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The Savvy Traveler

Posted June 21st, 2010 by Janeese Parker

As my good friend and colleague who I’ll just call the “Girl in the Paisley Dress” goes off to Europe for a well-needed getaway, I’m wracking my telecom brain to help her navigate the mobile phone landscape for travelers abroad.  In an attempt to make her the quintessential savvy traveler, I’ve decided to blog about useful tips when traveling with a mobile phone overseas, as it may serve other travelers well.

First on the list is to find out what type of phone she has to see if it will work in Europe as some U.S. phones work in Europe and others do not.  She should check with her carrier to see if her phone is GSM enabled (the European standard).  

If the phone is not GSM enabled, she should consider one of the following:  She could buy a GSM enabled phone in the U.S., which would allow her to use her same phone number while overseas (so that her friends and family can call her on their speed dials).  She could also buy a cheap phone at her destination that matches her paisley dress, with a local SIM card.  The SIM card is sort of like the brain of a GSM phone and the phone will not work without it.  Or, she could take her GSM phone and put a local SIM card into it when she gets to Europe.  

Advantages of buying a SIM card overseas:

She gets a local number, no roaming charges, free incoming calls (usually), international calls and text messages will be cheaper than from her U.S. phone, local calls at her destination are not international calls so are much cheaper, and she has to pay as she goes so there are no hidden costs. 

Disadvantages of buying a SIM card overseas:

She will not have the same number she has in the U.S., she must have a phone (or buy a mobile phone) that can take the SIM card, and people calling or texting her from the U.S. will be calling or texting to an international number so it may be more expensive to the calling party.

Since the Girl in the Paisley Dress usually has her stylish pink phone glued to her ear, I recommend that she get a cheap mobile phone in Europe and then buy a SIM card with prepaid minutes so that she knows how much she is spending on her phone.

Here are some Do’s and Don’ts for the Girl in the Paisley Dress traveling in Europe:

  • DO use the hotel room phone for calling between rooms at the hotel – DON'T use your mobile phone for that.  You would be surprised how often this happens.
  • DON’T use the hotel room phone for direct long distance calling to the U.S. unless it is an emergency as it is very expensive.  Instead, buy an international long distance card in the European destination (can be bought at any magazine store, quick mart, gas station and even restaurants) as you will get many, many minutes of voice over IP (VoIP) calling for around $10. These cards can be used from local phone booths. If using an international calling card from your mobile phone, be aware that regular minute charges will usually apply.
  • DON’T forget that roaming charges apply as soon as one goes to a new country in Europe.  Even with a local European mobile phone, roaming charges will be assessed for all incoming and outgoing calls.  If staying in the second country for awhile, then consider buying another SIM card.  If only staying for a couple of days, don’t use the phone very much and just pay the roaming charges.
  • DON’T forget to take your charger with you everywhere you go.  If it’s a U.S. phone, DON’T forget the adapter to plug the charger into the wall and when pulling the charger out of the wall, DO check to be sure the adapter came out too.  I have left more than my share of adapters (and chargers, unfortunately) around the world! 
  • DO send text messages rather than talk on the mobile phone as it is much cheaper in Europe.  But DON’T send too many text messages as they are not as cheap as in the U.S.
  • DO find out how to call important numbers back in the U.S. when you get overseas, just in case you need to make that important call back home.
  • DO watch this space to see the next adventure of telecom travel with the Girl in the Paisley Dress!
  • DO have a Savvy Traveler trip!

For more information on our “Wireless World Travel Week”, see the following resources:

Posted in International Bureau Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau Consumers