How To: Keep In Touch While Abroad

Yesterday's Call
Image: Vincent_AF.

Trying to keep in touch with the folks back home while abroad can be difficult, if not downright expensive. However, with a little bit of knowledge (and the right kind of mobile phone), you can keep your friends and family abreast of your journeys without going broke.

For Americans traveling to Europe, you may be able to use your mobile while on vacation. While it may seem obvious, it pays to to first do a little bit of research and verify that your phone actually works overseas. Its no fun to get off the plane and realize that your lifeline to the world is cut off while you're away from home.

First, since different companies use different mobile technology standards, your choice of provider at home helps to determine whether you phone will work abroad. Take a look at your phone and see if it is a "quad-band" phone, which means that it operates on frequencies that are used in both the US and Europe. If it's not, it is worthwhile looking into getting an unlocked quad-band phone off of Ebay or MyWorldPhone.

You will still need a SIM card for both home and abroad, so when you arrive at your destination, pop into a local cell phone provider and get one. Or, you may want to wait to get your phone abroad, since they almost certainly have the latest options. You can even bring it home and use it with a compatible service like T-Mobile or AT&T.



I've had success going through Europe and the Middle East using an unlocked GSM phone, quad-band. My thoughts on this are to make sure it is quad-band (removes any doubt) and that the phone is unlocked, as was mentioned. Many companies tout their phones as world phones, when they are actually tri-band. The tri-band phones cover a lot of global territory but if the missing band is 900 then you're out of luck if the local provider operates on that frequency.

Personally I like Motorola phones so I've just gone and bought my phone directly from the manufacturer. I can pop in my American SIM or buy/borrow an overseas one. When traveling in Lebanon over the summers I've had great luck finding friends that are traveling, or know people that are traveling, and borrowing their SIM chip. Prepaid service works nice, so you aren't using their time. Be nice and top off their minutes when you are done. Just be sure to not screw around with the passwords, SIM locks, and all that jazz, I've burned out a friend's card that way :( not a a pleasant thing to have to report to a friend who has been so generous.

Do your math too. Sometimes the international roaming rates can be a bit more expensive than we'd like but they could be cheaper than buying a SIM/line and adding minutes. Don't discount the power of SMS as well. During my last trip I sent SMS at the international rate and was able to receive them at the American rate (or package).

Advice, be informed and be a smart shopper. Personal thought...don't buy into the international "discount" roaming rates that some providers offer. In some countries they are ok and the math may work out in your favor. When going to less touristy places (the best places to go ;) ) you might not save anything. Example: rates for Lebanon were still around $2.50/minute even if I had the discount roaming package.

One last suggestion, be aware of the countries that are around you also. Traveling in Europe and Asia (M.E. included) you'll find that many countries are small and close together. In my case I thought my phone was on a Lebanon provider when it was actually picking up an Israeli tower. Thankfully the rates to and from Israel weren't as bad as those from Lebanon and I saved a little $$.

That's all I got. Thanks for the chance to get on my soapbox, even if the advise wasn't wasn't asked for.