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International Cell Phone Guide

Renting a Cell Phone
airport mall shop shopping travelLast-minute travel purchases often take place in airport malls. If you've forgotten a book, a snack or a pair of pants, you're likely to find a replacement at any large airport. The same goes for international cell phones -- the forgetful caller can rent a phone at airports around the world from companies like TripTel.

Cell phones can also be rented online at sites such CellularAbroad.com, Phonerental.com or TravelCell.com. The company mails you a phone, and your rental includes a return shipping label so you can return the phone after your trip.

The phone you'll receive will be a local phone, good for making calls in the country in which you are traveling. However, if you are spending more than a week or two in one destination overseas, you may save money by purchasing a local phone and subscribing to a local phone plan, as rates for renting a phone can quickly surpass the cost of a cheap cell phone in a few weeks. Also, domestic calling rates for rental phones are significantly higher than rates offered by local cell phone service providers.

Rates for rental phones are typically twofold; renters pay a daily, weekly or monthly fee for the cell phone rental and an additional fee for calling minutes. This means that even if you're not using your phone, you can still be charged the minimum fee for the rental unit. Some rental phone plans have higher rates for calls outside the country, and some don't -- compare plans to see which is best for you. Incoming calls on rental phones are your cheapest option, as rates tend to be lower than for outgoing calls; if you are using your rental phone to call home, have your friends and family call you at a designated time and you will save some cash.

Renting a cell phone is best if you're making a lot of calls but not going on a lot of trips. On a single trip where you make just one or two calls, you may end up paying more for the actual cell phone rental than for the calling minutes; in this case, skip the cell phone altogether and use an international phone card.

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Pros:
  • If you've made no other arrangements for your international calls, grab a phone rental at an airport and you'll avoid the high costs of calling from a hotel room.

  • If your usual cell phone won't work overseas and you're an infrequent traveler, you save money by renting a phone instead of buying one.

    Cons:
  • Beware of hidden charges. Minimum minute stipulations, charges for incoming calls or steep roaming rates may apply to your rental. Always make sure you read and understand the fine print.

  • To avoid steep charges if you lose a rental phone, you may want to purchase rental insurance at an additional cost.

    Using Your Own Phone with an International SIM Card
    A similar option to purchasing a phone abroad is to purchase a Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card to use in your own cell phone while you're traveling internationally. A SIM card is the part of a cell phone that holds the identity information and other personal data; if you switch your own SIM card for one that you purchase in another country, you can have all the benefits of a local phone (such as low in-country calling rates and a local phone number) without having to buy a whole new phone.

    cell phone woman girl coffee table sidewalk cafe cityYou can also purchase an international SIM card that can be used in many different countries. This is a good bet for multi-country trips or for travelers who travel regularly to many different regions around the world. However, the option of replacing the SIM card is only available on unlocked GSM phones. Ask your phone company if your phone's SIM card can be unlocked.

    You can purchase prepaid international and country-specific SIM cards from Web sites such as Telestial or MAXROAM. As always, you'll want to do some comparison shopping before you purchase to find the best rates for the country or countries you'll be visiting.

    Pros:
  • Rather than buying a whole new phone, you can simply buy a SIM card for your existing phone -- which is cheaper and takes up less space in your luggage.

  • You'll enjoy low local rates for calls within whatever country you're visiting.

    Cons:
  • It may be very expensive to call the United States.

  • This option isn't available to travelers with phones that are locked or don't operate on the GSM network.

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    --written by Caroline Costello

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