With countless Internet-based calling tools available, there's no longer any reason to pay your domestic mobile network provider sky-high roaming fees to call home from abroad. Smartphone applications, laptop-based programs, and even dedicated devices make it easy to stay in touch with the office and loved ones while traveling virtually anywhere in the world -- assuming you have access to an Internet connection.

Unlock Your Cell Phone

Perhaps most appropriate for frequent business travelers, unlocking your existing GSM cell phone (from AT&T or T-Mobile) will enable you to remain constantly connected -- as long as you buy a prepaid SIM card that works in your destination country. Prepaid SIM cards can cost anywhere from $10-30, and typically include an airtime credit, so you can start making calls right away.

You'll have the convenience of a local phone number, with low domestic calling rates and international rates that are much lower than what you'd pay if roaming with a U.S.-based provider. You'll still be able to make phone calls (and in many cases, access data) just as easily as when you are back home. You'll also be able to use the same SIM card on return trips to the same country, so you'll only need to pay to add minutes when you visit again.

Use a Smartphone App

If unlocking your cell phone is too complicated or it's not cost-effective to purchase a prepaid SIM card, then using a mobile application like Skype (, from ¢2.3 per minute) on your iPhone or Android device is the next best thing.

You'll need access to a Wi-Fi connection to make low-cost phone calls, however, so if you're traveling to a third-world country, you may have trouble tracking down a signal. A good rule of thumb is that if there's a Starbucks or McDonald's nearby, you'll probably be able to find free Wi-Fi in your destination country.

Research options at your destination before you travel, however -- if you're unable to find Internet access after you arrive, it may be too late to unlock your cell phone and install a local SIM card.

Rent a Phone

For trips longer than a couple days to destinations that you don't plan to visit again in the future, renting a phone -- typically for only a few dollars per day -- may be the most cost-effective and convenient option, especially if the process of purchasing a foreign SIM card or installing a smartphone app sounds intimidating. Per-minute rates will typically be significantly lower than what you'd pay to roam on your home network, especially for local calls, and many rental services make the process as painless as possible, with pick-up and drop-off at your destination airport, or even at your hotel's front desk.

Use a Dedicated Device

If you've grown accustomed to using a landline phone at home, then a device like MagicJack (; $40, plus $20 per year after the first year) or Vonage (; from $10 per month) provides a familiar experience abroad, with the same calling rates you pay in the U.S. Also, these devices offer a U.S.-based phone number, so your contacts back home can call you in Nairobi just as easily they would when you're home in New York. These solutions require a landline phone (and often an Ethernet connection), so you'll need to be in your hotel room to use this option.

Business travelers may find this to be less convenient, but if you're on vacation, this may be a good opportunity to take some time to disconnect from the world -- your friends back home can always leave a voicemail while you're out exploring.

Purchase Calling Cards

They've become less necessary in the U.S., but calling cards are still popular in many countries, especially in areas with limited mobile infrastructures. Even countries with advanced cell-phone networks utilize calling cards for reduced international calling rates with mobile and landline phones. If you're unable to track down an Internet connection and your hotel offers free or low-cost local calls, consider using a calling card to call abroad -- many offer per-minute rates that are comparable to Internet-based services. If you don't mind dialing a few extra numbers to get connected, a calling card may be your best option.

Accept Incoming Calls

Perhaps the most cost-effective -- albeit slightly inconvenient method of keeping in touch while traveling abroad -- consider having your contacts at home call you directly at your destination. Some mobile networks offer reduced international calling rates (when calling from the U.S. to a foreign number), and if your friends back home have access to an inexpensive Internet-based calling service (such as Skype, and the other options mentioned above), it's worth considering this as an option. Additionally, most mobile networks abroad offer free incoming calls, and if you choose not to purchase a foreign SIM card, then your contacts can call you directly in your hotel room.

A Last Resort: International Roaming

While by far the most expensive option for extended trips abroad, roaming on your home service provider's network is also the most popular option, and the most convenient. Many recent devices -- even those on Verizon's network that include a SIM card for this purpose -- will work on foreign voice and data networks. While roaming, you'll be able to make and accept phone calls, send and receive text messages, and access data, just as easily as you would at home (and with the same phone number). Some smartphones even offer international dialing assist features, so you can dial a U.S.-based number without adding the international calling code (001).

Per-minute rates range from 79¢ (when roaming in Canada) to $4.99 (when roaming in many other countries, from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe), so it's essential to check with your service provider before leaving home. We've likely all heard those horror stories about travelers who accidentally racked up several-thousand-dollar bills. If you're more concerned about convenience than cost, then make sure you discuss rates with your service provider before you leave home, and confirm that your device -- and account -- are enabled for international roaming.

Have a preferred method for staying in touch while traveling abroad? Have you returned from a vacation to find that your mobile usage cost more than your airline fare and hotel stay combined? Please share your experience in the comments section below.

Having visited nearly 30 countries on 5 continents in the last decade, Zach Honig's fascination with travel has clearly become an obsession. Follow Zach on Twitter (@zachhonig), or check out his blog, Tech, Travel and Tuna, to keep up to date on his latest adventures.