Author Topic: Cell phone for extended international travel  (Read 9997 times)

iluvzbeach

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Cell phone for extended international travel
« on: December 13, 2014, 03:20:50 PM »
Fellow mustachians,

I am assisting my mother with the planning of an extended international trip that will have her traveling throughout the UK and Europe for most of 2015. It's only because of the mustachian lifestyle she has led over the past 10 years that she is now able to do this trip, during the first year of her retirement. Here's where we need your help:

She currently has an iPhone 5 through AT&T, with a contract that will expire in the early spring. She is not opposed to terminating that contract early, if she needs to, but would like to keep access to her local US phone number if there is any way at all to do so - she wants to be able to accept inbound calls on this phone number. What she will need while traveling is access to use her phone, without paying exorbitant costs, and will need the ability to send/receive text messages as well as have access to data. Is there a way to somehow port her existing phone number to a web-based phone service and then get a SIM card from an international carrier once she lands in Italy for her first stay? What is the best way to do this, at the best possible pricing? We realize she can use Wi-Fi for websurfing and sending/receiving iMessages, but she will want access to cell and data as well. It's important that she not feel completely out of touch with her family and friends here in the US while she is traveling abroad by herself. If necessary, she is not opposed to obtaining another phone either before she leaves or once she arrives, we just need to know the best options available to her.

If any of you have any experience with obtaining and using a calling plan internationally (outside of AT&Ts international plans for US-based people), I would greatly appreciate any and all tips you can provide to help us get her set up. Thank you so much in advance for your suggestions and expertise.

GizmoTX

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Re: Cell phone for extended international travel
« Reply #1 on: December 13, 2014, 07:50:28 PM »
We travel at least once a year outside the U.S., & rely on wifi for text messages, email, & data. iPhones & iPads stay in airplane mode for the entire trip. We haven't used Skype much, but this allows "phoning" via wifi; both parties have to install the Skype app & both must be on when the call is made, so the time has to be prearranged. If the place(s) we go to do not supply reliable & free wifi, we have rented a small mifi unit that converts local cellular into wifi data at about $15/day, but this would be really expensive for longer than 2-3 weeks. We never use internet cafes -- too dicey & often difficult to find & use.

Cellular calling across countries is expensive, even with international plans. However, ATT has just introduced its Passport plan, which has better rates than previous plans, but is still not cheap.

A local phone only solves the problem of local calling; calling across countries is expensive regardless of which phone is used. We do very little local calling, so we never get a local phone. Instead, we ask wherever we're staying to help with reservations, etc. This helps with language problems as well.

My recommendation is to get really familiar with what she can do with wifi, texting, & maybe Skype before she starts traveling. If absolutely necessary, she can place very quick cellular calls if timeliness is important, but it rarely is. She needs to turn off her cellular service except when she absolutely wants to call. Everyone else should text or email her.

dodojojo

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Re: Cell phone for extended international travel
« Reply #2 on: December 13, 2014, 08:47:38 PM »
I'm with T-Mobile's Simple Choice plan.  I'm going to Australia soon and T-Mobile's international plan offers unlimited data and text messages and 20 cents per minute for talk.  The data is 2 or 3G at best from I've read.  But if it all works according to plan, all that should suffice in terms of keeping in touch with everyone.  And there's always wifi.  Oh, calls made on wifi are free.  If a country is covered in the SC plan--it there's nothing to do or activate--it should just work when you arrive.

Now, this is what I've read and been told--let's see if it actually works. If it does, it'll be nice to not to have to deal with buying a local sim card or phone.  For previous OZ visits, a relative would give me a spare or prepaid phone and that was great for local calls but not much good for keeping in touch with people in the US.
« Last Edit: December 13, 2014, 08:52:57 PM by dodojojo »

LifestyleDeflation

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Re: Cell phone for extended international travel
« Reply #3 on: December 13, 2014, 09:14:04 PM »
How tech savvy/easily frustrated is she? I am moderately savvy and rarely frustrated, and I love using Google voice with my smartphone to make and receive free calls. You can transfer her number to Google voice for $20, at which point she no longer needs ANY cell service if she doesn't mind finding Wi-Fi. She'll be able to make and receive calls from the US anywhere in the world she has Wi-Fi, and make international calls at good rates if that's important to her.

