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Telephones

Each island country has its own telephone system. Most are operated by local monopolies and are relatively expensive by Western standards. You can directly dial into and out of all the islands.

Cellphones

Known as "mobiles" here, cellphones are prevalent throughout the islands. No international wireless company operates in the South Pacific, and many American phones won't work because all the islands use the Global System for Mobiles (GSM) technology. Although the technology is gaining in popularity worldwide, only T-Mobile and AT&T Wireless use GSM in the U.S. In Canada, Microcell and some Rogers customers are GSM. All Europeans and most Australians use GSM. Call your wireless company to see if your phone is GSM.

If you do have a GSM phone, you may be able to use it in the islands if your provider has a roaming agreement with the local phone companies. Just call your wireless operator and ask for "international roaming" to be activated on your account.

If it doesn't, you may still use your phone (1) if it transmits and receives on the 900 mHz band; (2) if it has been "unlocked" from its SIM card, the removable computer chip which stores your and your provider's information; and (3) if you rent or buy a local SIM card.

The Travel Insider (www.thetravelinsider.info) has an excellent explanation of all this as well as a phone unlocking service. Click on "Road Warrior Resources" and "International Cellphone Service."

Renting a phone or SIM card is easy in the islands. In fact, one of the first things you'll see after clearing Customs at Nadi airport in Fiji is a mobile phone rental booth.

North Americans can rent a phone or SIM card 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.

Internet/E-Mail

E-mail is as much a part of life in the South Pacific as it is anywhere else these days, but most Internet connections are relatively slow. High-speed access is growing, but at best, the ADSL systems operate at 512kb per second. That's a snail's pace compared to the 3 megabytes or more in most Western countries.

Access is relatively expensive. Most local Internet service providers (ISP) charge by the minute rather than by the month, and many hotels slap a large fee on top of that. (My Internet and phone bills for checking my e-mail and bank sites from Tahiti have topped US$50!)

Without Your own Computer -- The easiest way to get your e-mail on the Web is at your hotel, resort, or hostel. Most have computers for guest use. Or you can go to one of the numerous cybercafes in the islands.

With Your Own Computer -- Because no major international ISP has a local access number in the islands, you can't just plug in your laptop, program in the local access number, and go online as you would at home. Nor will you find Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity) in most hotels. On the other hand, you can use your own computer from any hotel room with a phone, provided you sign up for a temporary local Internet access account.

There are a growing number of Wi-Fi hotspots in the islands. Many are in coffee shops or hotel bars, so you can sip a cuppa or a cold one while answering your e-mail. The hotspots are not free, and some require that you purchase a prepaid usage card.

Along with your laptop, be sure to bring a connection kit of the right power, plus phone adapters (French in French Polynesia, American in American Samoa, Australian elsewhere) and a spare phone cord.

Online Traveler's Toolbox

Veteran travelers usually carry some essential items to make their trips easier. Following is a selection of handy online tools to bookmark and use.

  • Airplane Food (www.airlinemeals.net)
  • Airplane Seating (www.seatguru.com; www.airlinequality.com)
  • Foreign Languages for Travelers (www.travlang.com)
  • Maps (www.mapsouthpacific.com; www.maps-pacific.com; www.worldatlas.com)
  • Time and Date (www.timeanddate.com)
  • Travel Warnings (www.travel.state.gov; www.fco.gov.uk/travel; www.voyage.gc.ca; www.dfat.gov.au/consular/advice)
  • Universal Currency Converter (www.xe.com/ucc)
  • Visa ATM Locator (www.visa.com), MasterCard ATM Locator (www.mastercard.com)
  • Weather (www.met.gov.fj; www.meteo.pf; www.intellicast.com; www.weather.com; www.accuweather.com; www.wunderground.com)

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.