T-Mobile’s International Roaming Plan

Relying on T-Mobile…up to a Point

Typically, when I travel, I travel with 2 phones, my T-Mobile phone with a US plan and a European phone. I also travel with a MiFi hotspot, mostly so I can use my MacBook but also just in case someone else that I am traveling with needs Wi Fi. The main reason for this hardware is that for me, being connected while I travel internationally is extremely important as I need to attend to business. In fact, without a phone and a computer, I would be forced to take very brief trips or at the very least, head back to the hotel or apartment to get on my laptop. Hence, having a secondary back up phone is vital. I have been in a situation once before that my phone went kaput and to purchase an exact replacement of that phone cost in excess of $1000 (cell phones tend to cost more internationally than in the US).
Another reason is that many of my friends and family in Europe have my international number. If I reached out to them with a different number, most of them would ignore the call as they wouldn’t recognize the number.
Up until this trip, I have been very satisfied with roaming with T-Mobile. In fact, even though T-Mobile has advertised unlimited data (but only 2G when you read the fine print), I have found that I have almost always gotten at least 3G speeds. If you are not familiar with 2G speeds, 2G is ok for emails but can be extremely frustrating when browsing websites due to the length of time it takes the pages to load and nearly impossible to do tasks such as use Google Maps. This trip however, I was getting 2G which is (sort of) OK for emails but definitely not enough for what I need to do. I knew about T-Mobile’s offer of adding 1GB for $20 (up to 10 days) and, even though I had my MiFi hotspot, I decided to try out this offer…so that I could then write about it. This is my experience.

T-Mobile’s Shortcoming

The first few days that I arrived in Italy, besides the slow speeds, everything worked including phone calls (although I forward my calls to voice message to avoid the fees, as T-Mobile charges for calls) and text messaging. Then all of a sudden, I could only receive text but could not send them. Although I typically use Skype to make calls from my cell, I just wanted to see if the T-Mobile service worked. It didn’t. So, I called customer service, told them what was happening and had them add the 1GB of 3G data. They had me turn off the phone and told me to wait a few minutes and they would not only fix the issues that I was having but would also add the faster data speeds. When I turned on the phone, nothing worked – not even the data which up until that point, had been working at the 2G speeds. So I called again. They had me turn off the phone while they were doing some provisioning in the system. That happened about 4-5 times in the span of 3 days. Since I was (supposedly) on vacation and decided to use my back up phone, I was not as proactive as I would have been if I did not have a back up plan. Quite honestly, answering the same security questions over and over again being assured that if I turned off the phone while they changed a setting was just not worth the pain since I did have a plan B. However, since my T-Mobile phone is better than my plan B phone, I decided to slightly alter my tactic and speak to a US based technician, and not just the regular customer service, during regular business hours. I informed him of the problem, of my past conversations and after a few minutes, he assured me that he would be able to resolve the issue. I asked him to tell me what he thought the issue was for future reference and he stated that instead of turning roaming on, the previous reps kept turning it off and turned international calling on (which is the feature used to make calls to international numbers from the US).

Bottom Line

The bottom line is that this snafu can happen to anyone (and indeed, the same thing happened to me 2 years ago as well) and is, perhaps with a certain degree of frustration, resolvable. What is not resolvable is that now T-Mobile has learned to throttle their data speeds internationally (meaning, they can control if the speeds are 2G or faster). This of course is big business for them because while the “free international data” offering hooks people, a large percentage of people opt for a more usable solution…for a price.

My Recommendation

I bought my phone directly from the manufacturer when it first came out, paid cash, up front. Most T-Mobile customers do not do that. That means that their phones are locked. With my phone, since it’s unlocked, I can just put in a Cellular Abroad International Data SIM. This SIM offers 9GB of high speed data and also the ability to make calls.

If your phone is not unlocked or you are traveling with another person and/or you have multiple devices like I have, such as a laptop or a tablet, a Wi Fi mobile hotspot is really a great, affordable and easy to use solution. If you are not aware of what a mobile hotspot is, I encourage you to find out as this is fast becoming the product of choice for the international traveler who needs to stay connected overseas.

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…And the Best Cellular Carrier is….

