It's easier and simpler to take along an international cell phone on trips out of the US, especially if you want one for emergencies and minimal use. This is especially important for the womantraveler who wants or needs to stay connected to children, sitters and aging parents because, alas, alack, we feel more secure with the option of easy contact. And certainly this is essential for business womentravelers. But the choices for purchase and rental are wildly different, and you need to think ahead and have a sharp pencil to do the math for what suits you best.
Major options are (1) buying an international cell phone, (2) renting a cell phone or satellite phone before you leave, (3) renting or buying a cheap cell phone once you arrive at your destination and (4) buying a phone card before you leave.
Other criteria that affect your cost:
- Per minute rates charged by your phone service
- Local charges in the countries you are visiting, or when calling from country to country
- The length of your trip and expected amount of usage
- Phone features
While renting sounds simpler, sometimes buying can be less expensive, especially for a long trip or if you are a frequent international traveler. For a 10-day vacation to Paris, my online research led me to a simple purchase option -- a $49 international cell phone with a standard rate for incoming and outgoing minutes. It beat the rental options and gives me an inexpensive international cell phone I can use on future trips to other countries. And my son can use it for no extra purchase or rental charge for his summer abroad trip this year.
- US mobile phones operate on different technologies and frequencies than most of the world so it's important to get it right country-by-country.
- Start with what your US-based cell phone has to offer in terms of plans and build from there. Add features to your own phone plan or rent a phone from your US-based service. That may include a simple SIM card, the code that goes in each cell phone (home or abroad) with its unique number. A prepaid SIM card for the country you are visiting may reduce your charges.
- Sometimes it's cheaper to buy an inexpensive phone before leaving the US and activate it prior to each trip.
- Another option is to rent an inexpensive phone once you arrive abroad to use within that country and/or to communicate regularly with your fellow travelers. Those rates will likely be cheaper. But calling outside that country will not be.
- An international phone card can be a security option -- when they work, which they don't always. The trick is to make sure it works not only from the US to overseas but from overseas bgack to the US.
- If you've read this far and know anything about the subject, you'll notice I have not yet mentioned the SIM card. Again, this argues for the phone purchase option. The Mobal phone I purchased has one SIM for the world; some international cellular companies, however, require you to buy a separate SIM for each country -- so be sure to ask before you make your choice.
- Bottom line -- check out not only the rental or purchase options before you leave but also the rate plans in each country.