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Telephone service for travel

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Telephones are a crucial part of modern living while at home; this article covers some options for making and receiving calls while travelling.

Call[edit]

In-room phones[edit]

Many hotels and motels charge set rates for all calls made from in-room telephones. The cost of these calls is generally much higher than an ordinary call made from a residential or business phone. There may also be other service fees for toll calls as many hotels have an automatic price required service where their telecommunications provider advises them of the cost of a toll call and the room number the call was made from. The calls may also have a telephone service charge for calls to toll-free numbers! Check the call rates before making a call; some establishments have been known to charge USD35/min or even more for international calls! There are, however, some lodgings that offer packages that include complimentary unlimited local and toll-free calls, make sure to enquire about this.

Pay phones[edit]

Take care when making calls from pay phones. Many pay phone services are provided by specialist providers who charge higher fees to cover the cost of equipment and payphone booth. There can be a substantial minimum fee, which you do not notice if you pay by credit card.

Check the information in the booth if there is any before making a call. Typically, you can avoid the worst of high charges by picking a payphone booth branded by a major carrier.

You may find there are courtesy phones available at airports and similar places for making local calls for a taxi or similar traveller services. Look out for these so you may not need to use a pay phone.

Pre-paid phone cards[edit]

Many telephone service providers offer pre-paid phone cards that can be used from pay phones or ordinary telephones. While most cards purchased are good for calling anywhere, some, especially those provided by not-so-known providers specialise in providing call rates to some countries more than others so it's good to look at the poster associated with the phone card you plan to purchase to see if your home country will get some of the lowest rates. Access to these services is often through a toll-free telephone number that can be called from most phones without charge. (Be aware that some pay phones and hotel phones charge for toll-free calls.)

These providers may be exploiting regulatory loopholes in telephone rates, so read the fine print to see when and how you can get the lowest rates - there may be particular times or days that the rates apply. These cards also feature excellent international rates.

In the US, regulations require pay phone providers to be reimbursed for toll-free calls by the toll-free number provider, so additional minutes or a small surcharge may be deducted when using your card from a pay phone.

Now, there are phone cards from several vendors that do not require entering a numeric code each time you call; you register specific phone numbers (for example, your cell phone number) and add funds when the balance becomes low.

Calling cards[edit]

Some telephone service providers offer a calling card option, often attached to your existing telephone account. Sometimes, you can quote the calling card number to an operator. Other times, you are provided with a number to connect to your home provider to place calls, or you can speak to an operator in your home language.

These services are usually charged with a surcharge on top of the provider's usual rates.

Apply for a calling card before travelling. Some telecommunication companies will allow you to get a calling card linked to just a credit card without having to have telephone service with them.

Other services[edit]

By just running a google search, you can find some services that allow you to call long distance at very affordable rates and good quality. The charges are charged directly to your phone bill. Registration is not required. All you may need to do is to dial an access number then follow the instructions from there.

Receive[edit]

In-room phones[edit]

Hotels and motels usually do not charge for voice calls you receive - but check for any received telephone charges before giving out a hotel or motel telephone number for people to call you.

Usually there are charges for received faxes.

Voice mail[edit]

If you are going to be out of range of a telephone, but still want to receive calls, Voice mail may be a good option for you. Most telephone service providers offer a voice mail option, either as an add-on to an existing landline or celular telephone or as a stand alone service. You can usually check your voice mail remotely--make sure to obtain the access number and login details from your voice mail provider before leaving home.

Cell (mobile) phones[edit]

There are three main ways you can use a cell phone while travelling overseas.

  • Roam - take your own domestic mobile phone and SIM card and use the foreign network (often at rip-off rates) when you arrive
  • get a local SIM card at your destination, and put it in your own phone
  • Rent or purchase a phone and SIM card either
    • at your destination
    • or prior to departure

Roaming[edit]

Travel Warning WARNING: Read the information below carefully. Otherwise, don't be surprised to find a mobile phone bill close to USD200,000!

Using your phone in places other than its home area is called roaming. The biggest advantage of roaming is that you do not need to change your number and the other parties back home can contact you as if you were in their country. When roaming, do take note that you need to include the appropriate IDD code (eg, 00 for the EU, 011 for the US and Canada), country code and area code as you call a phone number in your home country. An area code is all that is necessary to contact a number in the country you are roaming at.

While roaming is convenient, charges can be very expensive and are unlikely to be included in any plan you are on. The price varies depending on your provider and the part of the world: check with your home carrier to find out what the approximate rates are beforehand. Otherwise, you may unsuspectingly be making a USD5/min phone call even if it is just made from a neighbouring country.

