Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Web Secret #267: Smartphone Year Abroad

How do you take a smartphone abroad?

Very carefully.

If you don't want to get slammed with massive roaming and data fees.

First and foremost, do not take your device out of the country without planning ahead and doing your homework.  You have some options:

1. You can keep your existing cellphone and buy a data package, a voice roaming package or both from most American carriers. What's nice about that:  anyone calling you from the US will pay only for a local call no matter where in the world you find yourself.

For example AT&T has three levels of data, priced by the month: 120 megabytes for $30, 300 megabytes for $60 and 800 megabytes for $120.  For voice, AT&T charges start at $30 for 30 minutes of calls. Text packages start at $10 for 50 texts.

The problem is that it can be very difficult to gauge how much data you're going to need. For this reason, it is always a good idea to call your carrier and discuss your needs and the various plans offered with a human being.

Also, data and voice packages are sold for a minimum of one month. So you need to remember to cut off the package when you are back in the US by calling your carrier's customer service. If you do not, you will be charged each month until you do.

2.  If your phone is unlocked (meaning it will work on any other network) and you are going to a place that uses the GSM phone standard, (eg Europe,) you can buy a local SIM card. This gives you your own phone number based in the country you are visiting.  

Telestial is a company that sells SIM cards and even phones that work in other countries. Depending on the country and your American mobile carrier’s rates, buying a local SIM card or phone may be cheaper than the roaming rates you will pay your carrier. Do the math. Also if go the SIM card route, make sure that your friends and family back in the States have an international calling plan of their own.

3. Use Wi-Fi whenever possible to check e-mail, so you do not use up data plan minutes. Wi-Fi is available in most hotels and many coffeehouses. Make calls in a Wi-Fi hot spot by using Skype, Apple’s FaceTime or similar apps. And turn off the “push” data option on your smartphone so that your device is not continually checking for new e-mails.

This blog post was inspired by a NY Times article by Erica A. Taub.

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