We at Cellular Abroad, as experts in international cellular service, are often asked by our customers (and some have been with us since our humble begins in 2002) to point them in the right direction regarding what cellular carrier is the best to use in the United States. The easy answer is…it depends. That’s because without gathering additional information, giving a solid recommendation is impossible. Here is a simple analogy explaining why. Imagine if someone asks you for your recommendation on what vehicle to purchase. You might tell them that you like Ferrari’s. And then you find out, their budget is around $70,000. So then you might tell them to consider a Tesla, to which they respond that they drive long distances and that wouldn’t be ideal because they may ran out of battery, to which you may then tell them to consider an Audi. And then you find out they have 5 kids, and that they live in the country where the roads are muddy. Given all of these factors, you will probably reconsider your original recommendation – perhaps now suggesting to by a Jeep! The point is, just like we have unique needs for a car, many of us have similar needs for cellular service.

Here is a short list of considerations:

Which carrier has the best coverage?

No carrier on the planet can guarantee 100% coverage. It does not exist. Just because Verizon “works” in New York City doesn’t mean that it necessarily works where you live or work or the places you go.

The only way to know for sure if there is service where you are or where you will be is to try it out. No coverage map can tell you 100% that there will be a good signal where you are. If you’ve been to New York City, you probably know this. So how do you find out?
Legally, carriers have to give you an “out” to your contract within a specific timeframe. That means that you could sign up, try it out for a day and then pull out of your contract. There are probably better approaches than signing up with AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile just to find out which carrier works the best. Probably the easiest is to ask your friends who their carrier is when they are at your house or office and find out from them how good the reception is. Please remember that “best” doesn’t mean perfect. It simply means that for you and your personal needs, there is coverage where you typically use the phone.

One more tip about this.

If you look at a coverage map and compare coverage, you will see that indeed Verizon does have a better “footprint,” specifically for more rural areas. Again, how often does that impact your? If you are a traveling salesman and you DO often go to rural places, then perhaps Verizon is your best bet. Having said that, Verizon uses CDMA which has arguably inferior sound quality. Here is an analogy. If you are in a rural setting, you may notice that you get a lot more AM radio stations than FM. AM radio waves are larger and more pervasive but, they do not have the same quality of stereo sound as FM radio. This is similar with CDMA in comparison to GSM – which is what T-Mobile and AT&T use.

Do you use lot and lots of data?

Most carriers offer “unlimited data.” On the service, that should level the playing field – at least regarding data – but the reality is that in the wireless industry there is a concept called Fair Usage. Fair usage, at the end of the day, means that there is a limit. Almost all carriers have a Fair Usage Policy.

Still, the vast majority of people are not effected by these limits. The exceptions are probably gamers, bloggers, Uber and Lyft drivers and those who upload videos for whatever reason. This article has a table showing the real limits of data Best Individual and Family Cell Phone Plans

Do you make and receive a lot of calls?

Most carriers offer “unlimited calling.” Here too there are usually fair usage policies. While the usage limits tend to be high and typically this won’t effect you, you may not be the typical user. And what if you rarely use your phone? Why should you be paying for unlimited cellular service when you need an emergency phone? It’s like paying for a buffet and having just a slice of pie.

Are you a senior citizen?

Some carriers offer discounts to senior citizens. Often they do not even make you aware that they do but, if you are a senior citizen and you get this free perk, why not take advantage of it? In fact, some carriers have great deals for senior citizens yet they hardly advertise them. Even if you do not intend to switch, if you are a senior citizen, you should find out from your carrier what they have to offer.

Do you mind using an off brand?

We’ve all heard about Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint but, there are literally dozens of other brands out there in the market. Of course, why choose a little known brand since their coverage must be terrible, right? Wrong! These smaller carriers actually use the same towers as AT&T et al and hence, the coverage is exactly the same. In fact, if coverage is an issue for your, there are even a few of these carriers that use several carriers and therefore, their coverage is even better than the Big Four.

So, how do you find out about all the different offers and deals…and what carrier gives you the best deal for ditching your carrier?

Read this excellent article from our friends at Fomopop on the Best Individual and Family Cell Phone Plans where you will find comparison charts addressing just exactly what the different carriers offer.