You will be charged for receiving calls even if this is not the normal practice of your carrier in your country. Calls to your home country are international calls while roaming. Even if you make a local call (eg, your home network is in the UK but you are in France and wish to call to someone in France), it may still be considered an international call and roaming charges will still apply.

Take care with voicemail and diversions. If your phone is on, you can incur roaming costs to receive a call that gets diverted to voicemail, and international costs to divert your call to your home voicemail, and international costs to retrieve the voicemail.

Consider using SMS (short messaging service) as a cheap alternative to making per-minute phone calls. These text messages can be sent between phones, with up to 160 characters per message. While SMS messages can be more expensive when overseas (from USD0.30 to USD1 each), they are cheaper than international calls and can be very useful for keeping costs down. Sometimes receiving them can be free. Moreover, those who send you an SMS using a carrier back home will be charged at local/home rates.

Using mobile internet on your roaming networks should be avoided. With improving mobile broadband technology, it has made the sharing of larger files and viewing of content-rich websites on mobile devices more possible. However these come at hefty costs when used outside your home country: up to USD20 per megabyte. Make sure that you switch the mobile internet feature of your phone OFF if you have no plan to use it: consult your phone's manual on how to do it. Otherwise, even if you do not actively open a webpage yourself, information from websites such as Facebook or your email will be downloaded to your phone and you will be charged accordingly. This is unfortunately one of the quickest ways to drive your phone bill up to six figures. Additionally, turn-off 'push' and 'fetch' services that your apps love to do. If you must view/download larger files, share holiday photos on Instagram frequently, or need 'push' or 'fetch' services, consider doing them over a Wi-Fi network (take your SIM out of the phone to be safe as well) or get a local SIM instead (see the next option). By reserving mobile internet for Wi-Fi use, you save not only up to USD200,000 but also precious battery life.

Check to see if your home carrier has arrangement with carriers in the country you will visit. If you use certain partner carriers, your carrier may have package bundles to allow for slightly more affordable rates. However, please be aware about how your carrier will define one day; some will define one day as from midnight to midnight, others will define it as a continuous 24-hour period. Read the fine print to know what is included or not before subscribing.

There are three things you have to check to ensure that roaming will work when you arrive:

  1. Is your phone the correct type and can it communicate on the frequencies required by the foreign network?
  2. Does your carrier have roaming agreements with the country you are visiting, and are you on a plan permitted to roam to another country?
  3. Have you contacted your carrier to activate your roaming service? Even if your plan allows you to roam, the feature may not be activated automatically. This may sometimes require you to visit their service centre and sign paperwork.

Your phone[edit]

Cell phone technologies fall into three technologies widely used around the world today. GSM (sometimes called 2G), UMTS (sometimes called 3G) and CDMA.

The most widely used cell phone standard in the world is GSM. If your phone type is CDMA, it is unlikely to roam outside of the Americas, Japan and Korea. Please read on...

Many modern GSM phones also have UMTS (3G) capabilities. No phones are made with only UMTS (3G) capabilities.

  • The United States has very heavy use of both CDMA (Verizon, Sprint, Alltel, Tracfone, Virgin) and GSM (AT&T, T-Mobile).
  • Japan and South Korea have no GSM coverage but do have UMTS (3G) coverage, and most modern phones with 3G capability should be able to roam there (Korea has 2G and 3G CDMA coverage as well as 3G UMTS coverage).

Next, you need to check that your phone operates on the correct frequencies for your destination.

GSM and UMTS networks operate on several different frequencies. If your phone matches the all the frequencies used by the carrier in the destination country, then this will not pose a problem to you in roaming. If your phone only matches one of the frequencies, it may only work in some locations, or may not perform as well. UMTS and GSM (although usually present on one phone) are not compatible, so have a UMTS phone that works on 1900MHz will not enable you to use a GSM 1900MHz network.

  • GSM: Most of the world uses 900MHz and 1800MHz, except the United States and Canada, and most countries in Central and South America that use 1900MHz and 850MHz (sometimes mistakenly called 800MHz).
  • UMTS (3G): Most of the world uses 900Mhz and 2100MHz, except the United States's AT&T network runs on 850/1900MHz, and T-mobile operates on 1700/2100MHz Australia's Telstra has a network on 850MHz with greater coverage outside of the major cities and towns.

