At work or at play,
almost anywhere in the world, enjoy the security and
convenience of a cell phone.
3 of an 8 part series - click for Parts
In case you're confused after
reading parts one and
two of this series on international
cell phones - or even if you're not - here is a very simple and
low cost strategy for how to conveniently stay in touch (and in
turn be contactable) while traveling just about anywhere in the
Part four will then help you
compare the different options you have. Part
you choose what type of phone you need, and part
a product that competes with the Hop product discussed below.
Step One : Buy an international
At the time of revising this
(September 2004) the US GSM networks now offer a viable solution for use throughout
much of the US. Some local regions have good coverage, but if you want a
phone with the same excellent coverage that you have probably
become used to with your current non-GSM two or three band US
phone, a GSM only phone may perhaps not satisfy you.
Some of the US networks are
now offering 'compromise' phones that include the US 1900 MHz
GSM band plus also one of the other US non-GSM bands. This is
great for the US - it means your phone can use either GSM or the
more widespread non-GSM network, whichever is available, but it
makes the phone useless if you want to use it on other GSM
networks, elsewhere in the world.
This leaves you with two
choices - either abandon the concept of having one phone that works both in
the US and internationally. Get whatever (probably non-GSM)
phone and service plan from whatever provider that suits your
needs best for domestic use within the US. And then buy a
separate dual band (900/1800 MHz) phone for use in any of the
174+ countries internationally that use GSM networks.
Alternatively buy one of the
new quadband GSM phones that give the best range of options for
service coverage in both the US and internationally.
You can buy a dual band GSM phone for
as little as $100 or even less (see, eg, our review of the
Mobal service), and from various sources either within the US
or internationally (see part one).
My suggestion - buy the phone before you leave home. That way
you have time to get the phone, check it, learn how it works,
program in phone numbers, and have everything optimized and
ready for when you start your travels.
be an excellent and responsive company, with a good range of
phones, at good prices, and great service. You know that you
won't have any potential problems (like discovering the phone
you bought is 'locked' and can't be used with different SIMs),
you can pay by credit card, and they are a reputable business
that will likely still be around to provide you with any service
or support you might need.
Step One Variation : Using the
International Service in the US, too
I chose to spend only a very
little more than dual band phone costs, and selected a tri-band
phone instead. I can use it as a 'loaner' while I'm at home in
the US. For example, if I have guests with me that need a phone,
then they can use it in the US just as conveniently as I use it
when I'm abroad. And it also makes it easy for me to ensure that
I use the phone at least once a year and activate new top-up
cards before traveling overseas.
Tri-band phones aren't much
more expensive than dual band phones, and the extra flexibility
they give is very handy. (See my comments in the Summary section
for a suggested strategy.)
Step Two : Buy a HopAbroad
Global Roaming SIM
If your travels will take
you to a number of different countries, then a HopAbroad roaming
SIM is the very best way to stay in touch. It gives you a low
cost per minute to telephone anywhere in the world (currently
95¢ a minute for calls you make from your phone, and 35¢ a
minute for calls you receive to your phone, with per-second
billing for best value), and, best of all, it gives you one
single phone number that anyone can dial to reach you, at any
time, no matter where in the world you might be. Or, to be more
precise, no matter where in the 100 countries that participate
in this global roaming network you might be!
Click here to see a comparison
of the rates charged by the US cell phone networks if you use
their service internationally.
The HopAbroad service is
Telestial in the US. A $99 registration gets
you the SIM and international account, plus $15 worth of
This establishes a pre-pay
account for your phone number, and as long as you have money in
that account, you can place and receive phone calls. When your
balance is used up, you can get a 'recharge code', either by
phone or online from Telestial and add more units to your
account. You can check your account balance, for free, anytime
you're in a GSM covered area. Additional airtime can be
purchased, either in lots of $50 (costing $65) or $100 (costing
$120) - I think the extra cost covers the 'line rental' part of
Your phone number is
actually a number within the Monaco phone system that anyone can
call from anywhere in the world. It does not change as you move
between countries, same as your phone number on a US cellphone
doesn't change as you move from one state to the next.
As long as you buy a $65
recharge at least once a year, your phone number remains active
and unchanged, so it can become a permanent phone number for as
long as you wish to keep it.
Step Two Exception : Long Term
Stays in One Country
If you're going to be
spending a reasonable amount of time in one country (ie if
you'll be making a lot of phone calls!) then sometimes it is
cheaper to have a local account as well as (or instead of) your
HopAbroad account. For example, I use my HopAbroad account when
casually/quickly traveling about Europe, but if I'm staying in
Britain or Russia for a week or two, I then switch to a local
account, where the costs to call locally within that country
become very much lower.
Note that doing this has the
disadvantage of making it harder for people back home to know
what phone number to use to contact you.
When does it make sense to
switch? The best idea is to discuss this with a specialist, such
as the helpful people at Telestial, and to follow their advice.
They can sell you both single country SIMs and/or a Hop global SIM, so they have no bias to force you one way or the other, and
can truly help you to get the best configuration.
I've used my Hop account in
the US, UK, much of Western Europe, and Russia.
In the US, it has always
In Russia, when I first
switched the phone on, it initially told me 'no service'. This
was at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport, where I've made cell phone
calls many times before, and so I started to worry. After
several long minutes, the phone suddenly showed full signal
strength and told me it was using the 'Bee Line' network - one
of Russia's best major phone services.
Phone calls did not always
go through satisfactorily, which was a bother and a frustration.
Sometimes it would take a number of redial attempts before the
call would be completed. I don't know what was the cause of
this, but because the phone showed good signal strength, it
seems to be a network problem - either with Hop or (less likely)
In the UK and Europe it worked reliably
and easily, with good coverage.
A Helpful Advantage
One of the amazing features
of this service is that you can typically choose between
multiple GSM providers in each country that you visit. If you
find you're in a bad coverage area from one provider, just tell
your phone to find a stronger signal from another provider. For
example, here in the US, my phone switches automatically between
AT&T, Cingular and T-Mobile, depending on which service gives
the best coverage.
This is an invaluable
service, particularly if your travels are going to take you away
from the major cities (where all service providers usually give
Hop suffers by not offering
SMS service and not offering voicemail. SMS is very widely
used in most other countries, and the benefit of voicemail goes
without saying. For this reason alone, you might be well
advised to consider the newer
which is generally better in all key respects.
A Permanent Number
As long as you buy a $65
'recharge' card once every twelve months, you can keep your
phone number active for as long as you wish. This recharge card
includes $50 worth of airtime, so the actual line rental cost is
only $1.25 a month (assuming you can use the airtime).
For a cost of little more
than $5/month - which you'll almost certainly get value from
when you use the airtime, anyway - you have a permanent
international contact number that your business contacts and
personal friends can keep and refer to any time you're out of
This is a good concept
and well - but incompletely - implemented. The service is easy to set up and use, and is
an affordable and practical solution to the problem of keeping
conveniently in touch while traveling internationally.
You might choose to do what
I did. I went to
Telestial and got one of their complete kits
that includes a tri-band phone that can be used in any GSM
country, including the US, plus also the HopAbroad card and some
airtime too. These kits are better value than buying a SIM and
phone separately, and for as little as $249 you have everything
you need for phone service in over 85 different countries (I
treated myself to the deluxe $329 product - as all regular
travelers know, weight and space are very precious, and the
extra cost for this lovely petite phone is, I believe, money
very well spent).
On the other hand, the new
Riiing service is
comparable or better than Hop, and generally less expensive,
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1 Nov 2002, last update
28 May 2011
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.