Using Cell Phones Overseas

Woman on cell phone

Traveling internationally doesn’t mean that you need to be disconnected from your family and friends. When overseas, I’d recommend using FaceTime or Skype when you have an internet connection. You can call home for free using those VoIP tools, and the video call feature beats a normal phone call any day.

There are times, though, when you’re going to want to use a cell phone. With international calling rates, data charges, and roaming fees, your cell phone bill may arrive as an unexpected surprise upon your return home if you’re not careful.

If VoIP isn’t an option and you need a cell phone, you’re going to want to get an unlocked GSM Quad Band World Phone and a SIM (subscriber identity module) card.

What is an unlocked cell phone? Basically, when you get a phone in the U.S., it is usually tied to your carrier. So the phone you’re using on your Verizon plan probably isn’t going to work if you switch over to AT&T. An unlocked cell phone comes with a SIM card slot that makes it easy to switch from one carrier to another. Changing carriers and plans is as simple as swapping out the phone’s SIM card.

When you’re considering buying an unlocked cell phone, the first thing to look for is GSM compatibility. Most countries in the world use the GSM network, and the phones come with a slot for the SIM card. If you’re currently with AT&T or T-Mobile, your cell phone is already on the GSM network. Those with Sprint and Verizon are on a different network called CDMA. The CDMA phones may not work overseas, since many do not come with removable SIM cards.

There are four GSM frequency bands (850, 1900, 900, and 1800). Different countries support different bands, so you’ll want to make sure the phone you’re purchasing supports the correct frequency. If you’re a frequent traveler or go to many countries, you can’t go wrong with the quad band phones that support all of the frequencies.

Here is a chart that will help you understand which frequency bands work in what country:

GMS band information by country

And here is a table showing the best GSM quad band world phones to purchase for your next international trip:

ImageCell PhonePriceRating
Samsung Galaxy S4 mini GT-I9190$$$4.4
Nokia Lumia 520$$4.2
LG Optimus L7 P705$$4.0
LG A275$3.9
Snapfon ezTWO$$3.9
Blackberry Curve 9360$$3.8

Although you can buy a SIM card before you leave, you can also usually purchase them upon arrival at your destination. You might want to avoid purchasing at the airport, however, because most times you’ll get the same card for a cheaper price if you buy it out in town. As always, do a little bit of research on your particular location before you go to get the best deal.

Staying in touch when you’re out of the country doesn’t have to break the bank. With a little planning ahead, you’ll be able to enjoy your visit without worrying about your cell phone bill.

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