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How to Make International Calls (almost) for Free

How to make International calls (almost) for free

As many of our regular customers already know, Cellular Abroad has highly recommended a calling and text app called WhatsApp for several years now. While used by 1 Billion users worldwide, WhatsApp has still not penetrated the market very much in the United States or Canada. In fact, according to Statista, an online statistics portal that follows consumer trends, only 16% of US cell phone owners use this app whereas in Germany over 60% of users have downloaded this app. So what exactly is so special about WhatsApp? WhatsApp is a FREE app that you can download on your smartphone and call, text, and send pictures and videos to anyone worldwide for free using data. By data we mean either Wi Fi, for example the free Wi Fi you get when you go to a Starbucks or the mobile data from the cell phone towers when you are away from home….or a Starbucks!

For travelers, this is great news because the most expensive calls and texts are typically international ones back home.

How Do I get WhatsApp?

You can download WhatsApp on your Android, Apple or Windows phone simply by following this link from the WhatsApp website or by going to Google Play if your phone uses an Android operating system or the iTunes store if your phone is an iPhone. If you have never downloaded or used an app, we realize that this might sound difficult or even intimidating but, the efforts of doing so are definitely worth it. If you have never downloaded and app, here is our recommendation. To download the app, have a friend, family member or someone from a cell phone store help you download the app. Once you have the app on your phone, you will not have to download it again. You can have someone show you the basics of how to use the app or, you can read this “how to” in order to learn how to download and use WhatsApp like a pro.

Is There Anything Else I Should Know?

We must admit, telling our customers about an app about how to make free international cell phone calls and texts when Cellular Abroad offers solutions to make international calls and texts must seem counter intuitive – and in many ways, it is as we will certainly lose revenue with many customer. In fact, if you could rely exclusively on free Wi Fi, you will never need to use Cellular Abroad or Verizon, AT&T or anyone else for that matter again. Having said that, until Wi Fi, especially international Wi Fi, is convenient enough to completely drop service that relies on an cell phone towers, most international travelers will agree that best option is to find an affordable data solution – which we have – but first, here is something else you should know.

Keep in mind that the other party needs to have downloaded WhatsApp on their smartphone as well in order to be able to communicate with them. Chances are, your overseas contacts have already done this but in the United States and Canada, you may have to send them a copy of this article. In addition, if you are trying to contact a restaurant or a hotel, this app will not help you as the app only works on cell phones. To call landlines or friends and family that do not have WhatsApp, we recommend you use an other app that many of you are already familiar with which is, Skype. When speaking with Cellular Abroad customers, many travelers assume that Skype only allows users to make free calls from computer to computer (or from smartphone to smartphone). This is not the case. You can call any number with Skype. The caveat is that you have to pay a few pennies per minute in order to do so. So, our recommendation is that along with downloading WhatsApp, you may also want to download Skype.

Conclusion

In a few years, all phone calls will be transmitted over the internet. The fact that your phone number “happens” to start with a 212 or a 310 area code or that the country code starts with a 1 will be about as relevant as your license plate number starting with a 7 as opposed to a 2. Your phone number will be like your personal ID and, in terms of cost, whether you call next door or to China will be the same thing in terms of cost. For now, you can still use the old fashion way of making a phone call, that is, without using data but, almost everyone will agree, especially after years of being ripped off by your cellular provider that being able to make free international calls is a bit of poetic justice

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Disposable International Travel Phones


There has been plenty of commotion regarding traveling with your cell phone when going overseas. Last week the Los Angeles Times wrote an article entitled, “Is it legal for officials to search your phone when you’re traveling?” and in today’s British publication The Independent, today’s article is entitled, “Britain to follow US with ban on electronic devices on flights from Muslim countries in Middle East”>. Cellular Abroad specializes in providing international travelers with information and solutions for international cellular and data products. We do not specialize in interpreting the law and this is certainly not a political blog. But, what we can do is tell you about a solution that many travelers are embracing.

Traveling and cell phone privacy is a hot issue. We know that by talking with our customers. The most common complaints are that they do not want to be unnecessarily detained for an hour while traveling and second, they may have private photos of…um…their significant other. And of course, traveling without a phone is not a viable solution for 99% of travelers since they rely on staying in contact with their office or family back home plus they rely on apps such as Google Maps. What some travelers are doing is purchasing a pay as you go cell phone, also referred to as a “disposable” phone for their trip. Indeed, if you are concerned about traveling with a phone you literally can get a phone for under $100 for your trip, including several hours of call time, and then, chances are, if and when a custom’s agent stops you, they could check the phone out in a matter of minutes. Or, if you do not want to take the chance of being stopped in the first place, you can ditch the phone before you board.

