Ken Grunski, CEO of Telestial, answered your questions about using cellphones overseas
Ken Grunski: Hello...I'm Ken Grunski from Telestial.com. I'm ready to answer your international cell phone/travel questions. I use the hunt/peck method which while I have perfected, still leaves me at a typing disadvantage but will answer as many questions as fingers will allow.
Milwaukee, WI: Do you know of a cellphone I can use internationally that has no monthly fees?
Ken Grunski: Almost all of the international plans are prepaid and consequently do not carry a monthly fee/contract however you wil have a foreign number...if you go with a GSM carrier in the states (prepaid or postpaid with Tmobile, cingular, SIMple Call) then you can use the same phone and simply swap out the SIM card (a chip in the back of the phone tht determines your phone number and service). Just make sure your phone is SIM unlocked if you got it from a carrier. Many websites will unlock a carriers phone (thetravelinsider.info is one reliable site) for about $30. I am currently unaware of any prepaid US providers/plans that roam overseas.
Pensacola, FL: Can I go into a well known department store and purchase a cheap cell phone (i.e., walk into a Target/Walmart store and purchase a $50 cell phone for Virgin) and then 'start up' the phone with the minutes that come with the purchase of the phone? I understand that I can just throw the phone away at the airport on my way home from vacation. For fifty bucks the convinience is all I am after.
Ken Grunski: Yes, though maybe not Target and Walmart but definitely their international equivalents and not always for $50. Other factors to consider are that if you are in France or Germany nothing will be in English and so for an in-country purchase of your service/handset you can count on a little frustration: finding the time to go to a store that sells the phone/service, then once you get there you might have 3 or 4 options (carriers) to chose from...which one has the cheapest rates to the US? When does my airtime expire? How much airtime is included with the puchase? Voicemail? How can I program voicemail if the instructions are in Spanish?. The convenience of this scenario may depends upon time (I never have enough of this - ask my family) and your language skills.
Flower Mound, TX: Can prepaid cell phones be used overseas (like Virgin mobile)? If so, do all brands work?
Ken Grunski: Typically no and here's why:
1) You have to be the right technology...GSM. Virgin is a sprint reseller which makes the CDMA, Boost uses Nextel which is I-den but there is T-Mobile as an example that is GSM.
2) Does your phone have the right frequencies....In the US we use the 1900 primarily and some areas have the 850 freq. Overseas they use the 900/1800 frqs.. So you could bring a GSM phone to Europe and you would never get a signal. Typically with prepaid kits you get a North American band version (1900 only or 850/1900) which I cheaper then the tri/quad band phones.
3) Carriers currently reserve roaming for their post-paid service as an incentive I suppose to sign contract though I believe Verizon prepaid will roam in Canada.
4) Is the phone 'SIM-locked'....Notice the prepaid kits (phones w/service) are super-cheap. Even when you sign a contract you can get a $300 phone for $100 or free. This because your phone is being subsidized by the carrier and consequently they 'lock' your phone. It is a software lock which prevents you from using another carriers service.
Your scenario might be purchasing a triband SIM unlocked phone ($99) and you can go with a US prepaid service from a GSM carrier like T-Mobile. They will give you a SIM card to snap into the back of your phone. When you travel overseas just get a nother prepaid SIM card for that country and you are 'cooking with gas'.
Tabernacle, NJ: Our son plans to spend next semester abroad in Ireland (University in Galway). We currently use Verizon Wireless in the US...what is our best bet to stay in some phone contact since he will be there January thru June, and does plan to do some traveling throughout Europe during that time. I am wondering if he should purchase a prepaid phone once there, but would welcome your suggestions! Thanks
Ken Grunski: Ok, your standard Verizon phone is a paperweight overseas but they will rent you a phone for $3+/day and about $1.50/min in Ireland.
You can buy a phone in Ireland with service for about $99 but the phone will be 'locked' and typically of no use outside of Ireland. Still this is certainly an option. However for a little more money - about $130, you should consider buying an international cell phone here in the U.S. and getting set-up before you leave. There are two big advantages to doing this:
-- You will know your son's phone number before he even leaves (and he can walk and talk straight off the plane)
-- Your son won't have to spend his first few jet-lagged days shopping for a cell phone
Best of all you can also use the phone at other international destinations (including the US -- through Cingular or T-Mobile or SIMpleCall) by simply purchasing another service pack (SIM card).
