International Cell Phones - Save Money When You Travel!
Do you travel internationally?! In
today's connected world, the topic of international cell phones has
become more and more important. I can recall growing up and
on vacations with no expectations from friends, family, or work, that
they'd be able to call me. Email was just barely catching on,
text messaging had yet to even exist as an idea! Wow, I can't
even imagine a world like that now; yikes!
have changed, and for better or worse, we want and expect to be
connected while traveling.
it's for work, to check in with family, or to connect with travel
companions regarding meeting plans and the like, we want to be in
touch! In the not-so-distant past, this wasn't so easy.
access to cell phones, but the problem was cost.
charged small fortunes to roam internationally on a North American cell
phone, and renting international cell phones was available but very
costly. Then, of course, there's the problem of
whereby the phone we have doesn't work in the country in which we're
While the cost of using
international cell phones has come down,
and there are a
number of ways to address compatibility, the bottom line is that taking
the phone you currently use in the U.S. or Canada, and using classic
roaming abroad is simply
still too expensive. Also, even if phones are technically
compatible, they're too often locked, meaning that they can only be
used on specific carrier networks (though unlocking has become easier
and easier over time). Thankfully, there are now
numerous options to address your international travel needs!
Solution - Prepaid SIM Cards!
a prepaid SIM card? Well, to understand this and how it's
connected to international cell phones, you'll need some
background about wireless technology.
Technology is Required
There are two basic technologies, CDMA and GSM. Each CDMA
has a unique number, an identifier or serial number if you will, that
allows a wireless carrier to activate in on their network in order to
provide services. While some fancy maneuvers can be done to
a CDMA phone to work on different networks (i.e. phone flashing),
generally speaking, it's
tied to the host carrier (the carrier that sold you the phone in the
first place). This means that CDMA international cell phones
essentially do not exist.
On the other
hand, GSM has two
essentially components, one being the handset itself, and the other one
being the SIM card. The SIM card is the postage stamp-like
sized card in your phone usually under the battery (micro SIM cards are
even smaller!). The SIM
card is the brains of
phone in that it is the piece that uniquely identifies your account on
the network. So what does this mean? The
that with GSM phones, you can easily take out your SIM card and put in
another GSM phone, or you can put a SIM card from another carrier into
your existing phone and it will work (assuming your phone is unlocked)!
This makes GSM the
ideal candidate for international cell phones. There are some
exceptions to this that I get into below, but the basic gist of it is
what's important. In other words, if you have a CDMA phone,
you're stuck on the carrier from which you bought the phone (and
roaming internationally and paying high fees to your home carrier).
you've got a GSM phone, you have a lot more flexibility.
Fortunately, 4G LTE is a GSM-based technology, meaning that
most modern phones that are unlocked can be easily used internationally.
learn more about what GSM and CDMA (and other terms) stand for, you can
visit the Wireless
I use my GSM/LTE phone
and no, or shall I say maybe! Generally speaking, GSM/LTE
be used on different provider networks around the world,
require only the purchase of a new SIM card in the local country.
This allows you to avoid paying huge
fees and extra charges to your carrier at home.
So why "maybe"?
problem is that most phones in Canada and the U.S. are locked,
which means that they can only be used on the originating carrier and
international cell phones.
Some carriers will sell specific handsets that come unlocked
(often referred to as "world phones"),
many will often provide you with the unlock codes if you've completed
your contract with them. The reason they do this is to avoid
from leaving them before they've recouped the subsidy they invested in
offering you a phone that's worth many hundred dollars for
only $50 or $200 for example. To learn more about
subsidies you can link over to the Subsidies
section, or learn more about Unlocking
International Cell Phones