Then you know how valuable a cell phone can be when traveling outside the United States.
- There's still time to bulk up meager retirement savings
- Phoning home? Plan ahead before heading overseas
- Tax issues turn tables on investing strategies
- The savings game
- The Leckey file
- Getting started
- Spending smart
- Can they do that
- Taking stock
- Asset drift can be a threat to any retirement nest egg
- The week ahead
But be forewarned.
The charges to use your own cell phone can quietly mount faster than the tab at a hotel mini-bar.
"I've had people call me with four-figure bills from their phone company," said David Rowell, head of the Travel Insider Web site (www.thetravelinsider.info). "They think, `I've got minutes,' because they have unlimited minutes at home, and they are using their regular phone number. It doesn't work that way."
Confusion over travel and cell phones is understandable given the different technologies and policies of the major providers. And it doesn't help that when it comes to international service, phone company Web pages are sometimes as easy to comprehend as prescription drug inserts.
But you do have options when traveling with a cell phone abroad. And some can save you a considerable amount of money.
A lot depends on which type of cell network your home provider is using. Unlike most places in the world, the U.S. has two: GSM (global system for mobile communications) and CDMA (code division multiple access).
If you're an AT&T or T-Mobile cellular customer, you're on GSM. If you use Sprint or Verizon, you're on CDMA. CDMA phones work in about 25 countries, mostly in the Western Hemisphere.
Much more worldly is GSM: More than 200 countries use this type of cell network.
You'd think that would be good news for AT&T and T-Mobile subscribers. And it is, as long as they don't cross an ocean.
In North America and much of South America, GSM phones from U.S. providers work just fine. But the GSM networks in most of the rest of the world operate on different frequency bands. In much of Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia, our standard GSM phones won't work.
But an increasing number of GSM phones sold in the U.S. come with both domestic and foreign frequency bands. If you obtained your phone in the last year or so, it might already have this dual access.
To check whether your phone will work in the country you're headed for, try looking it up on your mobile provider's Web site. If you can't find its international service information or make sense of it, call customer service.
But some countries don't have compatible service. Chief among those is Japan, for which you can rent or buy a phone either in that country or through travel phone Web sites. One of the best known is San Diego-based Telestial, at www.telestial.com.
Armed with your international GSM or hybrid phone, you have two basic choices.
The first is to just toss it in your bag and use it as if you were in the U.S. You even use your regular phone number. This is probably fine if you'll be on the phone for only a few short calls. That's because the rates are high--usually $1 to $5 a minute.
And the charges apply to both outgoing and incoming calls.