Confessions of an On-the-Road Overseas Caller - Six Tips to Know Before You Go

By Peter Bernstein June 21, 2012

As someone who had been an employee of companies large and small, as well as a sole practitioner entrepreneur, watching my communications cost while I travel is second nature. When I travel out of country, it’s a huge concern. I will admit to being frugal, but reality is avoiding bill post-trip bill shock, especially given a desire to stay in touch with family and friends via voice or now video when in a foreign country, is what has driven my search for always communicating the least expensive way possible. 

Plus, one can only hope that when you are in-country you already are attuned as to how to find a Wi-Fi hot spot (paid, free or free because of your subscription to a service providers that is busy every day increasing the number of account accessible hot spots) so that you are not eating into your cellular data plan. Of course, you may have a company-supplier cellular transceiver for your PC, in which case by all means take advantage of it, particularly if your hotel is charging you to use the Internet. 

Now to communicating while overseas, and for when you are not in a hotel and connect to the Internet and thus take advantage of Skype and similar services to stay in touch and/or entertained. While there are lots of tricks of the trade I can advise to those with similar inclinations as mine about keeping costs low, there are six I would like to share that can save you a whole lot of anger later.

This is about being smart and not just miserly. There is no reason for example to get hit with a $1,000 roaming fee for downloading movies to your iPad or even iPhone or Android device, since such indulgence eats up data plans as if they were toilet paper.

1) Get a world phone

A world phone works in most countries in the world since most countries’ 3G cellular networks are based on the GSM standard. You need this phone:  a) because phones based on CDMA technology will not work in most places, and b) you need a phone that will accept a local SIM card. There are numerous companies that will be more than happy to supply you with such a phone, or you can get a used one on eBay, along with SIM cards and pre-paid calling cards and capabilities to go with it.

Why do you need a local SIM card? Because you wish to be making calls, even to the 800 numbers of pre-paid calling card companies, at local and not international roaming rates. 

2) Make sure it has Wi-Fi

Almost all new phones have Wi-Fi connectivity, and make sure yours does. In fact, step up to a device that has Wi-Fi and is a smartphone:

  • Download, if nothing else, a VoIP app. Why use any cellular minutes or parts of a data plan, local or international, unless absolutely necessary?
  • Have a Skype, Google Chart or similar account. Make sure so do family and friends and you have exchanged contact information. The voice quality even though it is going over the Internet is quite good and getting better, and there is no substitute for the occasional video call.  

It should be noted that despite what other people may advise, by all means bring your current phone. There are two big reasons. First, when you arrive back home you are going to want it. Second, even if it does not take a SIM card, or especially if it does, it not only has Wi-Fi capability but it has all of your apps. 

3) Turn off text messaging and use e-mail

Guess what? You get charged for text messages and the bill can quickly add up. It also eats up battery time. In fact, figure out how to turn off all of your services that actively interact with the network, especially those that provide notifications. I will even go a step further and recommend you have apps like Juice Defender on the phone you use in-country on a regular basis. 

 Service providers hate to tell you that text messaging can be turned off and back on when you return home because it means they are not optimizing your trip from their perspective. In a word, insist. 

4) Get pre-paid calling cards

 Yes you now have Wi-Fi, but what about when you do not, or are in a place where Internet Café rates are expensive (most places in the world) and all you want to do is make a call and check your voice mailboxes? International pre-paid cards have absolutely the lowest rates and in virtually every country in the world you can call either a toll-free number or use that local SIM card phone to make a local call to connect. This again will save huge amounts of money without inconveniencing you.

5) Using your PC for calling

This is a great idea if you brought it with you. Just make sure you understand how to use the embedded camera and its software if you are not familiar, and invest in a great headset with a good microphone. 

6) For the really misery try international callback

You may have heard of this capability, there are companies out there that when you call on your cell phone from overseas, it captures the number and has the called party call you back so you are not hit with roaming charges.

Resources to check out

Not all of the above to be fair is based on anecdotal experience, although much of it is. My best advice is to check out Transitions Abroad. This site offers a myriad of advice, and more importantly links to things like:

  • Global internet café directories
  • Internet/Wi-Fi access and computer connectivity options
  • Lists of free Wi-Fi hotspots
  • Dial-up information for when Wi-Fi and Ethernet connections are not available
  • Guides for worldwide access to everything from radio stations to news sources
  • An extensive list of companies that can help you get your phone, SIM cards, etc.

Safe travels

The long and the short of this is that staying connected anywhere in the world can be inexpensive if you are smart about it before you go. Communication costs should be viewed as being like paying taxes, i.e., we all have to pay them but have no obligation to pay any more than we owe and we should mitigate those costs at all cost. The nice thing is that connectivity and performance do not have to be sacrificed if you really are wise in planning ahead about what you will need in terms of devices and services, and know all of your contact info and personal interaction requirements. 

Finally, for those of you who can’t live without your local sports or need to watch that favorite TV show while you are overseas, get slingbox. Enjoy the show and safe travels.


Want to learn more about today’s powerful mobile ecosystem? Then be sure to attend the
Mobility Tech Conference & Expo, collocated with ITEXPO West 2012 taking place Oct. 2-5 2012, in Austin, TX. Co-sponsored by TMC Partner Crossfire Media the Mobility Tech Conference & Expo provides unmatched networking opportunities and a robust conference program representing the mobile ecosystem. The conference not only brings together the best and brightest in the wireless industry, it actually spans the communications and technology industry. For more information on registering for the Mobility Tech Conference & Expo click here.

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Edited by Braden Becker
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