Many lower-end phones are dual-band, in that they work only on the two frequency bands most commonly used in the country of their origin and will not work at all in countries that use only the other two bands. Some phones are tri-band, which will cover quite a bit more of the world by adding one of the two foreign bands; the best phones for global usage are quad-band phones, which will work on all GSM frequencies. However, while having a quad-band GSM phone guarantees GSM compatibility where GSM exists in your destination, you may not have the 3G features, like data, unless your UMTS frequencies are also compatible.

  • GSM World - details on US and international roaming agreements

Your carrier[edit]

Your carrier must have an agreement with at least one carrier at your destination to allow you to roam. Check that an agreement is in place and what frequencies the roaming carrier uses against the capabilities of your phone.

Check your plan allows international roaming. It may need to be enabled, which is must easier to accomplish before you leave home. Some prepaid plans either do not permit any form of international roaming, or limit the services enabled such as SMS only.

Most phones have a default setting of automatically choosing the network which you will roam on but you can manually select a network (consult your phone's manual on how to do it). By manually choosing a carrier rather than automatic, you may be given additional incentives such as discounted free access to the host carrier's Wi-Fi network, or discounted data bundles. It may pay to research the arrangements your carrier has with others.

Manually selecting a carrier may also come in handy if you are travelling in an area or city close to the border of your home country. This way you may be able to avoid roaming altogether. For example, if you are travelling to Northern Ireland (eg, Derry) but are subscribing to a carrier based in the Republic of Ireland; in this case, manually select your Irish-based carrier. You'll probably be out of luck if you are more than 8km (5 mi) away from the border of your home country.

The EU and roaming[edit]

Territories such as the European Union (EU) have agreements to cap roaming charges when subscribers from one of the EU-based networks roam in another EU country. Warnings are also sent out if an EU subscriber is close to breaching her roaming limit (by default it is set at €50), and the subscriber's roaming capabilities are switched-off once breached (unless the subscriber voluntarily elected not to). Rates are capped as follows:

  • Outgoing phone calls: €0.19/min + VAT
  • Incoming phone calls: €0.05/min + VAT
  • Outgoing SMS: €0.06/message + VAT
  • Mobile internet: €0.20/MB, charged per kB +VAT, and pro-rated accordingly.

In some cases, EU-based subscribers may continue to use their domestic plans as usual whilst in the EU (eg, get charged at domestic rates or according to their plans) upon payment of a surcharge per day that a subscriber is roaming (eg, €3/day or GBP3/day). Check with your carrier to see if this scheme is offered. However, the aforementioned rates and protections are not applicable if a subscriber's carrier is based outside the EU, or if an EU-based subscriber roams outside the EU.

The Official EU roaming information page contains more information on these matters.

Pre-paid SIM Cards[edit]

As an alternative to roaming, local pre-paid (sometimes known as "pay as you go") SIM cards are a godsend. The SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) in GSM phones can be swapped out, effectively changing the carrier and phone number of the phone. Many regular travellers carry a second phone just for this purpose. Most people will have an old phone in a drawer somewhere. Just find it and check it works and is unlocked. See below for more information on this. If you do not have an old phone, manufacturers such as Nokia make very cheap and basic phones that work well. In 2012, the Nokia 100 could be found for less than USD50.

Most countries sell prepaid SIM cards that you can buy for cash, quickly establishing a new phone number and credit for making calls. No account set-up, credit card numbers or bank accounts are necessary. However passports or IDs are often necessary (to reduce use of phones by criminals). To add credit to these SIM cards, you can buy "refill" (common in the US), "top up" (common in Singapore, the UK, Canada and New Zealand), "recharge" (common in Hong Kong and Australia), "reload" (common in the Philippines), "credit" or "add value" cards/vouchers from news-stands, telephone stores or convenience stores. Electronic top-up methods like ATM, online credit card top-ups may also be possible depending on the country and provider. In most countries, someone who has credit (prepaid or plan) may top-up someone else's prepaid mobile phone account by sending an SMS to the provider as long as the recipient uses the same provider. Many sellers will use this method, rather than issuing actual vouchers.

Cost for a prepaid SIM will run from about USD3 to about USD50, with the most typical range being around USD15-25. Virtually all will come with some usage credit, often equal to about half of the cost of the SIM card.

In an increasing number of countries, there will be some kind of cellphone shop at major international airports outside of security so that you can buy a prepaid SIM without leaving the airport. Some countries even have a specific SIM card product, exclusively marketed to visitors as well as nationals of certain countries.

