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June 21, 2013

What Every Traveler Needs to Know: How to Use a Mobile Phone Internationally

Traveling abroad can be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to experience culture and history firsthand, or a part of your usual travel schedule if you’re one of today’s increasingly global road warriors.

Either way you look at it, international travel also means being far away enough from loved ones or colleagues that you cant just hop on the next train to get to them. Because this distance that separates us is so great, phone calls and communications via newer modes, like video conferencing, are especially high when traveling. But carriers know this is an issue too and usually can charge outstanding fees for you to dial out to your family or workplace back home. There has been one too many horror stories about people placing those calls even just for minutes only to experience bill shock when they realized just how much that five-minute call costs.

To get around this, Internet connections are being leveraged regularly for cheaper calling, such as Vonage, and even for face-to- face meeting, as with Skype.

These kinds of technologies have blurred the distance that separates international continents –both for families and business. Now, having a meeting with colleagues located at a branch office many oceans apart is as simple as connecting through video chat. Or in my case, seeing your grandparents in Italy you only had the pleasure to meet a handful of times in your life can now be a quick daily check-in on-the- fly.

But for the business travelers and most of us now constantly on the go, there is perhaps an even more important technology right in our pockets that can be used to stay in touch while overseas -- the mobile phone. While these devices are typically turned off or left behind because they either don’t work at all in a foreign country or the carrier rates are too high to use them, many players are entering the market looking to help you circumvent this roadblock and make calling to and from international destinations cost sensible and easy.

Image via Shutterstock

The main things to remember when you are here in the U.S. and want to use a mobile phone overseas is that its not as easy as just taking your phone with you for the ride. Especially if you are a Sprint or Verizon customer, because your phone is most likely set to work only off of CDMA - which doesn’t match with the standard GSM cellular voice network most other countries use to transmit wireless calls. Even though T-Mobile and AT&T do use GSM, the phones are still typically locked and users need to pay a fee to be unlocked for use overseas anyway.

Telestial is an example of one provider offering a prepaid SIM card, Passport and an unlocked international phone, the JT Smart Android phone, so mobile users can have an up-to-date mobile device and use it any anytime. The device offers all the features and functionalities available in Android phones today but comes with Home and International SIM card slots, so it’s easy and seamless to keep in touch while on the go, no matter what boarder or ocean you cross.

“In our opinion, this changes everything,” said Telestial President Ken Grunski. “Now, you’re truly free. Free to use the very latest technology, without having to break the bank. Free to travel anywhere in the world and know that you have a reliable, modern handset and the very best roaming rates available across over 190 countries. And what’s more, because it comes unlocked, you’ll want to use it at home as well as abroad.”

I had the chance to check out the device and test its capabilities recently and was pleasantly surprised by the ease of use it offered when placing mobile calls to both landlines and mobile devices to my family members located in Italy. Calling mobile phones, even from my home landline, has always involved poor quality, dropped calls or just failure to go through all together. Once I inserted the SIM card in the slot behind the battery with this phone, it was ready to go. I have tried other SIM phones that put you through a long and tiring sign up and log in process that make using the phone a hassle, but I was happy to not have to do that this time around. It was also comforting to be using a phone that looked and felt just like my usual Android phone. I already knew where everything was located and how to access menu screens without being intimidated or having to learn how to operate a new phone just to make the international calls.

For a real test, I handed the phone over to my father (one of the, if not THE least technologically inclined people I know) for use on his recent visit with family in Italy. (Disclaimer: this phone can be used anywhere in the world, this writer just happens to have 75 percent of her family located on this continent, so it made international testing easy on the phone.)

My father also agreed that the phone was easy to use, even for him. In addition to the cost savings, he noted the ability to make a phone call from anywhere he happened to be made communications with us back home easy, and unlike any other trip he had taken overseas before, where a once-a-week check-in was the norm.

Another great feature is the balance check that is offered. Prior to placing calls, you are alerted to the minutes remaining on the prepaid SIM so that you can top-up when they are getting low, and you don’t have to worry about running out unexpectedly in the middle of an important call. A benefit I’m sure many business users will find for those important calls with customers and managers.

ABI Research recently noted the SIM card market is expected to continue rapid growth in-line with increasing adoption of mobile communication devices. Even despite the economic downturn, this market will continue to grow especially in business sectors globally thanks to emerging drivers like new applications, increased competition, and wider implementation of mobile connectivity.

For more tips on how you can keep your mobile bill low while traveling overseas take a look at these tips from Telestial.

Edited by Rachel Ramsey

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