Getting a deal on a cell phone overseas
Want the convenience of a cell phone on your next
Get ready to do some serious shopping. Most American
cell phones won't work overseas, so you'll probably need to buy
or rent a new phone for your trip.
The good news? You've got a ton of options.
The bad news? Figuring out the best deal for your
calling needs and your wallet is going to take some work. You have
Take your phone and
The first thing to determine is whether your current cell
phone will work overseas.
Do you have a multi-band GSM phone? GSM stands for
Global System for Mobile Communications, the standard technology
used by cell phone providers in more than 200 countries.
If you have a dual- or tri-band GSM phone you can
make calls using a GSM network in other parts of the world. You'll
be able to take your phone and your phone number with you on your
U.S. carriers selling GSM world phones include T-Mobile,
AT&T, Cingular and Nextel. If you're using a multi-band GSM
phone in the U.S. you'll need to activate the phone so it works
on international frequency bands. Be sure to contact your carrier
before your trip.
"The upside is it's the simplest way to go and
you get to keep your phone number," says Scott McNeely, digital
publisher at Lonely Planet Publications. "The downside is it
can be kind of expensive, particularly if you're going to be on
the phone for more than a couple of minutes at a time."
As handy as it may be to take your cell phone overseas,
you'll get slapped with some serious international roaming charges.
You'll pay $1 to $2 per minute for any call you make or receive
in Europe. And calling rates are even higher in other parts of the
world. Some carriers charge activation and other fees for worldwide
service. Be sure to check.
Take your number, buy or
rent a phone
Another way to keep your cell phone number when you travel is to
remove the Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card from your phone
and place it in a handset that operates on international frequencies.
The SIM card, which is about the size of a thumbnail, stores your
personal information, including your phone number and address book.
Call your carrier to make sure your SIM card is able to work overseas.
The downside to bringing your SIM card overseas is
the cost. You'll be zapped with hefty international roaming charges
and other fees. For example, AT&T charges $25 for a SIM card
programmed with a customer's personal information and $7.99 monthly
fee for its WorldConnect service.
You'll also need to buy or rent a GSM phone that works
Rent a phone
Rental fees on overseas phones vary widely. You'll pay about $7
or $8 per day and $30 to $50 per week. Monthly rates are anywhere
from $50 to $150 per month.
You'll want to shop carefully. Per-minute calling
rates vary widely. Some cell phone rental companies charge shipping
fees of $15 to $35. Others charge $2.50 fee for itemized billing.
Companies that rent wireless phones to global travelers
Abroad and Telestial.
Some rental car companies will toss in a "free"
cell phone rental with your European car rental. They include Avis,
Eurodrive and Europe
You may not have to pay a daily or weekly rental rate
for the phone but you'll still have to pay for any calls you make
and receive. Be sure to ask about per-minute rates. That "free"
phone could be saddled with a lousy per-minute rate.
You'll also want to watch out for fees. Europe by
Car charges a $40 delivery-and-collection fee on its "free"
cell phone rentals. Avis charges a $25 delivery-and-collection fee
plus a rental fee of $5 a day if you keep a cell phone more than
"One way or another, the phone isn't free,"
says Ed Perkins, a nationally syndicated travel columnist and consumer
Buy a phone
If you're going for a long vacation or you make frequent trips abroad,
you may be better off buying a phone that works in your destination
For example, Nextel customers have the option
of renting a phone through Cellhire for $8 per day or $99 per month
or buying a P280 phone, which is designed to work on the specific
GSM network used in 90 countries. The P280 phone has a price of
just $49.99. It requires a one-year or two-year contract and comes
with a $35 set-up fee.