The three letters that define much of the world's wireless capabilities are GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications), a big, seamless network that makes for easy cross-border cellphone use throughout Europe and dozens of other countries worldwide. In the U.S., T-Mobile, AT&T Wireless, and Cingular use this quasi-universal system; in Canada, Microcell and some Rogers customers are GSM, and all Europeans and most Australians use GSM. GSM phones function with a removable plastic SIM card, encoded with your phone number and account information. If your cellphone is on a GSM system, and you have a world-capable multiband phone such as many Sony Ericsson, Motorola, or Samsung models, you can make and receive calls across civilized areas around much of the globe. Just call your wireless operator and ask for "international roaming" to be activated on your account. Unfortunately, per-minute charges can be high -- usually $1 to $1.50 in Western Europe and up to $5 in places like Russia and Indonesia.
For many, renting a phone is a good idea. While you can rent a phone from any number of overseas sites, including kiosks at airports and at car-rental agencies, I suggest renting the phone before you leave home. North Americans can rent one before leaving home from InTouch USA (tel. 800/872-7626; www.intouchglobal.com) or RoadPost (tel. 888/290-1606 or 905/272-5665; www.roadpost.com). InTouch will also, for free, advise you on whether your existing phone will work overseas; simply call tel. 703/222-7161 between 9am and 4pm EST, or go to www.intouchglobal.com/travel.htm.
Russia's major cellphone companies (both in Moscow) are MTS (tel. 495/766-0177; www.mts.ru) and Bee-Line (tel. 495/974-8888; www.beeline.ru).
For trips of more than a few weeks spent in one country, buying a phone becomes economically attractive, as Russia and many other countries have cheap, no-questions-asked prepaid phone systems. Once you arrive at your destination, stop by a local cellphone shop and get the cheapest package; you'll probably pay less than $100 (£50) for a phone and a starter calling card. Local calls may be as low as 10¢ (5p) per minute, and with some Russian providers incoming calls are free.
Internet & E-Mail
Travelers have any number of ways to check e-mail and access the Internet on the road. Of course, using your own laptop, PDA (personal digital assistant), or electronic organizer with a modem gives you the most flexibility. If you don't have a computer, you can still access your e-mail and your office computer from cybercafes.
Without Your Own Computer -- In Moscow and St. Petersburg, cybercafes are concentrated around the tourist attractions such as the Kremlin and Nevsky Prospekt. Russian public libraries often offer Internet access free or for a small charge. Avoid hotel business centers unless you're willing to pay exorbitant rates. For a listing of cybercafes around the world, see www.cybercaptive.com and www.cybercafe.com.
More and more hotels, resorts, airports, cafes, and retailers are going Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity), becoming "hotspots" that offer free high-speed Wi-Fi access or charge a small fee for usage. Most laptops sold today have built-in wireless capability. To find public Wi-Fi hotspots at your destination, go to www.jiwire.com; its Hotspot Finder holds the world's largest directory of public wireless hotspots. The site www.waytorussia.net/Practicalities/Business/Internet.html lists spots in Moscow and St. Petersburg with Wi-Fi access.
For dial-up access, most business-class hotels throughout the world offer dataports for laptop modems, and a few thousand hotels in Europe now offer free high-speed Internet access.
Wherever you go, bring a connection kit of the right power and phone adapters, a spare phone cord, and a spare Ethernet network cable -- or find out whether your hotel supplies them to guests.
Electric current in Russia is 220 volts (as opposed to 110 volts in the U.S.), and older hotels will require a five-pronged Russian phone adapter, available in Russian hardware stores or from hotel staff. Newer hotels will have standard phone jacks.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.