Travel Planning/Travel Tips- Calling the U.S. while traveling abroad
Be prepared before you call home from abroad if you want to avoid unnecessary expense and frustration.
Rule 1. Never call a number in the U.S. directly from a hotel. Many travelers make the mistake of calling home from their room, only to find out that their brief “We’re OK” call resulted in a $20 to $30 charge on their hotel bill. If you are tempted to place a direct call from your hotel, avoid unpleasant surprises, and call the hotel’s operator to find out the surcharge before you call home.
Local Calling Cards. One of the less expensive ways to call the U.S. from abroad is to purchase a local calling card, usually available at a news or tobacco shop. The cards are normally offered by the national phone company of the country and provide good value.
Problems with the use of local calling cards are that you need to understand how to operate the phone and how to connect with long distance services.
We find local calling cards a “must have” during vacations in international destinations and use them to call home, as well as to make local and long distance calls wherever we are traveling. We buy a card with the equivalent of a $20 value and buy another if needed.
The card works as follows:
Some hotels place surcharges on calls to “800” numbers or their equivalents, so check to see if the hotel adds a surcharge to any calls that you might make to access your carrier’s service.
We often use these types of cards when traveling since they connect you to a reliable, long distance service available in English.
Another downside of the cards is that there is a surcharge if you use them from payphones.
If you are interested in this option, enter “Call Back services” in your favorite Internet search engine and you will find numerous companies who provide service plans that might meet your needs.
International cell phone rentals.If you want flexibility and are willing to pay the price, consider renting an international cell phone from one of the many vendors who provide this service (enter “international cell phone rental” in your favorite search engine). Rentals of this sort are more expensive that using calling cards but cost about the same as using your own cell phone.
The advantage of a cell phone rental is that you will have one contact phone number for the duration of your trip (regardless of how many countries you visit).
Usually the rental will include a package of minutes (from 30 to 250) with the prices of a minute decreasing as the number of minutes purchased increase. It is important to note that most companies base the cost of any additional minutes you use on the price of the minutes included in the original package.
The cost of minutes also varies by geography and countries are collected into “zones” where all calls are the same cost. For example, most European countries are included in a single zone and all calls to you or from you anywhere in Europe are charged at the same rate. If you call a country in another zone, the price per minute is higher than an in-zone call, so check the countries included in the zones offered by the provider you choose.
Depending on the plan you select, you should be prepared to pay from $1.50 to $3.00 per minute for calls within a specific geographical zone and more for calls to countries in other zones.
If you are going to travel in remote destinations, you should consider renting a satellite phone, as other wireless services will likely be unavailable; of course, the prices for minutes on satellite phone systems are unbelievable.
Information about you and your user account is kept on a SIM card (Subscriber Identity Module), a removable computer chip inside your phone (usually underneath the battery) that keeps track of your phone number and the services covered by your existing carrier contract.
Using your cell phone while traveling internationally (if it is capable of international service and appropriately provisioned) can be very handy but relatively expensive, with rates running $1 to $3 per minute. (T-Mobile has extremely competitive rates but its service area in the US is somewhat limited)
Summary:We have covered many options for "phoning home" from abroad but recommend buying a local phone card as the most economical and flexible solution for most travelers. Calling cards issued by a large national carrier that can be used abroad, however, are very handy and user friendly.
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