International Prepaid SIM Cards
Save Money Using Your Phone Abroad!

Are you traveling abroad and want to save money by using international prepaid SIM cards?  They're a great option that's becoming more and more popular as people expect to be connected, whether for personal or International Prepaid SIM Cardsbusiness purposes, even when we travel abroad.  If you haven't already, you can visit International Cell Phones to learn more about why the desire to have cellular access is so popular, as well the role that GSM/LTE technology plays with prepaid SIM cards.  

Can I use my world phone?

Many carriers sell world phones that they tout as international cell phones.  What that means, however, is that the technology within the phone has multiple frequencies to ensure that  it will work on international carrier networks, or even be dual mode phones (CDMA and GSM) to ensure that it can work on any network technology.  But beware!  While world phones will work abroad and could be considered the ideal international cell phones, these phones are usually locked and require that you use your home carrier's service.  What does that mean?  Again, large roaming charges and fees!  That said, in the past asked Sprint (via online chat) to provide me with the unlock code for my world phone.  They did, and they didn't charge me a fee.  They actually have the ability to unlock the phone for international use, while not allowing it to be used on any other domestic carriers other than their own network.  If you're not on contract, you may have better luck getting the code.

What about the whole frequency thing?

The frequency, measured in MHz (megahertz), of a phone can be compared to a language.  The frequency, or language, of the phone must be the same as the cellular towers on which it operates.  This allows the handset to properly talk to the tower.  So even if the technology is the same (i.e. GSM), the frequencies can be different in different countries.  What this means is that a GSM phone purchased in one country may not work on a GSM network in another country if the frequencies are different.  In other words, not all unlocked GSM phones can be used as international cell phones.  Here's the typical breakdown:
  • When traveling outside of North America, you'll need a phone that operates on 900 MHz and 1800 MHz.
  • In the U.S., Canada, and parts of South America, you'll need a phone that operates on 850 MHz and/or 1900 MHz.
Note, however, that with LTE becoming the worldwide standard, interoperability is greatly simplified.  That said, carriers still use older technology (i.e. CDMA, GSM) for backwards compatibility when you're out of LTE coverage, so this issue still exist.

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What about renting international cell phones?

There are many companies out there that rent international cell phones, and provide international prepaid SIM cards for use when traveling.  You'll often find these stores at airports.  Rental can be a great option if you travel VERY infrequently (i.e. once every many number of years).  But generally speaking, renting international cell phones is still such an expensive option that you're typically better off owning your own phone and buying prepaid SIMs (or reloading the ones you have) as you need it.

The main reason for this conclusion is the cost they charge you for the phone, which can be $99 or more (and this can be a weekly fee!).  You can buy a new or used phone in great condition for less than that.  Also, consider that when it's your own phone, the settings are the way you want them.  You know how to use the camera and features, you know how long the battery lasts, etc.  Messing around with these settings is the last thing you'll want to be thinking about while you're traveling.  Also, although SIM-based handsets usually store phone numbers on the SIM itself, you can also choose to store contacts in the phone's memory.  This enables you to keep your phone numbers handy even when you buy a new SIM card on a trip to another country.  If you rent international cell phones, you won't have that luxury!  This option is really only viable for business travelers who will have their companies pay for it.

Should I buy a country-specific or multi-country SIM?

Providers of international prepaid SIM cards often offer the choice of buying a SIM that will work in the country in which you're traveling (or a few countries in the area), or to buy a SIM that can roam on networks in multiple countries.  So which option is better?

With country-specific international prepaid SIM cards you'll have a phone number that's local to that country, including that country's rates, which will be the lowest available.  However, when you travel to a different country, you'll need to purchase another prepaid SIM card, which also means that your phone number will be different.

With multi-country international prepaid SIM cards, you get the benefit of keeping the same phone number as you travel between countries, and you avoid having to purchase different prepaid SIM cards as you travel to each new country.  However, for that convenience, you'll pay a higher per minute cost.International SIM Cards

For most people, the best deal will usually be to use a prepaid SIM card in each country that you visit (i.e. local number with local rates), but will require a little extra legwork on your part.

Should I buy a prepaid SIM before I go?

Once you decide on the international SIM card that's right for you, if at all possible, buy it before you travel!  This makes life a lot more convenient.  The last thing you want to do when you land (whether for business or for vacation) is to have to think about finding a place to buy a prepaid SIM card.  And if the destination airport doesn't have them, it may even take you a couple of days to get to a city that has them available.  If you need your phone to coordinate your plans with people, this would be severely annoying!  Also, buying a prepaid SIM in advance will allow you to give your phone number to people in advance.

You should find that the price you can get online is just as good, if not better as the price you'll find in the destination country.  And for those cases where it is slightly more expensive, the convenience and peace of mind of not having to worry about finding one when when you get there is definitely worthwhile in my opinion.  The last thing people want to do when they travel is worry about how to use international cell phones and international prepaid SIM cards!

OK, I want a prepaid SIM!  Where can I get one?

There are a number of providers of international prepaid SIM cards.  Visit Prepaid SIM Cards to review some top providers of prepaid SIMs.  These providers also offer the opportunity to purchase unlocked GSM international cell phones if you don't already have one.


International Prepaid SIM Cards

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