Other advantages are that there are several prepaid roaming options for your sons weekend trips and summer holiday where he may be in a new country every week. WHen your son leves Ireland he will take out the Ireland SIM card from his phone (and give it away if he can) and then he will insert the the explorer prepaid SIM card which works throughout Europe and will give him unlimeted free incoming calls (just like he had in Ireland with the local SIM in Ireland) while he travels. I would not use this card in Ireland because he is there for 6-months and will want a local phone number for his new frineds to reach him on.
Boston, MA: My daughter is going to study in the South of France for a year - do you suggest buying an international cell phone or using calling cards?
Ken Grunski: Ask your daughter which one she'd prefer and I think we both know the answer. Here are my suggestions: A France cell phone kit would cost about $150 which would include the prepaid service for France, international cell phone and world charger (and english instructions!). This would give your daughter unlimited free incoming calls in France so you could reach her whenever you like. Outgoing calls would cost about $.70/min to the US. She would call you and then say "Hey Mom, call me back!" You can call her back using a calling card for the lowest international rates! Local outgoing calls to her new friends in France would cost about $.35/min and of course when they call her it's free!
Phone can subsequently be used in other countries for future trips and can be setup for use in the states.
Los Angeles, CA: I travel to Europe for business several times a year - specifically Sweden and Norway - and was looking for the best way to keep my cell phone bills under control. Right now I rent an international phone but call costs are too high.
Ken Grunski: Your solution would be to purchase an international cell phone. Make sure the phone is GSM, SIM unlocked and works on at least the 900, 1800 and 1900 frequencies(unfortunately most U.S. network providers won't sell you an unlocked phone so you'll need to go to an international cell phone specialist).
Then you can purchase a prepaid SIM card for service. The SIM will snap into the back of your phone (just like lego)and provide service. I suggest a global roaming SIM, such as the Passport or Explorer, which will give you one phone number and coverage in 100+ countries. Other benefits of the service include free incoming calls in about 50 countries and outgoing rates of about $.60/minute.
Expect to pay around $150-$200 for a prepaid kit which includes the service (SIM), phone, world charger, etc.
I suspect between the daily/rental fee for the phone, minimum usage requirements and the rental airtime charges that you are paying now, purchasing a phone kit instead will pay for itself after the first trip.
Purchasing is also entirely usage based with no contract or monthly charges.
Another option would be to purchase a SIM card specifically for Sweden and Norway. You would have two phone numbers - local to each country - which is nice when you want a local contact number. But this can get cumbersome if there is a third or 4th country on your itinerary as you juggle SIM cards.
Washington, D.C.: What are the relative advantages and disadvantages of cell phone use vs. internet based services (like SKYPE) for long distance communication? Our daughter will be in Seville for 6 months and we (and some of her friends who will be both in the states and in some other countries as well) want to be able to keep in touch.
Ken Grunski: Skype, an Internet based phone service would provide the most cost-effective calling solution while a local prepaid cell phone would provide the most convenient calling solution. However rather then being mutually exclusive our ideal solution will actually combine the best elements of each service.
The big advantages of Skype and other Internet phone services (Vonage, ATTvantage) is that you often have free calling within the network. As an example any Skype customer can call any other Skype customer in the world at no charge. If you want to call traditional landlines and cell phones you will need to subscribe to SkypeOut. If you want to be accessible outside the Skype network you can subscribe to SkypeIn (about $6/month) which gives you a US number that follows you around the world. Call quality can vary significantly but it is a great bargain provided you have access to an Internet connection.
The big advantage of having a cell phone is of course....well, it's a cell phone. One of my office colleagues is fond of repeating "it's like having a payphone in your back pocket". Basically you purchase prepaid international cell phone service for Spain and you can reach your daughter whenever you like and likewise she can call you or her friends without having to schedule a trip to an Internet cafe. As incoming calls and SMS (text messages) are always FREE (even from the US) you can call your daughter on her cell phone from any Skype phone and get the best of both worlds!!! From a cell phone outgoing local calls are approx. 35 cents/min but calls to the US are about 80 cents/min so we typically advise our clients to call home (or the office) and say "hey, call me back!". You can expect to pay about $150 for the initial setup but the phone can be reused with prepaid service from other countries including the US.
