Saturday, June 13, 2009

Using your mobile phone overseas

If you are an international globetrotter the best thing you can do when getting a new phone is to make sure it is a “quad-band” phone, so that it will work anywhere in the world. The “band” part of this refers to the radio frequencies used by the phone to connect to the local network and the “quad”, of course, means that the world has been unable to agree on a single standard.

A quad-band phone needn't cost any more than any other, but you do need to check when making the purchase. Reasonable phones are “tri-band”, which are quite broad in their usable areas (pretty much all of the world except Japan and South Korea), but as the quad-band phones are available if you look for them I really wouldn't take anything else.

If you want to find out about your existing phone, check the manufacturer's website for the technical specs for the phone... the guy/girl at the phone shop may not know what the heck you are talking about.

Note particularly that a cellphone purchased in North America may only work in the Americas unless you have made particular efforts to buy something more capable. I would suggest that, if it does not specifically mention tri-band, quad-band or something similar on the packaging then it is probably an “Americas-only” phone.

The next thing to do, once you've checked that your phone has tri-band or quad-band capability, is contact your mobile phone service provider and get them to turn on “global roaming” for your phone. As international phone calls generally cost quite a bit more than local calls the mobile phone service providers may have the global roaming facility (the ability to make/receive calls while in another country) turned off by default. If in doubt, give them a call on their customer service number and ask them.

On the point of money, it is worth a word of warning here... phone call rates are much more expensive when travelling internationally, even for incoming calls where you may well be charged for the international portion of the call. Data costs, for those of you that can't leave the internet alone, can also be high through your phone. Again, check with your phone service provider for details and don't get caught by surprise by a phone bill resembling the defence budget of a small country.

SMS messaging is a cost effective way of staying in touch when overseas although again your phone service provider will most likely charge you more for an international SMS than one sent in your own country. Cheaper than a phone call though. Again, check the cost with your service provider.

In my last post, on the “In Case of Emergency” phone number idea, I mentioned including numbers in an “international” format. One of the great things about mobile phones, when travelling, is that you do not have to remember the international access code just to dial another country. For example, from a home phone in Australia you must precede any call by 0011 just to get an “outside line” to the world. For a mobile, however, putting a “+” at the start of the number is enough to tell the phone to use whatever number is required to dial internationally. You need never know or care. And, just because you have preceded every number in your contacts list with a “+” does not mean that you will be charged international rates when in your own country... the phone will only dial internationally if you are in another country.

So, for a budding traveller, all numbers in your contact list could be in the “international” format.

Love them or hate them, mobile phones work really well in most other countries (with a few exceptions, which we'll discuss another time). Just beware the cost, and save it for the important stuff only.

MyRedFlare allows control of our Sarwatch system using SMS messaging while travelling internationally. See

SMS and Sarwatch
for details.

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