Staying Connected Abroad

iPhones and iPadThe first time I traveled internationally was in 2006.  These were the days before half of the US had smartphones, before iPads, and when you couldn’t carry a laptop with you without adding 8 lbs to your pack. Communication was mostly done in the 2 computers in the hostel lobby, in the the internet cafe around the corner counting the minutes trying to get as many emails out for the 5 Euros you just dropped, or in a dirty phone booth at the same internet cafe.

Staying connected abroad has never been easier. We’ll cover our plans below.
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I want to see your face!

We’ll keep this brief. Use Skype, FaceTime, or Google Hangouts. I use all three depending on what the person on the other end prefers.

What about cell phones?

Both Kris and I will carry a cell phone for emergency use only. Most communication will be done via the video chat services above or email.

I searched up and down through eBay trying to find a deal on an unlocked phone. I thought that my Verizon iPhone 5 was only compatible on CDMA networks (whereas most cell phone carriers internationally run on GSM) and that I’d have to jailbreak it to unlock it for use on other carriers. Turns out I was blatantly wrong because Verizon sells the iPhone 5 completely unlocked. That’s right! An unlocked phone means that it’s ready to use on any carrier right away with a new microSim card.

Check out the proof below:

This turned out to be pretty lucky for me, but if you don’t have a Verizon iPhone 5 there are plenty of reasonable options for getting a phone that can be used on any carrier. When I was browsing eBay, I was looking for a slightly used Android phone under $120 and found several without issue. Of course, you could go with a basic phone for less than $50.

*** If you are going to buy on eBay, make sure to buy from a reputable seller that will confirm a clean ESN. ***

So who’s the best carrier?

Now that I know what phone I’ll be using, the big debate is how to activate service.

The three options that I know of are below:

  • The cheapest option is to get a new local SIM card at every destination; this option also requires a lot of effort and time to actually find a SIM card to buy at every new destination
  • The moderately priced option is to buy a *global SIM card that can be used in most countries and at better rates than any U.S. carrier (there are several companies out there that offer these and are listed below)
  • The most expensive option is to activate service on a U.S. based carrier and use global roaming.

We’ve nixed the third (most expensive option) and plan on using a 1, 2 combination. The global SIM card will be our general use plan. It is easy for planning purposes (can buy before we set off), moderately priced, and it’ll give us the flexibility of knowing that we’ll have service as soon as we arrive in any given destination. Once we’re in our new destination we can decide if it’s worth it (i.e., worth the hassle of finding a local SIM card taking into account how long we’ll be there and how often we’ll be needing to use our phones – time is money) to get a local SIM card. If we’re in a country for a week or two or more it will probably make sense to get a local SIM because it’s cheaper in the long run. From there, we can find local SIM and simply switch it out with the global one until we’re on to our next destination. Then we’ll pop the global one back in and start over at the next country.

*Most global SIM cards only allow outgoing calls with ‘callback’. This means that you must dial the number you wish to call and you will receive a callback once the call is connected. While not ideal, I think it’s worth the flexibility.

Listed below are several companies that sell global SIM cards:

Telestial Passport

US and UK phone number. Free incoming calls in 85 countries, but can get expensive quickly. (as low as) free incoming text messages, but charges in many popular destinations. $0.35 connection fee.

Sample Outgoing Call Rates to US
Spain: $0.49
Thailand: $1.49
South Africa: $0.49
Turkey: $0.49
Australia: $0.49

Go SIM

US and UK phone number. Free incoming calls from 80 countries (including US) to the UK number only. Free incoming text messages from everywhere to the UK number only. No connection fee.

Sample Outgoing Call Rates to US
Spain: $0.69
Thailand: $1.49
South Africa: $0.59
Turkey: $0.59
Australia: $0.49

One SIM Card

US and Estonia phone number. Free incoming calls in 150 countries. Free incoming text messages everywhere. No connection fee.

Sample Outgoing Call Rates to US
Spain: $0.59
Thailand: $0.75
South Africa: $0.59
Turkey: $0.55
Australia: $0.49

World SIM

UK phone number. Free incoming calls from 90 countries. Free incoming text messages everywhere. No connection fee.

Sample Outgoing Call Rates to US
Spain: $0.40
Thailand: $0.60
South Africa: $0.60
Turkey: $0.60
Australia: $0.60

So what’s the best choice? That all depends on where you are going and how you are going to use the phone. For us, we are going to go with the One SIM Card because it offers a US number and the rates seem reasonable. We’ll also purchase local SIM cards as needed.

I’ll update this when I find out if the service actually works!

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