Published: May 2009
By Susan Stellin
What's the best way to stay connected from abroad?Here, the best cell phone plans for every type of traveler.
You don't travel abroad often but want a phone for emergencies. Rent one—at the airport or through Cellhire (www.cellhire.com) or WorldCell (www.worldcell.com). While per-minute rates are high—$2 or more to call the United States and $1 or more for local or incoming calls—weekly rental fees are only $40 to $60.
You travel abroad often and don't intend to make a lot of calls. Sign up with AT&T Wireless, T-Mobile, or Cingular Wireless—the three major U.S. service providers with GSM networks, the technology that is now standard in the rest of the world. Make sure your phone is "tri-band," meaning it works on all three GSM frequencies, since American networks use a different frequency from those of other countries. Your everyday phone will work almost everywhere, but rates can be steep: from 99 cents to $4.99 a minute (for incoming as well as outgoing calls) depending on the provider and where you're calling from.
You travel abroad frequently and plan to use your phone a lot. Take advantage of less-expensive rates from overseas service providers by changing your phone's SIM card (the brain of the phone). U.S. providers typically sell "locked" phones, which don't allow you to swap SIM cards, so you'll need to buy an "unlocked" phone overseas or on eBay. Local SIM cards are available at cell phone shops at your destination, or through Telestial.com: they cost $35 to $100 and generally include all incoming calls. Charges for outgoing calls vary, depending on where you are and what country you're calling, but they can be as low as 25 cents a minute for local calls and average 60 cents for calls to the States. The drawback is that your phone number will change each time you enter a new country and buy a new card.
Peripatetic travelers can avoid this inconvenience by using Telestial's HopAbroad SIM card ($99), which gives you one phone number and $15 worth of free airtime at a rate of 35 cents a minute for incoming calls and 95 cents per minute (plus a 26 cent connection fee) for outgoing calls.