Using Your Mobile Phone When Traveling Overseas

You’d think it would be the last thing an international traveler would be worried about. Who cares about “staying in touch” when you’re about to see the world?
Ah, but we live in the age of instant communication and crave constant contact, regardless of which continent we’re on. Plus, the rates foreign hotels charge to use their phones are outrageous.
So, what’s the best way to use your mobile phone when traveling overseas?
If you prefer using your own phone, the easiest approach is to purchase a SIM card at your destination. These cards, which contain prepaid minutes and feature their own phone number, are available in vending machines and at news stands in most international airports.
A SIM card is a fingernail-sized computer chip which is inserted into the back of the phone. A number of carriers offer these cards which drives down both their initial cost (typically $5 – $15) and the rates ($.10 – /minute in country, and $1/minute to the US) you pay to replenish them.
If you plan to buy an overseas SIM card, you must first make arrangement to “unlock” your mobile phone. Contact your local provider, explain that you’re traveling overseas and request that they enable your phone to utilize another card (and, thus, the services of another carrier). Nearly all models other than the iPhone (with its proprietary network) can be unlocked.
When using a destination SIM card, be aware that voice and text rates will likely increase once you’ve left the country you purchased it in. Identify what these “roaming” charges are, and determine whether it would be more cost-effective to buy a new SIM card in each country you plan to visit.
Another calling option when traveling overseas is to buy a basic “pay as you go” mobile phone at your destination. They can be very inexpensive, and come in “locked” (exclusively served by one carrier and, therefore, the cheapest) and “unlocked” versions (pricier phones which accept other carrier’s SIM cards).
Renting a mobile phone is also an option, but their voice and data rates can be extremely high.
Even when seeing new and exotic lands, it’s important to be able to “reach out and touch” both our fellow travelers and the folks back home. Why else would the first word in mobile phone be “mobile”?