Using your cellphone in another country has always been a tricky proposition. There are a number of hoops to jump through, and other considerations to take into account. It is a subject many people approach with trepidation, for if you’re not keeping your eye on your spending and usage habits, it can end up costing you a lot of money – in some cases, thousands of dollars.
Fortunately, there are a number of options to help keep you on top of your spending and allow you the freedom to make calls, send texts and surf online without emptying your bank account.
“Billshock” is the name given to the unpleasant phenomenon of returning from a trip abroad to discover that you have accrued a huge amount of charges in your next bill. While it is possible to use your current domestic SIM card abroad, it can be very expensive, depending on where you are going. Data costs are especially high, as much as $20 for a single megabyte in some cases. Some people have come home to find they owe hundreds, thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars in roaming costs. For this reason, many people avoid using their domestic SIM in another country.
If you still plan to use your domestic SIM to roam, you may need to contact your provider to set this up first. If you are thinking of doing this, make sure you check their website for the most up-to-date information about their roaming rates.
Before you travel
If you are considering using another SIM card, make sure that your handset is ‘unlocked’. Most handsets are sold ‘locked’ so that they can only be used with a SIM from the phone company that sold it to you. Contact your provider and they will unlock your phone for you – though bear in mind, this may take a couple of days, and there is often a charge to pay. You should also make sure that your phone will work in other countries. Older models of handsets sold in North America run on a different frequency (CDMA) to most other phones (GSM) in the world, so it is important to check this before you travel.
The most modern smartphones can be very attractive to thieves, so it might be worth considering getting a cheap travel phone. The longer battery life on older model phones can come in handy when you find yourself away from a reliable power source for any length of time.
Local SIM cards
By far the cheapest and most reliable type of SIM is a local SIM from the country you are visiting. Airports, newsagents, tobacconists, phone shops and other stores will all usually carry Pay-As-You-Go SIM cards. Just top up the SIM with some credit and you will be charged the low, local rate.
There are some minor drawbacks to using a local SIM card. You may, for example, be required to register before you are able to use the SIM, and produce passports, visas and other information. This is so that countries can prevent fraud and abuse of their networks, and while this is understandable, it can in some circumstances take a while to complete. If you are only in a country for a short while, tracking down the right store, making sure you have the best deal and waiting to be registered can eat into time you would probably rather spend doing something else. If you are travelling to multiple countries, this will also mean you will need to purchase a new SIM card (and therefore a new phone number) and go through the process again in each country.
International SIM cards
International SIM cards (also known as Roaming SIMs) in pricing terms, sit in the middle ground between domestic and local roaming. While they are not quite as cheap as a local SIM, they are far less expensive than roaming on a Canadian one. There are a number of additional benefits as well as the price:
- Multiple operators – international SIM card providers such as Telestial have agreements with telecoms companies all over the world, often with several in each country. This gives you the additional freedom of being able to switch operators in the same territory if the coverage on one service is not good enough. If you cross a border into a new country, your SIM will automatically switch to the best provider in that country.
- No change of number – an international SIM comes with two phone numbers, a number with a +44 UK prefix, and a +1 US number. These remain the same no matter which country you visit, and because roaming SIMs are often bought in advance, it’s easy to inform family and friends of your contact details before you travel.
- Take control – by using features such as Telestial’s JT Travel App, you can see exactly what you are spending and when – and only this. There are no monthly charges, service costs, contracts or other hidden fees, and because the SIM is prepaid, it is impossible to accrue a huge bill.
- Other features – as well as providing a full breakdown of your spending and an easy way to top-up your account, the JT Travel App features a host of other helpful information, such as weather reports and a currency converter. Share your adventures with family and friends back home with our Travel Journal, by mapping your journey and uploading photos and comments.
Where can I get a SIM for my international trip?
Telestial, powered by JT Global, are the market leading provider of international SIM cards and data roaming solutions. SIMs come with credit included, and bundle deals are available, giving you even better value. In addition to a range of phone SIM cards (including a European or North American SIM) and data SIM cards, they also provide low-cost unlocked cell and smartphone handsets, all of which are dual-SIM as standard. This allows you the option to carry your roaming and domestic SIM in the same handset. You can also find mifi Hotspots (allowing you to create your own local WIFI network and allowing up to 10 other users to connect online via one device), satellite phone rental (for when you’re going off the beaten track) and a host of other useful tools and accessories.
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