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International Cell Phone
Old 08-11-2013, 11:30 AM   #1
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International Cell Phone

Being newly retired, we have started traveling more and expect our international travel will increase (just got back from 2 week river cruise and are planning 3 weeks in England/Ireland this fall) significantly in upcoming years. My dilemma is figuring out what to do about a cellphone.

I currently have an IPhone 4 which cannot be used overseas. I can upgrade to an IPhone 5 (I would have to do some juggling, as I have unlimited internet with Verizon and don't get subsidized upgrades, so would have to get my husband the Iphone 5, then swap phones, then drop him back to his dumb phone...). Seems like a lot of work...but it would get me a subsidized upgrade. But I am now wondering if that is the best idea? Other options I have thought of include:

1 - buy a cheap international ready phone from Walmart and then buy an international calling card? I have read a lot of reviews complaining about the quality and or cards, though....

2 - Go with something like Roam Simple - anyone use them? Get the phone and activate it when you want it.

We are not looking for a phone to "call home" with, as we would use internet for that. We are looking more to have a phone to carry with is to call locally in whatever country we are in.....just in case.

Anyone have any suggestions or advice?

Thanks!
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Old 08-11-2013, 11:38 AM   #2
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Skype works great from here to overseas, but not sure how it works from there to here- plus you would need internet access.
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Old 08-11-2013, 11:41 AM   #3
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Buy a cheap phone and minutes "in country". You should be able to get all that for less than $40.
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Old 08-11-2013, 12:19 PM   #4
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The other option is to switch carrier. My iPhone 4 with AT&T works fine overseas.
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Old 08-11-2013, 01:03 PM   #5
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When you get to your destination country, just get a prepaid SIM card (widely available in any city), and pop it in your phone. You now have a local phone number and can use it at will, and even top it off when minutes run low.

If your phone is unlocked, you can do that now by swapping out the SIM. If it's not unlocked, you can ask Verizon to do so (AT&T is very good about this, if your phone is off contract). Or you can buy a new unlocked phone, or just get a cheap phone (here or there) and dedicate it to the purpose.
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Old 08-11-2013, 03:12 PM   #6
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When you get to your destination country, just get a prepaid SIM card (widely available in any city), and pop it in your phone. You now have a local phone number and can use it at will, and even top it off when minutes run low.

If your phone is unlocked, you can do that now by swapping out the SIM. If it's not unlocked, you can ask Verizon to do so (AT&T is very good about this, if your phone is off contract). Or you can buy a new unlocked phone, or just get a cheap phone (here or there) and dedicate it to the purpose.
This would be my recommendation. Getting and installing a SIM card is easy. If you go travel often, just buy a phone and buy a SIM card in each country (or at least each country where your SIM card provider limits access or charges too much). If you do not know how to install a SIM, it is a safe bet nearly any person in the country can help you, even if you do not have language skills. We acquired our phone while living overseas and just purchased a SIM card while visiting Mexico. It worked great.
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Old 08-11-2013, 07:36 PM   #7
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The other option is to switch carrier. My iPhone 4 with AT&T works fine overseas.
Switching isn't an option - and I suspect you have an Iphone 4s...which can work in Europe. The Iphone 4 (which is what I have) doesn't. Has nothing to do with carrier....the Iphone is CDMA only and you need GSM capability to use the phone overseas. If it sounds like I understand this, I dont' .


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Originally Posted by braumeister View Post
When you get to your destination country, just get a prepaid SIM card (widely available in any city), and pop it in your phone. You now have a local phone number and can use it at will, and even top it off when minutes run low.

If your phone is unlocked, you can do that now by swapping out the SIM. If it's not unlocked, you can ask Verizon to do so (AT&T is very good about this, if your phone is off contract). Or you can buy a new unlocked phone, or just get a cheap phone (here or there) and dedicate it to the purpose.
I currently don't have the kind of phone where I can pop a sim card in.


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This would be my recommendation. Getting and installing a SIM card is easy. If you go travel often, just buy a phone and buy a SIM card in each country (or at least each country where your SIM card provider limits access or charges too much). If you do not know how to install a SIM, it is a safe bet nearly any person in the country can help you, even if you do not have language skills. We acquired our phone while living overseas and just purchased a SIM card while visiting Mexico. It worked great.
Sounds like the sim card per country is the preferred method - meaning I either upgrade to an Iphone 5 (no point in going to the Iphone 4s) or buy an inexpensive GSM phone (can probably do that here).

Thanks for the feedback!
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Old 08-11-2013, 07:47 PM   #8
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Switching isn't an option - and I suspect you have an Iphone 4s...which can work in Europe. The Iphone 4 (which is what I have) doesn't. Has nothing to do with carrier....the Iphone is CDMA only and you need GSM capability to use the phone overseas. If it sounds like I understand this, I dont' .
I have the iPhone 4, not the 4S. It is a GSM phone and I use it with no problem in Europe. AT&T uses GSM while Verizon uses CDMA, that's why I suggested switching carrier (and phone).
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Old 08-11-2013, 11:37 PM   #9
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My suggestion would be to buy an inexpensive unlocked quad-band GSM phone. You can get very decent ones in the $50-$100 range. Then pop a sim in in each country you visit. Then you don't even need to bring your expensive phone with you.

Before you go to a new country, consult the internet to find out exactly how their system works (where to buy the SIM, about how much they cost, top-up details, etc).

If you want to receive calls from abroad, you can do that by forwarding a USA number. When I was traveling in South America, I forwarded my USA Skype-In phone number to my cell number of-the-moment in South America. In Asia, the time zones were too different. Also, if you do the forwarding, they will get your overseas voicemail message which can be a negative. But Mom certainly liked being able to reach me via a single USA phone number (and she still can, I just have it set to voicemail only now while in Asia).

Another way to approach this is to have two cheap phones, one for the Western Hemisphere and one for the Eastern Hemisphere. While not universally true, most of the Western Hemisphere uses 850/1900 MHz and most of the Eastern Hemisphere uses 900/1800 MHz. This is actually what I do now (since I trashed my cheap quad-band in a rain storm a year ago), as I like a very light phone (2 ounces). Each of my Eastern and Western Phones cost about $25. When I land in the USA, I turn on my Western Phone with a T-mobile sim in it.
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Old 08-12-2013, 12:30 AM   #10
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On my recent trip to Belgium, I picked up a SIM card for my Verizon iPhone 5 and really liked having it. It was really nice to have data access because I'm very dependent on looking up stuff on my phone, especially in a country where I don't speak the language.

Never bothered to send/receive a call, and didn't use up all the minutes, but I only spent about $25.

If you don't go with the 5 upgrade (and I'd wait for the apple announcement that's supposed to be on sept 10th), then I'd wait till you get there and pick up a pre-paid phone there.

When I looked into it a few months ago the Verizon policy for unlocked iPhones was much better than AT&T. DH has a AT&T iPhone through his work, but I didn't have to do anything with my Verizon phone other than switch out the sim.
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Old 08-12-2013, 01:53 AM   #11
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KM, an alternative to the iphone5 is to get your husband a Droid Razr M at Verizon. It is a water resistant Android smartphone with very good battery life. I think you can get them for free now that the Droid Mini has been announced (with a 2-yr contract). That phone will work with CDMA and LTE on Verizon in the US, but will also work with GSM and HSDPA pretty much anywhere in Asia or Europe. Just buy a SIM and install it when you are in a new country. You can take it out and throw it away when you leave. No need for the second cheap phone which doesn't have all your contacts in it.
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Old 08-12-2013, 10:50 AM   #12
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> Sounds like the sim card per country is the preferred method

I know you're with Verizon, but for those folks on ATT...

A lot depends on how you intend to use your phone. Some folks want to make lots of phone calls.

For me, I don't care much about phone calls, but want to use data when traveling. For a 2 week trip to Europe last spring I got their $30 international data plan. 120MB was enough (I mostly used WiFi, but being able to use data w/o WiFi was very nice).

http://www.wireless.att.com/learn/in...kages.jsp#data

For phone calls, I didn't sign up for anything special. Their international roaming isn't free, but reasonable enough that if I need to make/receive a couple of short calls it wasn't a big deal.

Turned out I didn't make any calls, but did use plenty of email, web, and maps.
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Old 08-12-2013, 09:50 PM   #13
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Yes, but you want a local number for contacts. If you are staying some place for any period of time, you will want a local number so that other tourists and locals can text you and vice versa. This really is not practical with a USA number.
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Old 08-12-2013, 10:23 PM   #14
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I spent two weeks in China and found that there was enough free wifi around that I could use skype without any problems. Calls to other skype users are free, and calling phone numbers was costing me about three cents per minute. I think I spent less than $5.00 on all of my phone calls for the entire visit, and the sound quality was outstanding. When in my hotel room, I frequently conducted video calls and found the video quality was even better in China than when I'm in the US calling another local user.

Unless you absolutely have to make cell phone calls from anywhere and can't risk not having wifi, I think you would find skype more than adequate. The only exception might be on a cruise ship, where wifi is limited and expensive, but I'm not sure how well cell phones work in the middle of the ocean either.
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ATT vs. T-Mobile International Coverage
Old 10-30-2013, 10:45 AM   #15
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ATT vs. T-Mobile International Coverage

I'm just bumping this earlier thread to provide a chart comparing the available international coverage / countries for AT&T vs. T-Mobile. T-Mobile's all-inclusive new international data package seemed tempting, but was much less so when I did an actual side-by-side country comparison of where it works versus where AT&T work.

Some regions of the world (e.g., Caribbean, Western Europe) are very comparable -- but if you go to Africa or some parts of Asia AT&T remains the most comprehensive of all the carriers for international data.

Note that this list is for data coverage only -- I assume it would be more or less the same list for telephone coverage, but did not check that specifically.
Attached Files
File Type: xls ATT vs. T-Mobile International Data Coverage.xls (41.5 KB, 8 views)
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Old 10-30-2013, 10:48 AM   #16
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Thanks for doing this research. We are on our way to Portugal and Spain and are t-mobile users. You saved some research time.
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Old 10-31-2013, 02:11 AM   #17
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I travel a lot internationally throughout Asia. I carry my i-phone (on airplane mode as a wifi device to avoid expensive roaming charges) and use often to make skype calls.

In many countries, wifi is ubiquitous....

I remember how amazed I was a couple of years ago coming down from a hike into Hong Kong park in Hong Kong, discovering the whole park was wired, and whipping out my phone to video skype my wife in Manila!

I also usually carry a $25 GSM phones (which I need to call my driver when I get home to Manila anyway). If I'm going to make a lot of local calls (or need to connect with my wife or other fellow traveler) I'll buy a local sim card. These range from $1-2 in Indonesia or Thailand or Vietnam to $5-10 in Singapore or Hong Kong, usually with more than enough minutes for my entire trip (and you can always buy more). Sometimes I'll save the sim card if I know I'm going to be back in the country soon, but they typically expire every few months....

The other problem with carrying and using an i-phone is they are a favored target of thieves. One of my i-phones was stolen from deep inside my backpack (on my back) while I was walking around Hanoi! It was a locked CDMA i-phone 4, so probably wasn't too useful to the thief, but it was annoying. As a result, you can pick up a "used" i-phone (4-s or 5) for $50 or less in many Asian countries, but no guarantees and you're just encouraging the thievery.
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Old 10-31-2013, 09:18 AM   #18
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Originally Posted by meekie View Post
On my recent trip to Belgium, I picked up a SIM card for my Verizon iPhone 5 and really liked having it. It was really nice to have data access because I'm very dependent on looking up stuff on my phone, especially in a country where I don't speak the language.

Never bothered to send/receive a call, and didn't use up all the minutes, but I only spent about $25.

If you don't go with the 5 upgrade (and I'd wait for the apple announcement that's supposed to be on sept 10th), then I'd wait till you get there and pick up a pre-paid phone there.

When I looked into it a few months ago the Verizon policy for unlocked iPhones was much better than AT&T. DH has a AT&T iPhone through his work, but I didn't have to do anything with my Verizon phone other than switch out the sim.
We were recently in Amsterdam and tried to get a nano-SIM for our iPhone5, but everybody was out! They don't even know when they'll get more and apparently they sell out of the nano-SIM as soon as they arrive. Hopefully by our next trip this will be a non-issue as hopefully the SIMs become much more widely available.

Fortunately my brother had an old "dumb" cellphone with minutes left that he let us borrow and that worked out well for calls and texting.

For data - wifi was available at all hotels, and we downloaded GPS maps to our iPhone5 so we didn't otherwise need data while we were walking around.

We visited Belgium too. I'm ready to go right back!
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