One of the major downsides to prepaid SIM cards is that both the SIM card itself and the credits topped-up have very limited lifespans. A SIM card (and effectively the mobile number you have been making calls from) will expire if it hasn't been topped-up by any amount for several consecutive months. Therefore, unless the mobile phone provider accepts credit cards from your home country to top-up or you have a friend in that country willing to top your phone up, you will end-up buying a new SIM anyway if your next visit is more than six months away. As a general rule - lower top-up denominations tend to expire more quickly. However, the savings offered by using a local SIM card are so great that they can often pay for themselves with just one call.

Another disadvantage of having a prepaid mobile number is that for both you and the other party, it will mean another number to take note of. This can be problematic if you intend to travel to multiple countries in one major trip as you will have to keep sending messages to important people of a mobile number change. It can be tedious, costly and possibly confusing to the other party. You may in fact be spending more informing them of your number change rather than to send another important message when you need it. In relation to this, it can also be costly to the party back home since they have to make an overseas call unless you tell them to send an SMS to your home number. The latter may work if you have a spare unit/phone and roaming capabilities are on (just don't answer calls there). For numbers that are roaming, they usually do not incur costs for SMS received if they don't do so at home.

For people who travel through different countries, an international card may be an alternative. These usually allow free or cheap incoming calls in a significant number of countries and offer relatively cheap outgoing calls via an automatic callback service. Their phone numbers are usually based in the UK or smaller European countries such as Estonia. There are many different ones available, so shop around as the cards sold at airports may not be the cheapest. This also saves the person the trouble of notifying others of multiple change of numbers.

SIMs and unlocking[edit]

Travel Warning WARNING: Your phone may become permanently damaged or unusable if you do not "unlock" your phone properly. If in doubt about how to proceed, please visit an "unlocking" store (see below).

If you want to use your own phone, you have to check (see above) that the phone can be used at your destination, type and communication frequencies and that it is unlocked (technically, "carrier SIM-locked".)

GSM phones have a SIM card inside of them which provides the "identity" for the phone, including its phone number and cell phone carrier. Some providers "lock" the phone to their service if you purchased the phone from them, which prevents you from switching to another carrier by replacing the SIM card. This is arguably good business sense from the provider's perspective as in many cases the cost of the phone is heavily discounted with the difference paid by the carrier.

To install a new SIM card you will have to make sure your phone is "unlocked." Your provider may provide the unlock code after a certain time period or after paying a certain amount or otherwise for an unlocking fee. You only need to "unlock" your device once. There are plenty of resources around the Internet that will help you "unlock" phones for free or for a small fee (about USD5), or you may be able to find local phone whizzes in your own hometown or at your destination that can do it for you on the spot for a price.

Try doing a google search for potential places to "unlock" your phone. Weeks before traveling, it may be worth researching whether it is less costly and/or more convenient to "unlock" your phone in your home or destination country. "Unlocking" services are generally cheaper and more easily available in Europe and Asia than in North America.

Some brands of phones are easier to unlock than others. For instance, older Nokia phones can be "unlocked" with a simple code and you can do it yourself, while Motorola or Sony Ericcson phones require additional equipment and may require you to bring your phone to someone. Some (Japanese domestic market phones) may use a different SIM-based method that attaches to your SIM, allowing you to take it from phone to phone.

An alternative is to just buy an unlocked phone in the first place. In some countries — for example China — phones are never locked. Various web sites and some shops in Western countries also sell unlocked phones but usually at somewhat higher prices than the "deals" you can get by signing a contract for a service and taking a locked phone.

Cheap low-end phones locked to a carrier at your destination are often obtainable.

Renting or purchasing a phone abroad[edit]

You can often rent a local cell phone, often even at the airport on arrival. However, in many countries purchasing a cheap phone and a pre-paid SIM will be more economical even after only a week or so of rental so compare prices.

However, these airport rental companies often charge much more per-minute than the local population pays to make and receive calls on the same local phone companies’ networks.

Also, airport rental companies have been known to run out of phones especially during popular events and in high travel season. In addition the airport phone rental kiosk or counter might be closed if arriving on a late night flight. In many countries purchasing a cheap phone and a pre-paid SIM will be more economical even after only a week or so of rental so compare prices.

When it comes to purchasing a phone and SIM locally in the country you’re visiting be sure to ask whether the cell phone handset is locked or unlocked. The phone will need to be unlocked to be usable in the future with another carrier’s SIM card. It is also important to remember that different carriers perform differently across the country you are visiting. To see which network will be best for you (with the difference mainly coming between national and regional networks) OpenSignal have independent coverage maps.

Sometimes overseas cell phone carriers will offer the phone at a lower subsidized price because the phone is locked to only work with their SIM. This practice is similar to the way US carriers offer lower rates on new phones for customers that sign up for a long term contract. For these reasons, it might make sense to buy or rent an unlocked phone and prepaid SIM card prior to your departure.