According to some sources, the bigger the phone or the electronic device, the better chance you will be stopped. The larger the phone is, the greater the chance that it can conceal explosives. In addition, many smartphones are basically mini computers and plenty of information can potentially be stored and transferred in these devices. A small, simple phone, while lacking the power of an expensive smartphone, may be just what you need to stay in touch during your trip – and staying out of custom’s office when you return.

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How to Unlock your Phone


How to Unlock Your Phone

Why do cellular carriers lock their phones? It’s simple. They want you to use their service, not someone else’s. Smart travelers know that you can get better service and cheaper rates putting in a different SIM card into your device. The problem is – so do the carriers. This blog explains what the major carriers policies are and how to get around them in order to unlock your device.

Verizon

Most of Verizon’s new phones are unlocked and can be used with other carriers SIM cars internationally. According to Verizon’s website, all 4G LTE phones are unlocked and most other phones are also unlocked. In other words, if you have an iPhone 4G or above with Verizon, it comes unlocked. Almost all Samsung Galaxies are also unlocked. If you have an older phone or if you are not sure if your Verizon phone has LTE, you can always check the specs at GSM Arena, which is the website Cellular Abroad uses to check the phone’s specs. If your phone is locked and your want to unlock it, there are several websites that specialize in unlocking phones…for a fee. One we recommend is DoctorSIM

AT&T

AT&T locks all of their phones.They will provide you with an unlock code but only if you have paid off your phone. Most customers have a payment plan on their phone that lasts 2 years. If your payment plan is paid off because the 2 years have transpired or if you paid your phone in full up front or paid off the 2 year commitment early, they will unlock your phone for free. Alternatively, you can legally use DoctorSIM or a similar company in order to unlock your phone – for a small fee. In addition, here are 3 other solutions.

1. Use Your Old Phone

If you had a previous phone with AT&T, have them unlock that one. For example, if you currently have an iPhone7 and before had an iPhone4, 5 or 6 – or any other phone, you can have AT&T unlock it for you. Hint: Even if your current phone is unlocked, it is not a bad idea to travel with an unlocked secondary phone. You never know when and if your phone gets damaged or stolen.

2. Buy a Phone from Cellular Abroad

Cellular Abroad has some phones available. If you are looking for affordable and reliable phones that work internationally, Cellular Abroad is a good place to start. We have packaged phone/SIM card deals starting at $79.95. We have a limited selection of phones but we do have several entry level phones, Android phones and iPhones with the international voice and data bands. Many entry level phones do not have the correct overseas bands for voice and/or data so, you need to be careful what you purchase.

3. Buy a Phone from Amazon or Overseas Electronics

Let’s face it, Amazon is taking over the world. However, in terms of customer service, there IS no customer service. Unless you really know what you are buying, Amazon may not be your best choice. You will need a phone with the 900 and 1800 GSM bands to make calls while overseas and a phone with the 2100 band to have data. Many phones, particularly ones that are not very expensive, do not have these bands. As the name implies, Overseas Electronics specializes in overseas electronics and they have a large selection of cell phones that work abroad.

Sprint

Sprint phones all come carrier locked. However, Sprint is also the only carrier that recommends and is willing to to unlock their phones for international travelers. This is directly from their website, albeit not easy to find:

Current Sprint customers remaining abroad for an extended period of time may want to try to use their Sprint device with a foreign carrier. As a courtesy for our customers, for certain devices, Sprint may be able to unlock the device SIM slot for a foreign carrier’s SIM card to be inserted. Customers must meet the following conditions to be eligible:

The device is capable of international SIM unlock
The person requesting the international SIM unlock is a current Sprint customer on an active account that can authenticate as the Account Holder or an Authorized Contact
The applicable device is currently active on a Sprint account and the applicable account has been active for at least 90 days.
The account is in good standing
Each phone number on the account is allowed up to two unlocked devices within a 12 month period.
The device has not been reported as lost or stolen, associated with fraudulent activity, or otherwise flagged as ineligible to be unlocked
If your device is not locked, Cellular Abroad, Amazon and Overseas Electronics have cell phones for sale. Please read the information above for AT&T on advice for buying a phone.