I don't know how it is for iPhone, but the reason I mention tech savviness and frustration is because Google hangouts (the app used to make calls) is new on Android, and it's still a bit funky.

NumberJohnny5

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Re: Cell phone for extended international travel
« Reply #4 on: December 13, 2014, 09:33:29 PM »
An iPhone is one of the better choices for compatibility overseas. I think you're covered pretty well there. Just make sure it's unlocked. Pop a T-Mobile sim in there, if it works, then you know it's unlocked.

Google Voice is a good way to keep your number regardless of where in the world you are. I admit, I have difficulty using it with Hangouts on my Android phone (full disclosure, in Australia at the moment...dunno if that's any part of the issue). I hear the iPhone version is much better.

Generally, getting a local sim is the way to go if you're going to be there more than a couple days. It can easily take a few hours each time though (find out where the nearest shop is, wait to find someone who can help you, then wait while they figure out how to enter your non-local details to make the sale); if you're hopping from country to country every few days, this may not be a viable option. Do note, if you're on a monthly plan, an international roaming bill can easily top many tens of thousands of dollars. Make sure your plan is rock-solid, or go prepay all the way.

ShortInSeattle

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Re: Cell phone for extended international travel
« Reply #5 on: December 13, 2014, 09:53:27 PM »
How about a Google Voice type forwarding service, with a locally purchased SIM when you land?

Daley

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Re: Cell phone for extended international travel
« Reply #6 on: December 13, 2014, 10:09:38 PM »
If any of you have any experience with obtaining and using a calling plan internationally (outside of AT&Ts international plans for US-based people), I would greatly appreciate any and all tips you can provide to help us get her set up. Thank you so much in advance for your suggestions and expertise.

Try Truphone, both the SIM and the VoIP service. Probably one of the cheapest (and easiest) solutions floated thus far short of getting local SIMs in each country, and they have excellent customer service.

UnleashHell

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Re: Cell phone for extended international travel
« Reply #7 on: December 14, 2014, 04:50:31 AM »
I just did two weeks in Europe (France, Belgium, Holland and England) and I used T-Mobile. The only charges I had were for calls made to international numbers. They no longer charge for roaming on their new contract (as opposed to the last one which cost a small fortune back in may).
If you are with/need a major carrier here then I'd pick T-Mobile. Otherwise I'd check out getting a local sim card.

dodojojo

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Re: Cell phone for extended international travel
« Reply #8 on: December 15, 2014, 11:37:53 AM »
I just did two weeks in Europe (France, Belgium, Holland and England) and I used T-Mobile. The only charges I had were for calls made to international numbers. They no longer charge for roaming on their new contract (as opposed to the last one which cost a small fortune back in may).
If you are with/need a major carrier here then I'd pick T-Mobile. Otherwise I'd check out getting a local sim card.

Unleash, really?  T-Mobile told me all calls made abroad, to US and non-US numbers would be charged at 20 cents a minute.  But your experience was that calls to US numbers weren't charged?  If that is true, then I may not worry about taking long calls from the US when I'm in Australia next week.  They did tell me that calls made on WIFI are free.  So I may have to be mindful to ensure my phone is on wifi over cell status when I'm close to free wifi service.

MrScottStache

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Re: Cell phone for extended international travel
« Reply #9 on: December 15, 2014, 12:50:17 PM »
T-Mobile. I did two weeks in Italy this past summer and had no additional charges.  I didn't make any calls so i'm not 100% sure off the charges but i've heard that it should be $.20/min, which is much better than the previous $.99/min.  Download speeds were fine for viewing maps and web searching.

GizmoTX

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Re: Cell phone for extended international travel
« Reply #10 on: December 15, 2014, 12:55:47 PM »
One additional factor in the OPs post that I don't think has been adequately addressed so far is the cost of maintaining a U.S. cell provider for a YEAR that won't be used except to preserve the U.S. cellphone number -- this is a minimum of $45*12=$540, not including any international plans. Since the iPhone is still under contract, I think paying this off well before the trip is a good idea.

