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Global Gab Guide

There are a myriad of ways to stay connected while travelling abroad. We sort them out here.


by Meghan McDonough on May 16, 2008

Global-gab-intro_shYou’re out on your big overseas adventure, but you know Mom will want to check on you. Also, you left that big project in the hands of your assistant. He might need guidance on it. Plus, there’s the cat sitter. You trust her, but you’re just not sure she was listening when you gave her the feeding directions. In short, while you may be vacationing to get away from it all, you still want to stay connected.

A mind-boggling array of options can keep you in touch while hopping continents. Should you just use your current phone? Can you use your current phone? Should you rent a phone? Should you purchase a prepaid SIM card? What about a prepaid phone? How much will it cost? How much of a hassle will it be? Read on to dispel your uncertainties.

Will My Phone Work?

The mystery of using your phone all comes down to bands. The U.S. and Canada use the 850-MHz and 1900-MHz GSM bands. Mexico uses the 1900-MHz GSM band. The majority of the rest of the world uses GSM technology on the 900-MHz and 1800-MHz bands or 3G technology.

Most Sprint and Verizon Phones Work in U.S. Only

Sprint and Verizon Wireless operate on CDMA technology, which is used only within the U.S. These carriers do still offer some phones categorized as “world phones,” meaning they are capable of working on GSM networks. Both carriers also provide options for renting a GSM phone.

AT&T and T-Mobile Phones Work Almost Everywhere

Most phones sold by T-Mobile and AT&T are quad-band phones, meaning they operate on the 850-, 900-, 1800-, and 1900-MHz bands, so they’ll work on international networks without a problem.

The Cost to Roam

When using your U.S. cell plan abroad, it’s important to know exactly how much you’ll have to shell out when you call home. While the per-minute fee varies among countries and carriers, expect to pay between 99 cents and $2.29 a minute. It’s best to check the exact rate for the countries you are visiting on your carrier’s Web site. It’s worth noting that all four carriers offer a cruise-ship roaming rate of $2.49 a minute on most major cruise lines.

AT&T and Verizon Wireless offer specific plans for international roaming. Both of these plans offer substantial per-minute savings and can be activated for only the month you are traveling.

Verizon Wireless’ Global Value plan currently costs $4.99 a month and cuts the per-minute fee by 30 cents to 60 cents. For example, calling home from Dubai, the United Arab Emirates’ hot vacation destination, will cost $2.29 per minute with the Global Value plan, versus $2.89 per minute without the plan activated.

In order to use your AT&T phone outside of North America, regardless of plan, you’ll have to call and ask for international roaming to be activated. Similar to Verizon Wireless, AT&T has standard international roaming as well as its AT&T World Traveler plan for $5.99 a month, which will give you a discounted per-minute rate.

T-Mobile’s version of international roaming is called WorldClass service which can be used with your current phone. You must call customer service to activate it before going abroad, but the bonus is that there is no additional charge per month for the service—just the flat per-minute roaming rate based on the country you are visiting.

Similarly, Sprint offers an international roaming rate based on the country if you have one of Sprint’s GSM-capable phones, such as the BlackBerry 8830. If not, the company rents out GSM phones as well.

Here's a sampling of global roaming prices for the four major carriers as of May 2008.

CountryT-MobileAT&TSprintVerizon Wireless
  Standard / World Traveler Standard / Global Value
United Arab Emirates$1.99$2.49/$2.29$2.49$2.89/$2.29
United Kingdom$0.99$1.29/$0.99$1.29$1.29/$0.99



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