T-Mobile

T-Mobile also locks all of their cell phones. While T-Mobile’s unlock policy is pretty complex, here is the skinny:

Your phone must not be reported stolen, you must pay all of your bills and your phone must be paid off. In addition, you cannot unlock more than two phones per each 12 month period. Cellular Abroad recommends that you either have them unlock one your older phones that you have for them or you use a phone unlocking service (they will charge you a small fee) or you purchase a phone from Cellular Abroad, Amazon or Overseas Electronics. All of Cellular Abroad’s phones work internationally for voice and all of our phones that have 3G or 4G work on the international band for data. Most of Amazon’s phones do not have the international bands for data so you need to know what to look for (which is the 900/2100 band) and Overseas Electronics will be able to point you in the right direction as well. 

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Unlimited Cell Phone Data and Calling in Australia


Unlimited? Really? Really!

Typically, when traveling out of the country, carriers such as Verizon, Tmobile, AT&T and others charge you roaming fees that are so high that you either do without your phone service all together or, if you can afford it, bite the bullet and pay whatever they charge you. Since most travelers going to Australia tend to stay for extended periods of time, biting the bullet can literally mean that your bill comes up to hundreds of dollars. There are other solutions and in fact, solutions that are free. However, like many free solutions, they entail sacrifices and many people are on vacation to have fun, not to make sacrifices. For instance, if you put your phone on airplane mode and resort to using Wi Fi, when and if available, you will not incur any fee. However, that means that when you are driving in the car or going from one place to another, which is probably when you need your phone the most in case you get lost or need to access Google Maps, you will be without any means of communication. Carriers realize this and…that is why they charge you the fees that they do. Luckily, there are other solutions that actually offer added services and benefits that the large telecom companies cannot provide.

When in Australia…do as the Aussies.

Australians, like everyone else on the planet, do not pay roaming rates when they are in Australia. As a visitor to Australia, you too can tap into what the locals are tapping into. Cellular Abroad is the US distributor for a local carrier in Australia called Lebara. While there are several carriers in Australia, Lebara is the only carrier that offers unlimited calling to the US and Canada as well as unlimited calling within Australia. Having a local solution means that you will have a local phone number. While that is great for when Australians try to reach you, obviously someone from the US or Canada does not want to an international number to reach you since that would be expensive. The solution that we offer is to give you a US cell phone number in addition to the Australian number. The US phone number is not your usual phone number but you do have the option of forwarding your current number to the new US one. Many people prefer just to give their temporary new number to a few select friends and family members instead of forwarding the number. The reason is that if you forward your number, every single person, whether you want to hear from them or now, will be able to reach you.


What About my Data?

Unless you travel often, you may not realize that while calling is important, what is often more important is mobile data. Apps such as Google Maps, Trip Advisor and simply emailing pictures of your trip become even more relevant for many travelers than just making and receiving phone calls. Lebara offers an extremely generous amount of high speed data connectivity in addition to their unlimited calling within the country and back home.

Sounds Good..Now What?

You have several ways to get the unlimited calling and data plan. If your cell phone is unlocked (most Verizon phones are by the way) or if your cell phone is unlockable (ask your provider), you can just get an Australia SIM card, pop it in your phone, and you are up and running. AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint typically will not unlock your phone unless it is out of contract…but here is a tip: if your phone is not out of contract and you have your previous phone, just get them to unlock that phone and use that for your trip.


Groupies…

It is never to late, or too early for that matter, to become a groupie, a data groupie in this case. If you are traveling in a group or even with another person or if you carry multiple devices (like a smartphone and a tablet or a PC), a great way to stay connected is to rent a Mi Fi Hotspot with Unlimited Data. A mobile hotspot is a small, portable device that transmits your own personal and secure Wi Fi Signal with which you connect with any Wi Fi Enabled device. Up to 10 people or devices can connect simultaneously. This is a great way not only to save money but to have easy access to the internet virtually anywhere you go during your trip down under.

