $49. The phone comes with a rechargeable battery and a multi-voltage travel charger with worldwide travel adapter and user guide. Standard shipping is free for a single phone or $5 for two phones going to the same address. There is a catch though -- these phones can only be used with a Mobal SIM card so unlike prepaid SIM cards, call charges are per minute in $US and are debited from your credit card as the network call data is received by Mobal (almost like a EasyPass road toll system). You will be sent statements detailing the charges, including fully itemized lists of the calls that you have made. There are no monthly or annual fees. SMS text messages are $0.80 each and incoming messages are free. Call rates differ depending on which country you are in. If you are in Europe, incoming calls are free in the UK but $1.25 per minute elsewhere, national calls are $1.25 a minute and calls to the US/Canada are $1.50. Calls to other countries are $2.95 a minute. Data transfer is also available for additional cost.
Cellular Abroad's (tel. 800/287-3020; www.cellularabroad.com) "Talk Abroad" international cell phone package allows you to make and receive calls in over 100 countries worldwide including the US and Canada. It is priced at $179 and includes the purchase of an international GSM phone, a prepaid calling plan and $30 of initial talk time credit. You can add talk time by purchasing Talk Abroad international recharge vouchers before and during your trip. Incoming calls in most countries (except US, Canada and Ukraine) are free. Calls start at $0.97 per minute and go up to $3.52 per minute. In 28 countries (Europe, Israel and Australia), a $29 recharge will typically get you 30-minutes worth of calls.
Travel Cell (tel. 877/235-5746; www.travelcell.com) can rent you a phone (starting from $29.99 per week plus $4.50 for additional days) and will bill you per minute for usage. Local calls at your destination can start as low as $0.59 per minute but international calls can go up to $4.99 per minute, depending on your location. Incoming calls are free in many countries and the UK seems to have the cheapest rates for all calls. Travel Cell also offers added extras like a toll-free number for people in the US to use to call you while you are traveling, hands free kits, data kits, car chargers etc. Your final bill will be e-mailed to you or sent by regular mail if you prefer. Travel Cell is offering Frommers.com users an exclusive offer -- get one-week free rental (use promotional code fwf-f05) or a companion phone free (use promotional code com-f05) with free standard shipping. You can use these promotional codes until August 31, 2005 for cell phone rentals until the end of the year.