Renting or purchasing a phone before departure[edit]

Renting or buying an unlocked GSM phone and local country prepaid SIM card provides access to the same overseas rates the locals pay without having to wait to purchase a phone abroad or try to rent a phone at the airport at higher than normal per-minute rates.

There are several advantages to having your phone before you go. One is that you will have your phone number to give out to family, friends and co-workers.

You’ll also have a phone that’s ready to use as soon as you land. Another advantage of renting the phone before your trip is that it will come with complete operating instructions in English with information on how to check the remaining prepaid credit balance, how to add additional credit, how to contact customer service, and how to make and receive international calls.

US-based GSM and SIM cell phone rental and sales companies[edit]

  • Cellhire – provides international SIM card rental, international cell phone rental and satellite phone rental.
  • Cellular Abroad – rents and sells unlocked GSM phones, country-specific SIM cards and the Talk Abroad international roaming SIM card by National Geographic
  • Mobi Passport – sells prepaid local SIM cards for popular overseas destinations that are shipped to you before you depart. They also include detailed instructions to help you get setup and navigate foreign language menus.
  • ROAMFREE - sells prepaid phones for overseas destinations that are shipped to you before you depart.
  • Israel Phone Rentals - rents unlimited-plan smartphones for travellers going to Israel.

Information by country/region[edit]

Please see the Contact section of the destination country article or Phones#Country-specific examples for more detailed information on communications specific to one country.

Canada and US[edit]

Some things to keep in mind when using cellular phones in Canada and the US:

  • For a GSM phone to work in the US or Canada, it has to work on the 1900MHz and/or 850MHz GSM frequencies. Some locations provide service on both frequencies, others one or the other.
  • The SIM card and sometimes the phone itself needs to be permitted to roam internationally. Check with your carrier before you leave. Most European accounts accept international billing.
  • Prepaid GSM SIM cards are relatively difficult to find at retail in the US (at least not without a phone): of nationwide carriers, only T-mobile offers one ($10), and generally only at their own shops or on-line. However, you can readily get a prepaid SIM card from either T-Mobile or AT&T (marketed in some areas as GoPhone) by buying their least expensive prepaid phone (generally about $30, sometimes cheaper or pricier) at any "big box" store (and many other venues) and removing the SIM card. IMPORTANT for AT&T users: Please do not immediately insert the SIM into the phone supplied if you intend to use your own phone. Doing so will lock the SIM into that phone and you will need to visit an AT&T service centre to request for a new SIM. There are also on-line services who will ship prepaid SIMs overseas before you go, but they typically overcharge badly (see for example on-line.)
  • Prepaid service is available on several CDMA networks in the US, but generally requires buying a phone - these start from $20 for a basic phone up, and otherwise work like a prepaid SIM (but is difficult to transfer to another phone.) While no particular carrier is more broadly available than either of the individual GSM carriers, because there are more nationwide CDMA carriers it will often be easier to find one of them.
  • Refills (in the US) or top-ups (in Canada) for prepaid cards are generally available at any convenience shops/stores, gas stations and Canadian post offices. "Big box" retailers and larger pharmacies will often have the broadest selection. If you have internet access while travelling and a credit card usable in the US, you can also often refill using a credit card on-line.
  • All of the large carriers now have nationwide networks in the US so that roaming charges within the will not generally be an issue. However, there are a number of smaller regional carriers within the US which sell prepaid service, and these will generally have charges for roaming (and in many cases will be impossible to find retail top up cards outside of the home region.)
  • Dialling 411 is a reliable method of obtaining phone numbers and addresses. Phone carriers typically charge about two dollars per 411 call, although directory assistance is also available for free via 1-800-Free411, which is ad-supported, and which provides business, government, and residential listings, as well as turn-by-turn driving directions to a listing. Another free 411 service is 1-800-GOOG-411 (1-800-466-4411), provided by Google. This number provides only business listings.
  • In addition for free services, there are specific services like #TAXI (#8294) that work on any cellphone in Canada and on most cellphones in the US for a cost of between $1.25 and $1.79. The advantage here is avoiding busy signals and #TAXI recommends the best first available cab company.
  • There are prepaid plans available which allow you to make longer calls and send more SMS for effectively reduced rates. The big difference is that in the US, the rates and plans are typically good for any time of the day while in Canada, they may only be good for either the late afternoon, evening or weekend. You may want to consider this if you intend to stay in the US or Canada for a prolonged vacation. Roaming plans may also be available if you intend to do frequent trans-border travel during your trip.
  • Canadian and US cell phone providers typically charge for both incoming and outgoing minutes. If your recipient has no credits/balance left, he may not be able to take calls. However, there is no difference in cost when contacting an American land line or cell phone.
  • The call will usually be charged from the moment the number was dialled, not once the other party picks-up. That means unsuccessful calls and the time it takes before the other party picks-up will be deducted from your balance.
  • International calls from a cell phone will usually be very expensive unless purchased with a package. It is usually best to buy a calling card with a local access number for making international calls from a cellular phone. A very few older plans/services will have higher charges for long distance calls within the US.
  • In the US there is very little store front retail market for used phones, and finding an independent phone shop which can unlock a phone is generally difficult in tourist areas. Longer term visitors who can take the time to shop on-line will find most of the after market in used phones has grown up around on-line sales sites (such as eBay, Craigslist, etc.)