Then I'd look into a service that doesn't charge a monthly fee but preserves the U.S. number. I haven't used Truphone, but I.P.Daley's link to it looks very promising. If the iPhone is used (for the Truphone sim card), it must be unlocked, which ATT should do for free once the contract is paid off. Google voice is another possibility for doing away with ATT service while out of the U.S. The U.S. phone number must be transferred to whatever service is chosen before turning off ATT.

We have never purchased cellular data while traveling; wifi is free for web access & iMessages on an iPhone or iPad. If someone wants to talk, sending a text message to return the call would let the traveler do it in a more cost effective way than keeping a cellular connection open to all callers. Generally speaking, if wifi is unavailable in a location, it's also unlikely to have cellular. Pre-checking all locations beforehand is a good idea.

acorn

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Re: Cell phone for extended international travel
« Reply #11 on: December 15, 2014, 01:03:19 PM »
Has anyone tried KnowRoaming? It's apparently a SIM sticker and app that detects when you're out of the country and switches you to the local network. It's targeted towards more frequent international travelers, but I'm not sure how well it works. Seems like it's similar to Truphone?

http://www.knowroaming.com/

UnleashHell

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Re: Cell phone for extended international travel
« Reply #12 on: December 15, 2014, 01:11:21 PM »
I just did two weeks in Europe (France, Belgium, Holland and England) and I used T-Mobile. The only charges I had were for calls made to international numbers. They no longer charge for roaming on their new contract (as opposed to the last one which cost a small fortune back in may).
If you are with/need a major carrier here then I'd pick T-Mobile. Otherwise I'd check out getting a local sim card.

Unleash, really?  T-Mobile told me all calls made abroad, to US and non-US numbers would be charged at 20 cents a minute.  But your experience was that calls to US numbers weren't charged?  If that is true, then I may not worry about taking long calls from the US when I'm in Australia next week.  They did tell me that calls made on WIFI are free.  So I may have to be mindful to ensure my phone is on wifi over cell status when I'm close to free wifi service.

The calls over wifi were free (I believe). Not sure I made any calls back to the USA while I was away so I canít clarify that. International referred to calls I made to European numbers while on my USA t-mobile phone. I was charged for some of those.
As for Contracts Ė Iím on a no contract deal at T-mobile so I can walk away when I want. As long as the phone is paid for (and my son has a smart phone that would easily do the job for under $100) then you can use it then finish with them.

iluvzbeach

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Re: Cell phone for extended international travel
« Reply #13 on: December 28, 2014, 05:27:40 AM »
Thank you for the ideas everyone. We're currently researching all options and hope one of your ideas will meet her needs.

benjenn

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Re: Cell phone for extended international travel
« Reply #14 on: December 28, 2014, 06:49:04 AM »
Our son is going to study abroad in New Zealand for the next year.  We just got him a Republic Wireless phone.  With their $5 plan, they offer unlimited talk, text and data via wifi only.  He can keep the same phone number he has here on his iPhone and he can call or text us and any of his friends back home for only $5 per month.  We paid $99 for the phone and there's no contract.  He's going to get his iPhone unlocked once his contract is cancelled and plans to use that to get a cell plan to use in New Zealand.  We are thrilled to pay only $5 to stay in touch with him and we can still Facetime using his Macbook.

Daley

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Re: Cell phone for extended international travel
« Reply #15 on: December 28, 2014, 07:30:17 AM »
Our son is going to study abroad in New Zealand for the next year.  We just got him a Republic Wireless phone.  With their $5 plan, they offer unlimited talk, text and data via wifi only.  He can keep the same phone number he has here on his iPhone and he can call or text us and any of his friends back home for only $5 per month.  We paid $99 for the phone and there's no contract.  He's going to get his iPhone unlocked once his contract is cancelled and plans to use that to get a cell plan to use in New Zealand.  We are thrilled to pay only $5 to stay in touch with him and we can still Facetime using his Macbook.

