Using your phone abroad
Will calling home cost you a bomb? Will your mobile even work abroad? Are there cheaper options available? Read on and find out.
Can I use my mobile phone abroad?
Most of the time, yes. But by default your phone is connected to your local network, and through it to the company you pay for your calls and texts. When you go travelling, your phone has to connect to someone else's network - something the phone companies call 'roaming'. As long as the host network has an agreement with your home network, you should have no problems calling or texting.
You will usually find some sort of connection in most places, simply because the phone companies know they can make more money if they make it easier for people to make calls. It's in their interests to create international roaming agreements with one another.
So a-roaming you can probably go, but watch out - as soon as you're hosted on someone else's network, they want to get a cut of your money. So the cost of everything can go up. A lot.
Check with your mobile company before you go. Tell them which countries you're visiting, and ask for a complete price list. If they don't mention it, ask if you'll be charged for incoming calls too - this can cost the unwary a fortune.
You'll also find that things like voicemail can't be accessed in the same way. And you'll have to add the international number (+44) on numbers stored in your phone.
So how do I know if my handset will work when I get there?
Different countries use different radio frequencies for mobile networks, and your handset needs to be able to connect to them before you can make any calls. Dig out the instruction manual that came with the phone (yeah, the one you never read) - roaming info should be in there. If not, get yourself Googling for your handset model number.
For a phone that's going to work everywhere, look for the phrase 'quad band'. A 'tri band' phone will also work most places. A lot of newer phones are sold as 'world phones' now, which gives you a clue about their roaming features.
If you do need to upgrade to a newer handset, shop around. Check out all the usual high street stores, as well as online shops like eBuyer and Amazon. Pocket Lint is a good place to check out reviews of the latest models.
What about internet phone calls?
Internet phone call services like Skype can save you a lot of money. Getting a Skype account is free, and you can use it to make free calls to other Skype users over the internet. Get all your family and friends Skyped up and you'll be able to keep in touch very cheaply, from anywhere you can get hold of an internet connection, a microphone and a headset. If you like, you can pay for extra credit which will allow you to call ordinary phone landlines from your own account. Skype call rates (especially for international calls) are very low compared to most standard phone companies.
Google Talk is Google's answer to Skype. Through this, you can make free voice calls to other Google Talk users. Or you can use it for text chats with users of a bunch of other IM services like AIM and iChat.
Be a Twit
Twitter is a relatively new online service that plugs your mobile phone into the web, via text messages. You can broadcast your thoughts as texts to Twitter. They then get automagically shared to all your other Twitter pals via the web, text message or instant message. It's a fantastic way to keep everyone you know up to date with what you're doing. It works the other way too - you can get updates from other Twitterers sent straight to your phone. The service is free, but you'll still be paying your usual text fees.
Calling cards/phone cards
They're not quite as sexy as a new handset, but calling cards are a lot cheaper and easier to carry around. You can buy them online, paying for your calls in advance and in bulk. Buy £20 or £50 worth and you'll probably get a fiver's worth of free calls added on, too. Phone cards work from pretty much any phone, anywhere (although most hotel and some hostel phones ban them). The best thing is that if you run out of credit, or just lose your card somewhere, it's no big deal to get another one. You can buy them in loads of outlets around the world, but Planet Phone Cards and The Phone Card Site give you plenty of choices for buying online.
I'm staying somewhere for a while - can I get cheaper calls?
One thing to bear in mind when you are using your own mobile is that if you dial numbers local to the country you are in you'll be paying to route your call back home and back again. That's not a problem if you are only expecting to make very short or emergency calls, but if you need to do a lot of organising via your mobile it may be worth investing in a local pay as you go SIM card.
You should find the SIM card will work in your own mobile (although you won't have access to your address book if it is stored on your own SIM card); but if not you may find your hostel will loan you a mobile phone as well.
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