The Cell Phone Thing, Part VI: Tips & Miscellany

So you’ve made it this far in our journey toward total understanding of how to use a cell phone abroad. Or you’ve given up entirely and are hoping for a surprise ending that will tie it all together.

If you have come to the point where you understand that a local SIM card in an unlocked, compatible GSM phone will give you cell phone service overseas, please continue reading. If not, I’m afraid you need to go back to the beginning.

Cellphone Series
I: Verizon
III: Using A SIM Card
IV: Finding A SIM Card
V: Calling Plans
VI: Tips & Miscellany

So let’s proceed on the assumption that you have everything you need for a working cell phone overseas, or you know where to get it. You are aware of some of the vagaries of European mobile phone plans, and you have some idea of how to use a calling card to cut your costs.

Here are a few other things to know.

It may seem obvious, but it’s surprisingly easy to forget that your phone charger probably won’t work abroad without a plug adapter to fit the different shapes of electrical outlets in other parts of the world. You can get a standard European adapter for about $3. Buy it in the U.S. because they are suprisingly difficult to find abroad. And, no, you probably don’t need a much more expensive converter, and this will explain why.

Minutes and SIMs from other countries may expire when you’re back in the United States. If you want to keep them alive for a return trip, check the expiration date. If necessary, you can probably top the minutes off over the Internet from home and keep the SIM active.

Some people who travel abroad with notebook computers skip the whole cell phone thing and talk over the Internet free or at very low cost. The details on how to do this are beyond the scope of my research, but you can check out Skype or one of its many competitors if you are interested. I just read an interesting piece in the New York Times about a Vonage service, which allows you to use a U.S. phone number over the Internet from anywhere in the world.

Nothing I’ve told you is of use any use whatsover in Japan, where there’s a new, faster, better GSM called 3G. If you are going to Japan or you are geeky enough to want to know about this out of sheer curiosity, allow me to refer you to this excellent FAQ.

If you must always be in touch from anywhere in the most remote parts of the planet or from sleek yachts far at sea, you need a satellite phone.  They are bulky and expensive but very useful when the last sled dog takes off in the night and the grizzly bears are looking at you hungrily. If you need one, you’re cooler than I am. Read more from Wikipedia.


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