Don't be so quick to pat yourself on the back, because you just got ripped off. You could have done that with his existing iPhone for a fraction of the money you shelled out to Republic (both up front and monthly), and without generating even more electronic waste.

benjenn

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Re: Cell phone for extended international travel
« Reply #16 on: December 28, 2014, 07:36:01 AM »
We cancelled our AT&T account that was costing us $210 per month to go with two Republic Wireless phones - son's for $5 per month, DH's for $10 per month.  DH sold his iPhone for $300, which paid for the cancellation fee and the new phone. We'll be saving over $2,000 a year. and know for sure that we can communicate with son cheaply. So I will continue to pay myself on the back. :)

Daley

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Re: Cell phone for extended international travel
« Reply #17 on: December 28, 2014, 07:54:54 AM »
We cancelled our AT&T account that was costing us $210 per month to go with two Republic Wireless phones - son's for $5 per month, DH's for $10 per month.  DH sold his iPhone for $300, which paid for the cancellation fee and the new phone. We'll be saving over $2,000 a year. and know for sure that we can communicate with son cheaply. So I will continue to pay myself on the back. :)

And I'm telling you that I know for a fact that Republic isn't the cheapest option out there for VoIP or mobile phone use if you just sit down, do some basic math, and some minimal data discipline. It's apparently too late for you, but I suggest you read the guide anyway. Republic's not the all-fired fantastic deal you think it is, especially when you factor in the equipment and environmental costs of making the switch.

benjenn

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Re: Cell phone for extended international travel
« Reply #18 on: December 28, 2014, 08:07:56 AM »
I understand RW may not be the cheapest plan or the be all and end all but I'm still very happy with what we can do and how much we'll be saving.  And there's no way anyone can say that it's not way better than what we have been paying. I think all our forward progress in saving money and buying less is worth a few pats on the back versus staying where we were, don't you?

iluvzbeach

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Re: Cell phone for extended international travel
« Reply #19 on: December 28, 2014, 08:08:46 AM »
I.P. Daley, if you don't like what benjenn suggests, is there something else you'd recommend over that? Interested in any and all options that will allow her to stay in contact with friends and family while traveling abroad next year. Thanks.

Mustache MW

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Re: Cell phone for extended international travel
« Reply #20 on: December 28, 2014, 08:11:36 AM »
Our son is going to study abroad in New Zealand for the next year.  We just got him a Republic Wireless phone.  With their $5 plan, they offer unlimited talk, text and data via wifi only.  He can keep the same phone number he has here on his iPhone and he can call or text us and any of his friends back home for only $5 per month.  We paid $99 for the phone and there's no contract.  He's going to get his iPhone unlocked once his contract is cancelled and plans to use that to get a cell plan to use in New Zealand.  We are thrilled to pay only $5 to stay in touch with him and we can still Facetime using his Macbook.

This is what I would recommend. I'm currently in Brazil (from US) using my Republic Wireless phone on Wi-Fi to post this while paying at a rate of $5/month. I was here over Christmas and able to call and text friends and family in the states with no issues as long as the Wi-Fi was working.
I've also used it successfully in South Korea over Wi-Fi.

Once she makes friends in Italy (or wherever else she goes) she'll probably find they use a third party messing app like WhatsApp to communicate which just needs WiFi/data for texting (not sure specifically about Italy but it's huge in Brazil). Which means she could also use her Republic Wireless phone for this.

She could then unlock her iPhone to use with a local provider's SIM card in Italy to supplement her Republic phone.
Alternatively she could unlock and sell her iPhone on a site like gazelle.com then buy a cheap unlocked phone like the Nokia Lumia 530 to bring (I bought one of these at Walmart for $50 as a gift to someone in Brazil but it is still locked by tmobile so they can't use it here. I could have used it for 40 days in the US to meet tmobile's requirement to unlock it, but didnt realize this). Considering iPhones are sought after in foreign countries (and therefore targets for thieves in certain areas) it might be safer to have a lower end phone like this.

This has the added benefit of leaving her with a low cost provider recommended by MMM when she returns to the US!

Good luck!

Daley

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Re: Cell phone for extended international travel
« Reply #21 on: December 28, 2014, 08:18:29 AM »
I.P. Daley, if you don't like what benjenn suggests, is there something else you'd recommend over that? Interested in any and all options that will allow her to stay in contact with friends and family while traveling abroad next year. Thanks.

Already covered in detail in the guide and on Technical Meshugana... it's there in glorious living detail, you just have to read it. If you're still struggling from that point, ask and I shall answer. You'll also note that I already recommended TruPhone.

