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Getting a deal on an overseas cell phone

Why spend $80 each time to rent a phone for two weeks when you could spend about $85 and own the phone outright?

Another advantage to buying a phone is lower calling rates.

"In most cases people are better off buying a phone," says Edward Hasbrouck, author of The Practical Nomad: How to Travel Around the World. "The per-call rates on rental phones are substantially higher than the rates you can get if you buy a phone."

Let's say you're traveling to France. Buy a world phone from T-Mobile and take it to Paris and you'll pay 99 cents per minute for each call you make. Rent a phone from T-Mobile and you'll pay $1.98 per minute for each call you make to the U.S. and $1.44 per minute for each call you make within France.

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A 10-minute call home will cost you $19.80 with a rental phone. Buy a phone and that same call will cost you $9.90.

Need directions to your Paris hotel? A five-minute call will cost you $7.20 from a rental phone and $4.95 if you own the phone.

Switch SIM cards
Looking for a deal on an overseas phone? Check cell phone rental companies. Many cell phone rental companies, including Telestial and Cellular Abroad, sell unlocked, dual or tri-band GSM phones to global travelers.

With an unlocked phone, you'll be able to switch SIM cards whenever you want.

Most GSM phones sold in the U.S. are locked to a single SIM card. Stick another SIM card into a locked phone and it won't work. An unlocked phone lets you change SIM cards.

Swapping your phone's SIM card for a SIM card from your destination country can save you some serious cash. You'll pay rock-bottom rates on any call you make and incoming calls are free.

"The cheapest way may be buying a chip in advance if your phone is capable of taking that," Joel Widzer, author of The Penny Pincher's Passport to Luxury Travel.

Going to France? Buy a prepaid SIM Card for France. Heading to England? Buy a SIM Card from England. Telestial sells prepaid SIM cards for 32 international destinations with prices ranging from $17 to $79.

Let's say you're going to London for a few weeks. Telestial sells a prepaid SIM card for the UK for $40. Calls to the U.S. are just 21 cents per minute and domestic calls in England are 38 cents per minute. Those calling rates are a fraction of what you'd pay for international roaming or in a cell phone rental.

Telestial will deliver a SIM card to your home before you leave. It's also easy to buy a prepaid SIM card once you arrive in your destination country.

"Often you can get them at an airport, in mobile phone shops," Hasbrouck says. "It's usually not difficult to find one at all once you get to a country, provided the country uses GSM phones."

Be sure to ask for a prepaid SIM card for your "mobile" phone.

"If you say 'cell' phone most people won't know what you're talking about," Hasbrouck says.

Make sure your multi-band GSM phone is unlocked before you leave the States. If it's not, a foreign SIM card won't work.

The only downside to using a prepaid SIM card is your pals back home will have to learn a new number for you while you're overseas.

Buy a cheap, prepaid phone over there
Looking for a no-fuss way of taking a cell phone on your next overseas vacation? Buy a cheap, prepaid phone as soon as you arrive.

"They're basically just throw-away phones, kind of like disposable cameras," McNeely says.

Prepaid, disposable phones cost $25 and less. You can find them in airport kiosks and many overseas convenience stores. McNeely bought a disposable phone at a 7-Eleven in Australia.

"They're good if you don't want a hassle or you're worried about taking a $300 phone to Europe," McNeely says.

These phones aren't loaded with calling minutes. So you may want to use the phone for local calls and stay in touch with family and friends at home by e-mail.

"Find an Internet cafe near your hotel and go down there every couple days," Perkins says.

Just take a close look at the keyboard. It may be different from the one you use at home.

If you don't need a mobile phone with you for every second of your holiday, you might want to purchase a prepaid calling card once you arrive overseas.

"I just use a cheap calling card from wherever I am," Perkins says.

"Some of these calling cards get down to six or seven cents a minute, plus what you have to pay for pay phones and connection charges."

Calling cards, which cost $5 and up, are easy to find. They're sold in convenience stores, airports and even post offices.

These calling cards work great if you only need to make a handful of local calls or occasional calls home.

"Check voice mail every couple days with a cheap phone card," Perkins says. "For most vacationers, that's enough."

-- Posted:Sept. 23, 2003
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See Also
Cell phone cost comparison worksheet
How to get a good deal on a cell phone
Should you give up your land line?
Frugal U. definitions
More Frugal U. stories

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