Williamston, MI: I'm a flight attendant and travel to Europe, Asia and South America. As I don't make a lot of money, is it possible to have a cell phone and/or service that will allow me to keep in touch with family in the U.S. without costing me an arm and a leg?
Ken Grunski: You can pick up an international cell phone for as little as $99 but that's only half the solution. For the service you will need to purchase a SIM card which is a thumbnail sized chip that snaps into the back of your cell phone. These SIM cards provide prepaid service so there are no contracts or monthly fees. SIM cards can be 'local' or 'roaming'.
A local SIM will give you a local number and service for a specific country. As an example, if you always find yourself traveling with your job to Mexico or South Africa or China, you might want to have a local SIM. You will usually get free incoming calls and very inexpensive ($.30/min) local outgoing calls. International call costs (expect $.70/min) will vary but typically you will call home and have folks call you back.
A better option for you is probably a 'roaming' SIM. A roaming SIM will typically offer coverage in about 100 countries, free incoming calls can be expected (just like with local service) in about 50 countries throughout most of Europe and a handful of other destinations in Africa as well as Australia/NZ. Incoming calls at other destinations can be a nominal $.20/min for China up to a whopping $1.95/min for India or Peru. Expect to pay $.60/min for domestic and international outgoing calls from most countries.
In your case I would suggest you start with a roaming SIM like the Explorer or Passport for roaming service in multiple countries and then pick up local SIM cards as you think you need them.
Pittsburgh, PA: Ken, Can i use my Verizon cell phone in the Bahamas and what is the cost? How about on a cruise ship?
Ken Grunski: Your Verizon cell phone will NOT work in the Bahamas however they have a cell phone rental service (It's tricky to find on their site but it's there) and they can forward your US Verizon cell phone calls to your rental phone as well. Rates are $2.49/min for all (incoming and outgoing) calls and $3.99/day for the phone rental.
I did not see any service for Verizon on a cruise ship but consider yourself lucky. Cingular subscribers get to pay up to $3.99/min for the privilege. Yet even this obscenely high rate is cheap compared to ship to shore calls from the ship phone which can run you a whopping $7/min.
A satellite phone rental is an option as well. It will work from the deck of the ship (you need line of site with the sky) and will cost you $1.69/minute and $7/day for the phone itself.
Atlanta, GA: I have international calling on my cell phone. How do I call from outside the U.S. to a U.S. phone number, and how does a person in the U.S. call my cell phone when I am out of the country? Thanks
Ken Grunski: To call overseas from the US on your cell phone you should dial +, country code and phone number. The '+' key is the universal sign for international access. From the US the '+' key signifies or replaces 011, however when you are in Europe you will dial the same sequence: +, country code and phone number. The difference is that the '+' key in this case signifies 00. To make things more confusing, in Australia they use 0011.
When calling from a cell phone you never need to know what the international access code is from that country because you can always dial '+', which you can get typically by holding down the zero (0) key, for 2-seconds, of your cell phone.
When you are roaming with a cell phone you always need to dial the + and the country code. The country code for the US is '1' so to call the US from overseas simply dial +1, area code and number (eg. +18582742686). If you are roaming in Mexico and want to call a friend in Mexico (or your hotel) then you would dial +52..... followed by the remainder of the phone number.
Many countries use a leading zero in front of their cell phone numbers. As an example, cell phone numbers in France begin '06...'. However to call the number you would not begin with +3306 but rather dial +336...omitting the leading 0 which is typical when dialing a number with the country code.
For callers to reach you on your US cell phone service while you roam with it overseas they would simply dial as though you were in the US...1,area code and your phone number. No '+' is needed for US calers to call you because they are simply dialing a US number which finds you no matter where you hide in the world).
Ken Grunski: Thank you for the opportunity to respond to your questions. Many of the prepaid products/solutions including calling cards that were discussed in this forum are available at telestial.com