Finding a global phone
Go with GSM
To get service in most countries, GSM is still the best choice for globe-trotters (remember, it's the standard in Europe). But not just any GSM phone will do the trick. Of the four GSM bands--850, 900, 1800, and 1900--only 850 and 1900 are used in United States. Europe, on the other hand, only uses 900 and 1800. So in order to have a true world phone that will work in the most countries possible, make sure your phone is triband (GSM 900/1800/1900) or quadband (GSM 850/900/1800/1900). Your handset's bands are readily available from your carrier or the handset's manufacturer. If you don't have a compatible phone, you can rent one from your carrier.
Some world phones, such as the Motorola V195s, have simple designs and basic features.
Another advantage with a GSM phone is that if you have an unlocked phone
, you can often buy a prepaid SIM card in the country where you're traveling. Available in per-minute increments, they are sold in varying amounts in convenience stores and phone shops. With a prepaid SIM card, you'll get a local number for your phone, which will help you avoid costly charges from your carrier (see below), which is particularly useful if you're calling within the country or region. But there's a trade-off. The main disadvantage is that because you've swapped out your normal SIM card, phone calls to your U.S. number will not go through. Also, calls back to the United States can be expensive.
Call with caution
The Sony Ericsson W810i world phone includes a robust MP3 player.
Be advised that just because GSM is used in your destination and you have the correct phone, that doesn't mean your cell phone will operate without a hitch. To begin with, you'll need to have your phone activated for international roaming, so check with your carrier. Also, your carrier must have a roaming agreement with a carrier in each country on your itinerary. Though that won't be a problem for most travelers, roaming agreements vary by carrier, so it's absolutely essential that you check beforehand. And remember that as is the case in the United States, the quality of service will fluctuate as you move around. The same thing goes for CDMA users. Though you may find a CDMA network in your chosen country, make sure that your carrier has a relationship with a local operator and that your phone is activated for worldwide use.
Other world phones, such as the Samsung BlackJack, have keyboards and significantly more features.
Another issue to remember is that international calls do not come cheap; satellite calls from a cruise ship, for instance, will break the bank. But otherwise, roaming charges of 50 cents to $3 per minute are standard. And depending on the carrier and country, you might incur long-distance charges as well. Text messaging is always a cheaper option, but don't forget that messages can cost more than at home. And finally, you may have to pay a service charge to activate international dialing. In the following pages, we list exactly where the major U.S. carriers have roaming agreements, which phones they offer, and how much your calls will set you back.
Finally, when using your phone abroad, remember these additional points:
- Calls to voicemail and the operator will incur all applicable fees, but calls to your carrier's customer service are typically free.
- The method for making local calls in each country will vary, so make sure you know how to do so. Also, remember that emergency-dial numbers will be different from 911.
- When in a foreign country, you will have to use the appropriate country and area codes for calls back to the States or a third country.
- Your phone should automatically search for and select a network in each country, but you may have to do this yourself through your phone's menus. You also can try turning your phone off and on again.
- Free mobile-to-mobile minutes on the same carrier usually are not offered outside the United States.
- When roaming, the name of the local carrier will appear on your phone's display.
- Roaming charges will show up on your normal wireless bill, though they may take several weeks to do so.
- Not all data features will work the same way when you're abroad.
- Don't forget an electrical-plug adapter for your charger.