Calling home, whether from a cruise ship deck or a café along the Champs-Elysées, has never been easier. While calling cards remain a cheap and efficient means of placing calls, cell phones equipped to make international calls that don’t cost a fortune are in high demand from travelers. A number of companies, from network providers to rental agencies, have responded in kind. Below are tips for picking the option that best suits your needs.
Scenario #1: You just want to have your phone in case of an emergency.
If you have a multiband phone (some countries use different frequencies than what’s used in the United States) and your service provider uses the world-standard GSM network (as do T-Mobile, Cingular, and Verizon), you can probably use your phone abroad. Roaming fees can be steep, though: 99¢ a minute is considered reasonable. And overseas, you normally pay the toll charges for incoming calls. It’s almost always cheaper to send a text message than to make a call since text messages have a very low set fee (often less than 5¢).
Scenario #2: You love calling ahead—to museums, to shops, to restaurants—just to be sure that they’re open and ready for your arrival.
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If you want to use your phone to primarily make local calls, consider buying a new SIM card (note that your provider may have to unlock your phone for you to use a different SIM card) and a prepaid service plan in the destination. You’ll then have a local number and can make local calls at local rates. If your trip is extensive you could also simply buy a new cell phone in your destination, as the initial cost will be offset over time.
Scenario #3: You have accrued enough frequent flyer miles to circle the globe—twice.
If you travel internationally frequently, save one of your old mobile phones or buy a cheap one on the Internet; ask your cell phone company to unlock it for you, and take it with you as a travel phone, buying a new SIM card with pay-as-you-go service in each destination.
Scenario #4: You’d welcome the convenience of a cell phone, but don’t have the time or energy to deal with your wireless company, buy a new phone, or figure out what SIM card to buy.
Don’t sweat it—rent it. Be sure to shop around and compare per-minute rates. Here are three companies that rent cell phones:
Mobal (tel. 888/888-9162 www.mobalrental.com)
Cellular Abroad (tel. 800/287-5072 www.cellularabroad.com)
Planet Fone (tel. 888/988-4777 www.planetfone.com)
Travelers look to our Talk forum for answers to their most particular cell phone questions: