Should You Rent a Cell Phone Overseas?

Should You Rent a Cell Phone Overseas?

Attendees at your global meeting will demand to stay connected to the U.S. by phone and Internet. Have them follow these steps to decide how best to keep in touch.

Step 1: Who is Your Mobile Provider?
If it is AT&T or T-Mobile, your own cell phone probably will work outside the U.S. At least 80 percent of the world (and T-Mobile and AT&T) uses the cell phone technology known as “GSM” when routing wireless calls. However, just because your phone works overseas, doesn’t mean you should use it. Go to Step 2.
Is your provider Sprint, Verizon Wireless, or Virgin Mobile? These use a competing technology, CDMA. Skip to Step 3.

Step 2: Know Your Roaming Costs
So your phone uses GSM. Now check its GSM frequency or band to be sure it matches up with the country you are traveling to. If it does, then you need to ask the big question: What is this international calling (“roaming”) going to cost me? Find out by contacting your provider. Too expensive for you? Go to Step 3.
Willing to trade the convenience of keeping your own phone and contacts for a steeper price? Skip to Step 4.

Step 3: Consider Renting a Phone
Renting a cell phone with calling, texting, and voice mail capabilities can be less expensive than using your phone’s international calling plan. Incoming calls—even from international callers—are generally free, but after that, the rental plans vary greatly, and you should consider how you want to use the phone when choosing a plan.

One company, for example, will rent you a phone for up to seven days in Italy for $29 (or $49 for up to 14 days) plus 44 cents per minute for calls to the U.S. Another company charges $3.50 per day from 6 to 25 days, plus 99 cents per minute for calls to the U.S. Some give you a local phone number; others give you a U.S. number.

Smartphone rentals are more expensive. Be sure to ask when the rental period ends: You probably will pay until the company receives its phone back from you (via a prepaid shipping label that you will receive before you travel), so factor that in when deciding whether you can do the seven-day plan or need a longer duration.
Want another option? Skip to Step 5.

Step 4: Minimize Data Downloads
If you’re using your own phone, you’ll want to minimize your roaming charges. The surest way is to keep your phone in Airplane Mode, which turns off the cellular network. The Wi-Fi remains enabled, so you can go online at a cyber café or in your hotel while still avoiding the roaming charges. When you need to make a call, just turn Airplane Mode off. If you want to receive calls whenever they come in, however, you won’t want to stay in Airplane Mode. But you can still avoid roaming-charge sticker-shock by turning off all automatic updating your phone may do, and by turning off “data synchronization” in your phone settings. Check all of your apps to be sure they won’t override other settings and start updating without your knowledge.
Want the cheapest option of all? Go to Step 5.

Step 5: VoIP—Truly Free
If you have access to free Wi-Fi and use Skype or Google Voice, you’re not paying a cent. This works well if you’ve brought your laptop or tablet and can arrange call times, not so much for contacting loved ones in an emergency or putting out fires at the office. BTW, you can find free Wi-Fi at the Cyber Cafes Web site [4], currently listing 4,000 cyber cafés in 140 countries.