Some older phones need to select or allow a roaming change from a user menu. Bring your manual or make sure you know how to access the menus.

France[edit]

When purchasing a prepaid French SIM card, activation is required. However the retailer does not require a copy of the passport from the user. Instead, the user will have to follow instructions that came with the French SIM card, which either instructs the user to log-on to the provider's website or contact a hotline.

Hong Kong[edit]

SIM cards may be purchased at the Nobletime AV & Telecom store found in the arrivals hall of Hong Kong International Airport for less than HKD300 (USD40) - including credit. No ID is required and the store staff may help you set-up your phone to select a bundle suited for your needs (eg, unlimited data). Additionally, the departures hall of terminal 1 has shops for Three, one2free, and China Mobile. If you plan on going to the mainland afterwards, go with China Mobile for lower prices while using in the mainland (with a dual-number SIM it's often low enough to not bother with buying a local SIM).

Italy[edit]

Visitors to Italy are required to produce a passport when purchasing a SIM card in order to have the service activated. In some cases, a photocopy of the passport may be all that is sufficient - this is at the merchant/retailer's discretion. These SIM cards may be purchased at foreign currency stalls as well as the stores of telecom providers.

Japan[edit]

Only SoftBank offers prepaid voice service to travelers on a visa waiver or short-term visa, and the start-up cost is prohibitive (JPY15000 for a phone, SIM, and JPY4000 of airtime credit). Additionally, voice rates are expensive too- JPY100 per minute domestic and additional costs for international. The only value is unlimited SMS/e-mail for JPY300/30 days and free incoming calls. Otherwise, your options are roaming (with a compatible 3G GSM phone) or renting a phone. This can be done at the major airports (Narita, Kansai, probably others) or via delivery to your hotel or business. Expect to pay JPY100-200 (USD1-2) a day, plus fairly high per minute call rates.

For those who only need data, there are more options. B-Mobile offers two varieties of data SIM to visitors, both priced at a little less than JPY4000: the 1GB SIM offers 1GB over 14 days but limits service to 2G speeds if one uses more than 300MB in three days, the other is speed-limited to around 300Kbps for 14 days but has no usage cap or further speed limits for using "too much". So-Net also offers data SIMs that are much more expensive at JPY5000 for 500MB (and JPY3000 for 100MB, a poor value) but are refillable at more reasonable prices (JPY1500 for 200MB, JPY2000 for 500MB, and JPY2838 for 1GB) for returning or data-heavy users.

Another data option for those who can get it is China Unicom, which sells special SIMs specifically for data roaming in Japan. Normally aimed at its customers in China, if you can find a place to purchase them they are a much better deal than local data SIMs. There are two varieties: China Unicom Hong Kong sells a 5GB/7 day SIM normally for around HK$299 while China Unicom Guangdong sells a 15GB/7 day SIM for around CNY199. On the face of it, the 15GB SIM may seem a better value, but it routes all data through China, carrying with it the usual Chinese internet restrictions. The 5GB SIM, while offering less for roughly the same price, does not have this problem.

Singapore[edit]

Visitors to Singapore can buy a Sim card from currency exchange stalls, service centres of the telecom providers or 7-11 convenience stores. However, they are required to give their passport to the point-of-sale for the service to be activated. A user is allowed to have a maximum of three Singaporean Sim cards registered to his name at a time.

Thailand[edit]

The best place to buy a used phone or get one unlocked is the 4th floor of the MBK mall in Bangkok. More than half the floor (nearly a full city block) is small mobile-phone vendors (most selling a mix of used and new), and many will do repairs, unlocks (and those that don't will generally be happy to take your phone to one that does and split the fee.) Expect to bargain hard!

