International Cell Phone Service - Save Money While Travelling!

Are you looking for international cell phone service to meet your needs while traveling?  As the world is now really a global market, and people are constantly traveling, we want to stay in touch and connected more than ever before.  Unlike in the past, we now have an expectation that we'll be connected even while abroad.  We no longer tolerate being "disconnected" even if such a break would probably be good for our mental well being!  On this page you'll find a discussion about the important points to consider while exploring your options.International Cell Phone Service

How can I save money while using international cell phone service?
By swapping out your current SIM card (used in GSM based phones) and using another carrier, your cell phone charges can be significantly more affordable while overseas. There are two basic options; a country specific SIM card, or international roaming SIM cards. If you are only traveling to one country – take Italy as an example – you can get a pay as you go Italy SIM card with a local phone number. Most countries have several wireless providers to choose from.

Of course different providers offer different plans.  You'll want to choose the company that offers the best rates to the countries that you're likely to call most often.  For example, if most of your calls are back to the U.S., then look for a company that caters to that requirement.  In many countries, particularly throughout Europe, there are telecom providers that market specifically to the inbound traveler, hence their rates to call back to the U.S. are very low, and almost every carrier offers unlimited free incoming calls.

Country specific SIM cards are available online prior to your departure, or if you are willing to wait until your arrival you can find them at cell phone stores at your destination.  The benefit of having it in advance is that you can usually activate it before your trip so that you can give your new number to people before leaving.  That said, if you're primarily concerned with outbound calling, having a number in advance won't add any value, other than saving you time thinking about getting setup when you arrive at your destination.  These are some important things to think about when looking for international cell phone service.

Many country specific SIM cards do not offer service outside of their originating country, and those that do will typically charge you unreasonable roaming rates.  In addition, it will also be difficult to add additional talk time.  If you intend to travel to multiple countries, and want to avoid heavy roaming rates, purchase an international roaming SIM card, also known as a “Travel SIM.”  Travel SIM cards have the advantage of working in most countries, typically with much better rates than a U.S. carrier, but higher rates than a country specific SIM card.  Most Travel SIM cards still offer free incoming calls in many popular destinations, and are available through select retail and online vendors.

International Cell Phone Service Options - Pros and Cons

Option Pros Cons
Roaming With Your Home Provider - Easy to use
- Keep your normal phone number
- Many carriers now offer special international roaming plans that are very reasonably priced.
-  Can be expensive if you don't have the right plan or add-on activated in advance.
Country Specific SIM Cards - Inexpensive
- No contract
- Local number: people in your destination country can call you cheaply

- You must keep purchasing talk time locally
- May not have coverage in other countries
- Multiple SIM cards means multiple phone numbers/SIM swapping
- Local number means people in the U.S. will have to call internationally
Roaming SIMs - Easy to use; one phone number in any country
- Free incoming calls in many countries
- Talk time available directly over the phone with the provider
- Can be more expensive than local SIMs

Note:  Some phones still store your contacts on the SIM card, so if you choose an option that requires that you use a new SIM, you will want to have your important contact information available by either using an old phone International SIM Cardwith a U.S. SIM card to read the contacts, or writing them down, though that's pretty old-school!  Your best bet is to make it a habit to save your contacts to a cloud service like Google, so you'll always have access by logging in with any phone.  This approach also ensures that if you misplace your phone, you won't lose access to important contact information, which you can access from any Internet connection!

Hopefully this information will help you in making selecting the international cell phone service to meet your particular needs and situation.  The most important thing is to understand that you have options.  Moreover, wireless carriers have been competing on international plans, so don't outright dismiss using your existing phone as an option.  Check out your carrier's website, AND call them as they often have unpublished (or hard to find) add-ons for traveling.  On a recent family trip we were actually able to get free text messaging and unlimited data for the duration of our trip by simply calling our carrier!

Read my interview with the CEO of Cellular Abroad, Sebastian Harrison
International Cell Phone Service

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