Want cell service abroad? Try a cheap local phone
Not all phones will work abroad, and even if yours does, you could end up with roaming charges unless you sign up for an international calling plan before you go.
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In contrast, Americans are accustomed to using the same phone everywhere in the U.S.Skip to next paragraph
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Christine Moe, an epidemiologist at Emory University in Atlanta who travels frequently for work, uses her Blackberry 8830 World Edition when she's in Europe, where it works well. But in Bolivia, where she also travels frequently, it doesn't work at all, Moe said, so she has purchased a Bolivian cell phone.
"It's very puzzling," said Moe. "My colleagues from Sweden, when they're in Bolivia, their phones work just fine."
Frequent traveler Matt Harris, who runs a venture capital firm in New York City, is headed to vacation in Egypt in November. He has his assistant researching his options for renting a phone here and taking it with him.
But "probably what I'll do, I'll buy a cheap phone in Egypt," said Harris.
It's not hard to buy a local phone abroad, even in poor or developing countries.
Any major Indian city has a cell phone shop on almost every street, said Alx Utterman, a Santa Cruz musician and writer who visits an ashram in the small village of Penukonda in South India a few times a year.
"A place that has electrical appliances and radios and that kind of thing, they always sell cell phones," said Utterman. "You can get a fine, functioning cell phone for $40 or $50 American — a simple phone that does what you need it to do."
Utterman also buys a SIM card, turns off her U.S. phone, and uses only the Indian phone while she's in India. A 1,000-minute SIM card sets Utterman back about $12 U.S., she said.
The drawback to using a locally purchased phone is that you have a new, international phone number, which your contacts back home won't know. And not all SIM cards come with prepaid minutes, so be sure you know what you're buying. You don't want a contract for a temporary phone.
The difficulty and expense of using a mobile phone overseas has led many to Skype, an easy-to-use software that enables phone calls over the Internet. That's what Moe does — using her laptop, which has a camera, to stay in touch with her students and family from hotel rooms or Internet cafes.
"I've used Skype to call Delta to change my ticket," she said. "In the middle of Bolivia I've used Skype to call my family; the laptop has a camera so I can show my family what my room looks like."
Skype, she said, "has revolutionized everything."