United Kingdom[edit]

SIM registration in the UK or activation is not compulsory. SIM cards are readily available at vending machines in Heathrow Airport, right after passport control and at the arrivals hall. Supermarkets like Tesco (including Tesco Express), bookstores like WH Smith and corner off-licence stores sell SIM cards and top-up vouchers.

The main mobile operators are O2, EE (created from the merger of T-Mobile and Orange), Vodafone and 3. However, nearly a dozen mobile virtual network operators, which use the infrastructure of the main operators but are branded separately also exist. These operators include Lycamobile, Vectone and Lebara, which provide overseas phone calls at significantly reduced rates.

Satellite phones[edit]

In remote locations, without cell phone coverage, a satellite phone may be your only option. A satellite phone is not generally a replacement for a mobile phone, as you have be outdoors with clear line of sight to the satellite to make a phone call. The service is frequently used by shipping, including pleasure craft, as well as expeditions who have remote data and voice needs. Your local telephone service provider should be able to give more information about connecting to this service. Rates are generally much higher than using ordinary mobile phones, even if the other party is in the same country as you are.

The Thuraya network, using a Thuraya handset, allows roaming from GSM to Satellite depending on network availability. (Check to see if they have an agreement with your home network. Some networks (for example Vodafone UK) charge a very high rate for incoming calls (GBP6.00/min). If a lot of calls are to be made, buy a SIM card from a satellite phone provider. Calls on the Thuraya system cost from USD0.50-1.30/min. Thuraya network uses geostationary satellites over Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East, so check for coverage in the area you are travelling to. You may have to orient the antenna of the device towards the satellite for best reception.

For truly global walk-and-talk roaming you are going to need an Iridium handset. Iridium uses a constellation of low-earth orbit satellites, so unlike Thuraya you can use Iridium everywhere so long as you have line-of-sight with the sky. Iridium works on all land masses and oceans including both poles. Expect to pay about USD1.50/min for outgoing calls though this can be as low as USD0.99/min to call another Iridium phone. Iridium does not sell direct and only sells phones through dealers who may also rent units as well.

The other consumer satellite telephony network is Globalstar.

Satellite phones may not be available for purchase or illegal in Saudi Arabia, China, India, Myanmar (formerly Burma), Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea and Syria. Technically, they will still function in these areas. Some countries require a special permit for using satellite phones within their territory.

In-flight phones[edit]

Some flights offer phone service via an in-seat phone. These are typically priced at around USD5 per minute for a voice call (plus a connection fee), or USD2 per SMS.

In some cases, some flights also install special equipment to allow you to use your mobile phone on-board as you do on the ground. These are also linked to satellite systems and you can expect to pay more than standard roaming rates. Even if your plane/flight is equipped to handle mobile phone transactions, availability of the signal is subject to local regulations (both of the country the airline is based in, as well as the countries the airline will pass through).

Get online[edit]

Where you have full access to the Internet at a reasonable speed, making phone calls over the Internet is the cheapest option, it can even be free.

Free calls are possible if the other party has the same software as you and both of you have easy internet access. If your phone has Wi-Fi built-in and the ability to install apps, making cheap phone calls may be as easy as getting connected at a Wi-Fi hotspot. You can achieve the same thing from a laptop or PDS with a softphone and a headset. You should install an app on your phone to allow VOIP calling and signup to a voice service provider (VSP) and make sure to test your configuration before departing.

Note that some publicly available networks can block VOIP, many are simply too slow, and in some countries, internet telephony can be blocked entirely to protect the revenues of national phone companies. VOIP is a good way to maintain contact with friends and family while travelling, who will tolerate the occasional drop-out. It may not be the best way to maintain a connection with important business contacts. Oftentimes you will need a separate microphone and not the one built-in to your laptop for clearer audio. You can purchase your own microphone headset or rent a computer with Skype from a local internet store.

Until recently, Etisalat, the state-owned telecommunications provider of the United Arab Emirates allowed connections to the Skype network, blocking only the company website to prevent users from adding credit to their accounts to make PSTN calls. The restrictions were later reinforced by blocking access to Skype network entirely. However, Skype is still accessible from some hotels that provide access through 'TheWayOut' Wi-Fi service.

Internet phone companies[edit]

Because calls are routed over the internet, you do not need to use a phone company located where you live or where you travel. Often, you have to buy a global number separately that allows PSTN phones to call you. Where the number is from makes a difference for people calling you.

Services such as IPKall allows you to have numbers in different parts of the world for free.

