Cell Phones: Managing the Short End of the Stick
If you’re contemplating an extended overseas adventure, then you’ve probably already asked yourself:
What will I do with my phone?
Before we give either cut-to-the-chase advice or our reasoning, let us be extremely clear about our assumptions in this segment:
- Your overseas adventure is long. By long we mean three months or greater.
- Your adventure will encompass more than just continental Europe. You will spend time in Asia, South America, Africa, or Australia.
- You are clear with yourself about how much calling you need to do*.
- You can (or have already) weaned yourself and your friends and loved ones from moment-by-moment texting or social media posts.
- By “phone” we mean either a land line or, more likely, a mobile device that handles voice and data.
Here’s what we did. Here’s our cut-to-the-chase advice:
- Paid the phone company to forward our land line (the office and home phone) to our cell phone number. Yes, that incurred a small fee, less than $10/month.
- Cancelled the phone and internet service to the home and office (After taking Step 1.).
- Transferred our cell phone numbers to Google Voice. That ensured that all calls, office, home or mobile, reached a reliable voice mail that is Internet accessible everywhere on the planet that Google isn’t blocked (In China, for example, all bets are off.).
- Canceled our cell phone contracts. Paid off the ones that required payment.
- Went through the phone unlocking process and bought unlocked (network independent) phones.
- Bought voice callout time from an Internet service like Skype or Google Voice.
- Received and replied to e-mail using our Wi-Fi enabled mobile device while at our hotel or at an Internet café. (Some of those e-mails tell us if we have a voice message.)
- Made our calls and dealt with our voicemail using the voice-over-Internet service (Skype or Google Voice) from our Wi-Fi enabled mobile device while at our hotel or at an Internet café.
- Texted our texts using the voice-over-Internet service (Skype or Google Voice) from our Wi-Fi enabled mobile device while at our hotel or at an Internet café.
Here are two things we haven’t done, but might be right for us at any time. They could be right for you, too.
- Buy a local SIM card for our cell phones for making in-country calls while on the move.
- Buy combined voice and data plans in the countries where you expect a) to be part of the telecommunications grid and b) expect to stay awhile.
Why is this somewhat complex recipe our cut-to-the-chase advice?
Reason #1: Any US cell carriers that claim to have international roaming servie will extend you that service for only two weeks to three months, depending on the carrier. After the roaming period is over, they will cut off your international service. Your line goes dead. The international roaming plans are only intended for short trips. Otherwise carriers loose too much money.
Reason #2: This advice is low cost and gives you the freedom increase services as you need them, where you need them.
Reason #3: Google Voice (or something similar) captures your incoming data, which is one of the most critical elements of telephone service.
Reason #4: This advice keeps your land line numbers, in case you want the same numbers when you return.
Reason #5: Wi-Fi Internet service is increasingly common on the most commonly traveled routes. Hotels of all stripes have figured out that travelers will pick a place with Wi-Fi over a place without, so they are all getting it.
Reason #6: Voice quality over the Internet has risen significantly.
One caution: depending on the service you use for outgoing calls, you need to tell anyone who screens their incoming calls via caller ID that your calls will not be coming from your regular number, and that your number may not be predictable. (This is not an issue with every service, but you need to check.)
Over the ether,
*Do you need to keep a business open? I did. Did you need to call your mom once a month? I did.
Buying a local phone and SIM card to use overseas has worked for me for years. You can optimize your plan to get the right balance of local vs. international, but it’s almost always easier to dial _out_ of a country than it is to dial into one.
I am also a proponent of Internet Voice over IP. If the infrastructure is there and reliable, use it!