As for cheaper alternatives to VoIP-only service through a smartphone than Republic, three words: Google Voice/Hangouts. I'm a fan of paying for what you need and not going absolute cheapest bottom of the barrel, but if saving every penny matters more than quality of service, I'd still recommend Google over Republic.

Daley

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Re: Cell phone for extended international travel
« Reply #22 on: December 28, 2014, 08:20:13 AM »
I understand RW may not be the cheapest plan or the be all and end all but I'm still very happy with what we can do and how much we'll be saving.  And there's no way anyone can say that it's not way better than what we have been paying. I think all our forward progress in saving money and buying less is worth a few pats on the back versus staying where we were, don't you?

Just because certain financial bloggers recommend it doesn't mean the service or the company is actually in line with the values they espouse.

iluvzbeach

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Re: Cell phone for extended international travel
« Reply #23 on: December 28, 2014, 08:21:33 AM »
Thanks I.P. Daley. I'll read your guide. Cost is a consideration, but functional and not too difficult is most important. Again, thanks everyone for the suggestions.

Daley

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Re: Cell phone for extended international travel
« Reply #24 on: December 28, 2014, 08:26:18 AM »
Thanks I.P. Daley. I'll read your guide. Cost is a consideration, but functional and not too difficult is most important. Again, thanks everyone for the suggestions.

De nada. Just a word of caution going into reading it: I know that there's a propensity for some non-technical people to approach the guide and think it gets too technical to set up, but they're wrong... it's just part of a bit of initial information overload. It's a dense read. Let it soak in, and approach what you've learned calmly. As for the "complexity" of setup with any roll-your-own solution, just remember that my mother can do most everything recommended in this guide on her own. If my mom can do it, so can you. Don't let fear of the unknown psych you out and into paralyzed inaction.

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Re: Cell phone for extended international travel
« Reply #25 on: December 28, 2014, 08:55:33 AM »
I.P. Daley rules!!

Mustache MW

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Re: Cell phone for extended international travel
« Reply #26 on: December 28, 2014, 09:55:48 AM »
Great guide, I.P.!

I'm pretty happy with Republic at the moment because it was a good step away from the big four for me and I think it's in a good spot on the engineering triangle (mech e here) for the somewhat lazy.

That being said, I'm definitely going to reevaluate my communications situation in 2015, particularly the VoIP aspect since my girlfriend's family lives in Brazil but we're in the US.

Thanks for this awesome and comprehensive guide!

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Re: Cell phone for extended international travel
« Reply #27 on: December 28, 2014, 10:08:51 AM »
I might still be in the dark ages but I've taken a couple long trips in my life (20 months & 3 months).  Both times I got by with wifi & skype.  Way cheaper than maintaining a phone.

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Re: Cell phone for extended international travel
« Reply #28 on: December 28, 2014, 09:08:28 PM »
Thanks I.P. Daley. I'll read your guide. Cost is a consideration, but functional and not too difficult is most important. Again, thanks everyone for the suggestions.

T-mobile is the way to go. I travel a lot internationally and use their free data and text SimpleChoice plan. It's a 3G network instead of 4G/LTE and sometimes they send me text messages asking if I want to upgrade to the country's 4G network (was someplace without wifi, so was using a lot of their 3G), but it really is a fantastic deal if you don't mind the slightly slower speeds.

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Re: Cell phone for extended international travel
« Reply #29 on: December 29, 2014, 04:13:30 PM »
I think there's such a thing as over-optimizing.

I love Google Voice. It just doesn't work correctly on my android phones in Australia. It worked GREAT when I could use third-party apps like GrooveIP. I do have multiple NAT going on, so that could be part of the issue (main phone is assigned a private IP so that's at least one layer of NAT, then it's connected to a router so that's at least another layer of NAT). Regardless, I can fire up Skype and it just works, every time, every device. I'm not willing to pay the $5/mo, so when we make a call I fire up the laptop and hand it over to my wife to use as a speakerphone (while we have issues with Hangouts, calling from gmail in the browser works 80% or so). But why chastise someone who DOES want to pay the $5/mo? Does it work (I'm assuming yes)? Does it save lots of money (over previous arrangements, yes)? I say, let them keep using it. Who knows, once they're used to how awesome their $5/mo wifi calling plan is, they'll try something even more different (and cheaper!).