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Cell Phones & SIM Cards Abroad

When you’re traveling the world you may want to carry a phone to help stay connected either with friends at home, or new ones along the way.


What to do with your phone

If you have a phone from home that you want to bring there are two things that you need to do.

Suspend your phone service – you don’t want to be paying your phone bill when your on the other side of the planet having an amazing adventure. If you have the option of canceling your service, you may want to do that but if you are in a contract, contact the phone company and let them know you’d like to pause your service. Many phone companies allow you to pickup from your contract whenever you get back.

Make sure your phone is unlocked – Most phones in the us are sold locked to your service provider (often for getting a better deal on the phone and getting a contract). This will prevent you from using any other service provider. You can ask your phone company for the unlock code after telling them your plan. They may or may not give it to you.

If they wont give you your unlock code you have the option of unlocking the phone illegally. If you are outside of the country there are often a lot of places advertising an unlock phone service (at least in Southeast Asia) but you can do it much cheaper and faster yourself. Search google for your phone’s unlock procedure and you’ll find directions and a website that will likely charge you <$15 for a code, emailed to you within minutes (I was quoted $50 and 6 hours in Bangkok).

Note: Unlocking a phone became illegal because people were getting new phones at a discount, unlocking them and selling them. It is unlikely anything bad will happen to you for doing this for traveling, but it is your risk to take.

What kind of phone to bring

This is totally up to you.

Dumb Phones – Some travelers like the old candybar style phone. They’re hard to break, not worth much if they’re stolen and the battery last for hours.

Smart Phones – My personal phone is a HTC Inspire 4G  but everyone has their own preference in phones these days. The benefits of a smart phone include having downloadable GPS enabled maps worldwide, a means of communication through wifi (including access to the web), having a nice camera on you all the time even when your main camera is packed, being able to take notes and update your ledger from anywhere, etc, etc.

Tip: I recommend a phone with a flashlight, whatever you get, as well as one with a universal charger (micro usb charges my phone, my camera and my mp3 player)

Don’t use your home SIM internationally!

Whatever you do… Don’t use your home SIM card abroad unless you are very familiar with their policies and know what you will be charged.

There have been cases where individuals have racked up hundreds of thousands in data charges from only a short vacation.

Getting a SIM card abroad

SIM cards can be found almost anywhere these days (at the airport or a local 7-eleven) and in some countries cost only $1-2. (Some countries require your passport number when you buy a SIM)

It’s good to look online to see what service providers are recommended for where you’ll be going (or ask locals) and it essential to check what frequencies they broadcast on (I bought a SIM card in Malaysia of a service that uses a non-standard frequency that was not compatible with my phone).

You’ll want to use a “pay as you go” SIM unless you have more intense needs then the average traveler.

Some providers offer cheap calls abroad, others do not but they generally include that information with the card.

Staying in touch with home

Though your SIM card may offer reasonable rates to home it is often smarter to communicate via internet.

Facebook and email works in most countries as well as Skype and Google Voice (free calls to the US over WiFi).

One comment

  1. Very interesting and informative post. Thinking a lot of folks will certainly appreciate this information. xoxo <3

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