selecting an "Unlocked" GSM phone for global use, make sure it is a
"Quad-band" model (850, 900, 1800 & 1900 MHz). That gives you
almost universal access to all cellular networks around the world.
However, new bands are being introduced, so this situation may change.
A "Tri-band" phone may work in some countries but potentially not in
all towns in those countries. "Dual-band" phones work almost
exclusively in North America. A GSM phone takes on the
characteristics of the wireless network in each country you visit. So
if you are traveling in Germany, your phone will work like a local
German wireless device.
- Voice Mail:
When you are calling your voice mail or any US number from a foreign
country, you must enter the international calling Prefix (or "+1" on
GSM phones) before your number to access a US-based number, even if the
phone called is roaming internationally. In most GSM devices, holding
down the 0 key will cause the + sign to appear, in others it may the #
key. "1" is the country code for the US.
You need some foreign language skills to use Local international
cellular services efficiently. Even if you have your prompts switched
to English, most messages beyond the balance and refill access are
still in the host language. While some foreign carriers offer English
as an option, most do not. Often, the concierge or someone else at your
hotel should be able to help. Be prepared. Also, make sure you know. or
ask for help, how to change the language option of your phone. It will
be hard to guess when your choices are in Arabic.
- Customer Service:
cases, calls to your own US cellular service provider ("611" or their
normal customer service number) do not incur any charges. Check with
your carrier before you leave to make sure. They may be able to help
with some of your roaming problems in English. You may not be able to
call their US "800" number from another country, so learn their
"international access" number, beforehand. The number for Verizon
Wireless is (908) 559-4899, for AT&T it's (916) 843-4685. This
is a free call if you use their phone.
- Preactivated Phones:
Some independent foreign cellular retailers offer pre-activated phones
and SIM's for the convenience of tourists. Don't be afraid to ask.
Consider having one party call the other back, based on who has the
cheapest rate. Some foreign phone plans offer Free Incoming Calls.
- Long Distance Charges:
In some countries you may get a higher charge for Long Distance for
Roaming when outside of your landing city. For example, in India, you
can cross through the coverage of several different cellular companies
in a single 200 km trip, each with different Roaming and Long Distance
Many countries require identification to buy a local wireless phone or
SIM. It would be helpful to carry a few passport-size photos (2" x
2") to attach to your foreign wireless application form. Activation is
immediate. Some retailers overlook this requirement and others just
don't want to be bothered. In other areas you may only be able to buy a
local SIM or phone at an "official" store.
With some US carriers, international Roaming must be activated which is
usually done for free by your carrier's customer service.
Using your cellular phone for calls on a cruise ship can be quite
pricey but it should be much less than calling from your stateroom. It
may be cheaper to make your calls or check your voice mail while in
port if your phone can roam there. Cruise ships are normally required
to turn off their onboard cellular access when they arrive at each
port. Make sure your phone is indeed roaming on the desired system
while you're in port or wait until you're away from the ship before
trying to access the local, and usually less-expensive, network. Get
more details at Cellular@Sea and On-Waves.
work on all networks in all places. You may not be able to choose which
calls you answer and which you ignore.
Go to Voice Mail:
There is sometimes a per minute charge with US GSM carriers for roaming
calls that go to voice mail, even if your phone is off and even if no
message is left. You can have your home carrier temporarily disable
voice mail. Make sure your own network knows when you are "home" by
turning on your phone once you arrive in the US. Some carriers, like
AT&T, claim calls to voice mail do not incur a charge while
roaming if your phone is turned off.
Calls to US toll-free "800" numbers from foreign countries are not
free, and may not be possible. Per minute (or per call) rates apply,
but long distance charges may not. Wireless and credit card companies
provide a normal US number for customers to call from foreign countries
either directly or "Collect".
is not usually "911" outside of North America. In
many European countries the emergency number for police, fire, or
ambulance is 112. In other areas emergency numbers varies. Find the
number before you arrive. If you have trouble being understood, you
might try calling your hotel and ask them for help. Program in their
number as soon as you know it. GSM phones normally have several
emergency numbers preprogrammed based on the network you are using. You
can always try "911" and the SIM will try to convert your call to the
right number, but don't always expect English-speaking help.
- Take These
Numbers with You:
Enter these numbers in your phone before you leave and travel without
When you are
abroad and turn on your wireless phone, it will automatically search
for a wireless network. Registration can take from a few seconds to
several minutes. When the name or network number of the local network
is displayed, your phone should be ready to use. The same is true when
you return to the US. After you arrive back in the US you
think your phone is "broken" because it won't find service. Be patient.
Don't pick up one of those $10/minute credit card phones at the airport.
other appliance, your phone's battery charger may need universal power
and plug adapters for the countries you are visiting. Most chargers for
US wireless phones are compatible with both 110- and 220-volt systems
but outside of North America their plugs are not.
In some countries
(or states), using a wireless phone while driving is
and is vigorously enforced. Contact the local tourist information
office for regulations.
are observations we and other contributors have noted while traveling,
yours may be different. Rates and specifications are subject to change.
We'd like to hear
about your experiences.