Cell phones and SIM cards

17 Mar

To get ready for my trip, I subscribed to Frommer’s podcasts. I was particularly interested in one on tech tools, because I want to be able to blog, upload photos, send email, etc. from my trip. I was disappointed when the podcast was actually about using your cell phone abroad, until, that is, I realized that my cheapo Motorola V551 is a quad-band phone, meaning I can use it anywhere in the world (except maybe Japan–I think they’re on a different frequency). AND, when I switch to another carrier (which I’m going to do when my contract is up), I can keep this phone and just buy SIM cards to use it in different countries. Perfecto.

So if you’re looking to use your cell phone in Europe (or another country), here’s how to do it:
1. What’s the frequency? First off, check to make sure your phone is compatible with the cell system of the country you’re going to. You can use GSM phones in 205 countries (all Cingular phones are GSM). Most foreign countries use 900/1900 frequencies, but the US uses 850/1800. Quad-band phones work on all four frequencies. So how do you know if your phone will work? Log into your cell phone account online and check the specs for your phone. Alternately, go to the manufacturer’s site.
The little quad-band phone that could.

So you have a quad-band phone. Awesome. That’ll save you from buying an unlocked phone on eBay or through Telestial or some other service. BUT, make sure your charger is multi-voltage. Mine says 110-240 v, 50-60 Hz on it, which means I shouldn’t have any problems in Paris or London. Knock wood.

2. Unlock your phone. Call your cell-phone provider to unlock your phone. For Cingular, you want a subsidy unlock code. It’ll take 5-7 days for them to get you the code, which they’ll send either by text or email.
3. Get a SIM card. Telestial.com is a great source of information and foreign SIM cards. As explained on the podcast, their cards all come with English language instructions, and they offer English-language support. You can also buy SIM cards from eBay or at a tobacco shop (are they still called that?) in the country you’re going to. I want to use one card in both France and England, so I needed international roaming, which Telestial’s UK card doesn’t offer. So I went with the French card, through Orange, for $59. C’est un peu cher. Fortunately, I found a promo code for 10% off (SLOWTRAV, if you want to use it) AND they gave me a discount on an international power adapter, so I’m saving $10 off the Brookstone price. Not so bad.
4. Set it up. Since I haven’t actually done this part yet, I can’t really offer much advice. But the instructions on Telestial’s site seem pretty straightforward. I’ll update this post later once I get the information.


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