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The Savvy Traveler

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:

9 Responses to “The Savvy Traveler”

  1. Guest says:

    FCC don't forget!
    "...Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth."

  2. Guest says:

    FCC is corrupt and in the pockets of big corporations!
    Why doesn't FCC work for the people? If they would then FCC would already put a stop to "locking" cell phones to carriers and forcing cable companies to let consumers to user their own DVR boxes instead of renting.

  3. Guest says:

    Local SIM cards save you money but, as in the US, there are many carriers to chose from. There are carriers that cater specifically to those that need to call back to the US and to the traveler. However, they are not always available. There are companies in the US that sell these SIM cards however and even Amazon.com has them. Also try www.cellularabroad.com. As an example, a typical carrier in France costs about a $0.90 to call back to the US whereas Mobiho, which is a carrier that catering to travelers, costs about $0.25 per minute to call back to the US. There are more extreme cases for other countries. For example, HK is $0.03, Australia is $0.05, the UK is $0.06 and so forth

  4. Guest says:

    If you have (or buy) an Android phone, don't forget VoIP apps like Tubaloo, app that allow you make calls over WiFi and 3G plus several GSM options (callback to your gsm number, call to access numbers and redirect calls to your US virtual number to your new GSM chip).

  5. Guest says:

    Why make it so difficult for the US consumers to travel abroad with the mobile phones?
    Why can't the carriers unlock the phones? We should have a choice of buying locked or unlocked phones as consumers. It's really shameful for us in foreign countries when we speak of locked phones. Even emerging countries like India / China and almost all Asian countries have embraced the open usage of mobile phones. It is only this country where we get locked into a ridiculous carrier restrictions.

    Not just telecom carriers we are also getting locked into Satellite / Cable networks to watch TV at home. This doesn't feel like a free country anymore it is a contract-country as in the business es have the right to contracts.

  6. Guest says:

    I almost forgot to commend you FCC folks on starting this blog. This is a great sign of you folks progressing into the Social Networking, we can connect with each other now and hope you all understand us better.

    Thank you FCC !!!

  7. Guest says:

    I have found FON pretty helpful for finding free WiFi while traveling, especially in Japan and the UK.

  8. Guest says:

    I think even worse than locked phones in the US is the locked networks - most networks wont let you use Internet enabled Java apps like some Facebook apps or Opera Mini because the network want you to go to there portal only. Sprint lets you but thats about it :(

  9. JD Lien says:

    Roaming with US phones is a big pain because of carrier locking and the fact that most phones are CDMA anyways. Carriers are such a pain... in any case, if one has to roam, a good solution for mobile web browsing is to use Opera Mini (available from http://www.opera.com/mobile ) because it reduces data costs to about a tenth. That's a good thing to know.

    For voice calling, perhaps devices like iPhones and Android phones can make use if VOIP applications, or SIP applications and use Wifi to effectively grant free calling... although this is a more technically complex thing to do for many people, I would imagine.

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