SIP phone companies[edit]

There are literally thousands of VOIP companies. It's best to pick a company which has connections either in the country you are calling from or calling to, to avoid unnecessary international hops.

  • 7AAA VoIP Termination VoIP termination in SIP
  • AT&T CallVantage
  • Broadband Phone Cheap VoIP SIP Services
  • Broadviewnet Virtual phone system options that can be configured for businesses.
  • Free World Dialup. Free, but you can only call other SIP phones.
  • Gizmoproject has one minute free calls with SipPhone. Prepaid minutes from USD10. Global number from USD40.00.
  • IConnectHere. Prepaid from USD10.
  • Localphone VoIP Services Free Localphone–Localphone calls, cheap calls over PSTN.
  • Lucky Telecom Corp A-Z VoIP termination and proper termination services
  • SipDiscount Free 1 min trial calls to many countries.
  • Switch2Voip A-Z VoIP termination and free USA virtual phone number for their customers
  • VoIP Buster Free calls to European destinations with credit purchase.
  • VoipCheap Like VoIP Buster, Stunt, Discount and many others, VoipCheap is part of German company Betamax GmbH & Co.Kg. VoipCheap is the cheapest of them all.
  • VoipDiscount Free calls to many countries in the world, for buying €10 credit, valid for 3 months, free Voip in phone number in several European countries, country rates change without notice.
  • VoIP Stunt Free calls to 33 countries around the world with credit purchase.
  • Vonage can sell you a small, portable box into which you plug a normal phone and can then make free calls of up to 4h duration to landlines in more than 60 different countries and mobiles in 14.

Non-SIP phone companies[edit]

  • Dialpad
  • Net2Phone
  • Skype. Free computer-to-computer calls: pay a fee for Skype-Out service to call anyone else or pay a fee for Skype-In service to get a phone number where people can call your computer. Skype claims to be secure by using strong encryption to protect your messages, but some experts have been scathingly sceptical about those claims.
  • United World Telecom
  • Viber is a free application that allows you to make free calls and messages amongst Viber app users and is available on iPhone, Android, Mac and PC. Registration is not required but you will need a mobile phone number, which will be used by other users to identify you.
  • Yelo. Prepaid account for low-cost international calls in 200 countries over Wi-Fi or 3G. Yelo application available on iPhone, iPad and Android devices.

Calling card websites[edit]

International roaming SIM cards[edit]

  • TravelSim lets you save up to 85% on your phone calls abroad. With their international SIM card, which can be used in more than 190 countries, you can send free SMS worldwide and receive free incoming calls in more than 100 countries. Additionally, Skype users can call you for free on your TravelSim number.
  • MySims2Go Save up to 80% on roaming charges, 190 countries, 97% coverage, Free incoming calls in 100 countries
  • UWTMobile UWTMobile International SIM cards save up to 90% on your mobile roaming charges. FREE incoming calls in 115+ countries and FREE incoming SMS everywhere.

Other internet services[edit]

Some Internet phone companies like Musimi will forward voicemail messages as email attachments so you can listen to them at internet cafés when travelling.

HolidayPhone anti-roaming SIM resells a foreign SIM card for your destination, and forward your calls made to your ordinary UK number over Internet to your foreign SIM card. That way, you stay reachable and can receive free calls on your ordinary number while abroad, and can still call at local rates.

Lonely planets Ekit even allows people to leave messages on your voicemail for free using a toll-free number and you can then retrieve them from the Ekit home page or pay to listen to them from a phone.

Yahoo Messenger (YM) allows users of selected countries to call any phone after topping-up (via credit card) starting at USD10.00. These call rates are substantially discounts. Calling another active YM user on his PC is free of charge.

Apple launched FaceTime which allows two parties with a MacBook, iPhone or iPad to video-call each other by registering their mobile number and email address. The software is pre-installed on the latest versions of the iPhone and iPad, and available for purchase on MacBooks. Users on iOS 7 may also make 'audio-only' FaceTime calls.

Callback[edit]

These websites call both you on your home line and the person you want to call and then conference the calls so you can use your normal phone.

  • Jajah.com Allows free calls between members in a lot of countries. A membership is free. Rates .
  • Peterzahlt.de this German website makes it possible to make free calls from/to Germany for 10min for non-members and 30min for members
  • Spaxtel.com crystal clear international calls with iPhone, Android and Blackberry apps available.
  • TagCalls cheapest international call services with direct dial and callback systems. iPhone and Android FREE apps available.
  • UWT Callback Service saves on international calls from anywhere in the world.
  • VoIP Internet Service Callback free with registration.

See also[edit]

Phones



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