Do You Need a Cell Phone While Abroad? YES!

Texting on a keyboard phone

Pick up a cell phone abroad and stay in touch!

The end of the school year is here and soon the legions of summer program study abroad students will fly off to their destinations for 2 to 3 months of great fun.  Here on the Gulliver Blog, we’ve discussed Visas, hostelling, weekend trips to nearby destinations, scholarships, and staying healthy, but we hadn’t touched upon mobile phones.  The prospect of not having a mobile phone while abroad left me feeling a tad naked, so I’m sure other students out there would love to have more information about phones overseas.  Here are some pointers that should get you started.

  • Generally, Gulliver recommends that you get a cell phone.  For safety reasons alone, it’s important to have access to emergency responders and more than likely, you will find that it’s extremely useful for staying in touch with your local friends.
  • Foreign countries have multiple carriers, each with many plans to choose from.  If you are going abroad for less than a year, pay-as-you-go plans are much more flexible than full contract plans.  You might spend a little more for your services, but you won’t be locked into a plan for 12 or 24 months.
  • To recharge your Pay-as-you-Go plan, you will have to purchase credit for your account.  Usually a pharmacy, shop, or kiosk will sell these prepaid cards which you then “load” onto your account.  Most countries have a similar system.  At first it may seem cumbersome, especially if you aren’t fluent in the local tongue, but after a few attempts it will become much easier.
  • Many foreign carriers charge more for calling than for texting so you’ll probably find yourself using more texts than minutes.  Furthermore, calling or texting to a number on a different carrier can be much more expensive than calling someone in your network.  If your friends already have cell phones, check to see which carrier they use and join the same one to keep your costs down.
  • Unless you have a plan that allows you to call overseas, try not to call out of the country and definitely avoid calling your parents at home.  The fees will be huge.  It’s much cheaper to use Skype, gChat video, or MSN Messenger to call home.
  • Using your American cell phone is tricky.  In order to work overseas, your phone must receive GSM frequencies.  Most ATT and T-Mobile phones operate on GSM.  Check to make sure your phone is quad-band (receives 850, 900, 1800, and 1900 MHz frequencies) and unlocked.  If you call your carrier, you can request the code to unlock your phone.  Ask nicely!  When you phone is unlocked, all you have to do is replace the SIM card with a foreign one that you purchase.
  • Before you leave, talk to your American carrier and have them put your account on hold.  They may charge you a small fee, but it will be cheaper than paying your contract rates while you’re away.

Cell phones are a great tool to have while you’re abroad and these tips can help you nab the phone and plan right for you.  For more specific information about carriers and countries, check out Gulliver’s Prepare to Go section.

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6 Responses to “Do You Need a Cell Phone While Abroad? YES!”

  1. 1 GarykPatton June 15, 2009 at 6:37 pm

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  2. 2 Juan M. September 7, 2009 at 10:30 am

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  3. 3 Amanda September 8, 2009 at 7:23 pm

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  4. 4 Katie September 22, 2009 at 5:00 am

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  5. 5 Natalee September 26, 2009 at 8:16 am

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  6. 6 Jason October 3, 2009 at 8:29 am

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Gulliver helps students Study Abroad. Our blog covers: current issues in Study Abroad; featured posts by Study Abroad students; and Gulliver updates, news, and behind-the-scenes peaks. Thanks for reading!

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