Ken Grunski — President of Telestial, an international SIM card provider (thank you, Ken!) — sent along the following advice for travelers going overseas. Grunski, a telecommunications consultant, is a great resource for expert advice on cost-cutting measures for mobile phones, smart phones and tablets:
1. Purchase a prepaid Sim Card
Mobile phone providers charge exorbitant fees (data and roaming) to use smart phones/mobile phones in foreign countries, thus we understand why many travelers leave them at home. But with a Telestial prepaid Sim card, travelers can easily retain control over costs while keeping their mobile phones, smart phones and tablets operating. With a prepaid Sim card, rates to make an international call are as little as 49 cents per minute and it’s free to receive calls in over 75 countries (using a global UK number). And prepaid data is available in 135 countries for as little as 39 cents per MB.
2.Know your carrier
The major cell phone carriers – Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon – charge anywhere between $1.29 and $2.59 per minute for international roaming. Compare that to Telestial’s rates as low as 49 cents in more than 95 countries. For data, it’s even more dramatic. The major carriers charge between $15 and $20 per MB for data. That’s $20-$40 to upload a photo of the Eiffel Tower to your Facebook page. Telestial charges as little as 39 cents per MB for data. Upload photos, check emails or download music for a fraction of the cost of the major carriers.
3. Get free calls on your mobile phone
Sounds simple enough, right. You’re already spending thousands on airfare, hotel and transportation, why spend more cash on incoming calls when you can get them free? With a Telestial Sim card, you are assigned a US number and a UK number. Give the UK number to family and friends, and incoming calls cost you nothing. Need to dial out? Not a problem. Telestial offers roaming rates for as little as 49 cents per minute.
4. Invest in an unlocked GSM Phone
To use a prepaid SIM card (like Telestial), you need an unlocked GSM phone. There are two mobile phone standards in the United States: Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) or Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA). Sprint and Verizon Wireless use CDMA, which is not meant for global travel. AT&T and T-Mobile use GSM, considered the global standard for cellular networks. Most mobile phones sold by GSM carriers in the U.S., however, are “locked.” The iPhone, for example, is “locked” to AT&T. If you’re with a GSM carrier, and want to purchase a prepaid SIM card, you have two options: unlock your phone yourself (www.unlockingcodesforphones.com) or purchase an “unlocked” international phone (www.telestial.com/gsm_phones.php?R=3G)
5. Beware Skype overseas
Skype can be a great communication tool, but be careful how you use it overseas. When connected to Skype, make sure that you’re using free WiFi (from the hotel or a coffee shop), and NEVER use AT&T/T-Mobile’s roamed data services. Also, some countries with state-run telecommunication and Internet-providing companies block VoIP services like Skype.
6. If you use an i-Phone, turn off apps, data roaming and fetch data
Every time these update, you’re burning precious data … which is precious cash.
7. Don’t upload vacation pictures while roaming on smart phones
This can be extremely expensive, as many photos are more than 2 to 3 MBs each. Instead, hold the photos until you have access to the internet (at your hotel) or wait until you return home to share your experiences with the family.
9. Purchase an international charger adapter
You brought your iPhone to France, but you don’t want to run out of juice. Foreign countries have different electrical systems and your US phone charger probably won’t work overseas. Purchase an adapter that will be compatible wherever you’re traveling or you won’t be able to charge your phone.
10. I’ll add one more – MAKE free calls to any US or Canada cell phone and land line while traveling internationally
Get one or more set up and tested BEFORE the trip. Get the free magicJack app for iPhone (see the App store from your iPhone or current generation iPod touch). There’s another from netTALK for iOS, BlackBerry, Windows and Android phones (http://www.nettalk.com/smartphone). Just be sure to download, set up an test from the US before the trip. Use Wi-Fi to make these calls from anywhere in the world (except maybe China if they are blocking such traffic). Note that FREE calling using this method in ONLY one way. That is, callers from the US or other places cannot call your smartphone. But free calling out is so worth it. If you have a VoIP service in the US, like Vonage and Phone Power, among others, investigate from the company the availability of a smart phone app for your smart phone. Also, if you are taking a laptop, you can take along your magicJack or magicJack PLUS and use it where there is Wi-Fi from anywhere in the world. You might want to take a regulation phone with you for travel, under $20 from Radio Shack. Plug magicJack into a laptop that is on Wi-Fi, plug in a phone and make AND receive calls.