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International Travel Hints: Phones PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mitra Ardron   
Saturday, 31 July 2010 17:16

This year is a year of being on the road, between Australia, US, and a number of developing countries.

People often ask me about working effectively while overseas so I thought I'd write up some tips - starting with phone use.

If you are in the US pick a network that uses GSM - e.g. T-mobile, or ATT but not Verizon .  If its too late for that get a cheap phone when you get to the country, or borrow a friend's "last-year" phone.

Unlock your phone before you travel - ideally when you sign up for your plan - for example Optus in Australia did this for me immediately when I told them I needed to use a different SIM when I traveled.  Don't wait till you have to spend an hour on hold on an international call to get it unlocked.

Many companies - e.g. T-Mobile allow you to shift your monthly costs to a minimum while you travel, retaining your number - unfortunately it doesn't go to voicemail when you do this.

Buy a local pre-paid SIM in each country - they are cheap, e.g. in Indonesia it just cost me about $4 to get a local one. If possible get the person who sells it to you to install it. If not go to the website and use or to figure out the instructions.
Sometimes you'll get it all configured and it still doesn't work - this seems to be because it takes a while before the system recognizes new phones - I've seen from instant (Indonesia); 2 hours (T-mobile) to about 6-hours (Germany:Aldi)
Don't necessarily expect data to work - in Indonesia I was unable to find anyone who got it to work. In Germany I had to search for instructions.

Do not turn your phone on in a new country with a SIM from back home, take the SIM out first - this is important, as once your home country thinks you are overseas they'll often start charging you a forwarding call for every call that goes to voicemail (once for forwarding to the foreign country, and once for forwarding back to your voicemail).
If you ignore this - and use your home SIM to "roam" be prepared for monster bills - in particular make sure to turn "Data Roaming" off in your preferences - recently I heard of a friend with a $3,000 bill from Optus for just her phone picking up email a few times, and checking google maps.

Setup a Skype-In number, and setup Skype forwarding to your mobile, and give out the Skype-In number, and put it on your home voicemail. Incoming calls are cheap - cost me about 0.07c/minute + local mobile minutes, which is much cheaper than roaming.

Call out with Skype from anywhere you have wireless coverage. 
Hope this is helpful.
Some country specific hints. I was using an unlocked (not jailbroken) iPhone for all these.
  • India - reputedly need a borrowed address to get a SIM (I borrowed a SIM from a friend)
  • Indonesia - get them at phone stores anywhere, Simpatico was recommended; but insist the shopkeeper installs it. Instructions are in Bahasa so you won't guess it right, and at least one of the ones i bought even the shopkeeper couldn't configure it!  You could put more credit on it at the same places, but the credit went a surprisingly long way.
  • Germany - reputedly hard to get without an address but I had no problem buying a card at Aldi; instructions in German, but translating website worked. It took about 6 hours from registration to activation. Data was tricky - if your phone make isn't listed (e.g. iPhones) then set username=eplus password=internet
  • USA - I found Tmobile had good rates for month-to-month use with no contracts and data worked fine. Took a couple of hours before from registration to active.

Lisa Petrides of Iskme travelling from the USA, recommends the international data plan from ATT ($20 for 2Mb) works fine and data worked everywhere; if you are only in town for a few days.