Got you Covered

While this article covers the needs for the vast majority of travelers to Australia, Cellular Abroad’s services cater to a vast array of needs – from anyone who just needs an emergency phone to video production companies who need to send huge video files back to Hollywood. If you need more information, please call us at 8002875072 and we will fine tune a solution particular to your unique needs

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Australia Cell Phone Service

Roaming in Australia with T-mobile, AT&T and Verizon can be extremely expensive and basically not a viable solution for the majority of travelers. Some carriers, such as Verizon, charge by the day so a quick trip to, say Mexico for a few days is not going to impact one’s pocket book too much. However, most travelers to Australia tend to stay for a couple of weeks or more which can add up to several hundred dollars in just cellular service. In addition, the way that Verizon and some of the others set up their plans is that even if you use the phone for a minute or for one text, you are paying for the entire 24 hour period. Here is a concrete example. Verizon currently charges $10 per day to use your phone in Australia. Including tax, you can expect to pay $12-$13 per day. So, if someone sends you a text message, even one short text message, that message costs you about $12. Or, if your cell phone is and the data is not switched off, even if nobody sends you an email or even if you don’t browse the internet, since your phone automatically updates apps and your location, you will pay $12-$13 per day. The good news is that there are better solutions.

Let’s start with this one as it is probably one of the more applicable solutions for the majority of travelers. Most travelers travel in pairs or in groups. Therefore, you might have an iPhone and the person traveling with you has an iPad or even a laptop. The easiest and most affordable way to address a solution for multiple devices is to rent what is called a mobile hotspot. You will need to rent one specifically designed to be used in Australia. A mobile hotspot essentially is a portable device that gives you your own personal Wi Fi signal. You can access data with multiple devices at the same time. In fact, up to 10 people can access the internet at the same time. This is a very easy solution that does not require you swap out SIM cards or use another phone.

While the mobile hotspot is a great device, it is not always the best solution for everyone. Some travelers simply do not want to have yet another piece of equipment to haul around. Plus, some many travelers need a local solution with a local Australian phone number so that the locals can reach them as well.

Most US cell phones now come unlocked meaning that you can put in a different SIM card than the primary provider’s. For example, if you have an iPhone 5, 6 or 7, you can just slide out the current SIM card and put in an Australia SIM card. There are two main advantages of using a local Australian SIM card instead of roaming with a US provider. The first is that you will save a lot of money on calls and data and the second is that you will have a local phone number. In addition to the local phone number, you can also retain your usual US phone number which, you may or may not want to do. Typically, business travelers need to or want to retain their US number while leisure travelers do not want to be disrupted by calls.

In sum, just like every traveler has different ideas of what they want to do on vacation, every traveler has their own specific need in terms of cellular service – including not even having cellular service, period during their trip. The good news is that there are many affordable solutions available.

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European Data SIM Card

Finally. And when I say finally, I mean finally there is a European data SIM card that is worth having. Most US and Canadian providers currently do let you roam in Europe but, at a cost. Verizon currently has a plan for example that for $10 a day (actually more like $12 if you add the taxes) you can use your cell phone overseas as if you were in the United States. While this is not a terrible plan, if your trip is for a few weeks, it can add up. In addition, all it takes is just one person to send you one text and that text just cost you $10. Plus, if you want to use another device, such as an iPad, you would have to sign up for another line. And of course, there are still plenty of providers who still do not offer any roaming solutions plus others who are just too expensive to use.

A better approach is to put in a pay as you go SIM data card into your phone or tablet that was specifically designed for travelers heading to Europe. This SIM card gives users 12GB of data at 4G speeds. 12GB is virtually more than 99% of all travelers can use in a month. You can easily check the usage online. This option is a great options but it implies that you have an unlocked phone (meaning, your carrier allows you to put in a different carrier’s SIM card) or, that your iPad actually has a slot for a SIM card.

If your phone is locked to a carrier or your tablet does not have a slot for the SIM card, here is another solution – which is also a fantastic solution if you are traveling in a group.

If you are traveling with a group or even another family member (and provided you are with Verizon), it would cost each person about $12 per day. So, a family of three for a 2 week trip would pay over $500 with Verizon. For less than half of that, a family or group of up to ten people can simultaneously rent a mobile hotspot. The one caveat is that while 12GB is still a sizable amount, that does not mean that someone in your group should be downloading the last episode of their favorite TV show.

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Tips for Mobile and internet Access for Travelers to Italy

Smartphones have become useful companions for tourists wanting to snap pictures, take videos, use Google Maps, Skype, purchase train and museum tickets and more. However, since not all data plans are created equal, your smartphone can turn your dream vacation into a cell phone bill nightmare without proper planning.

Parli Italiano?

Most travelers to Italy of course cannot speak Italian and, even those that can, typically do not want to eat into their vacation time by having to hunt down a cell phone store or to figure out what cellular options they need for their trip. Most travel experts, such as Rick Steves, recommend you prepare yourself prior to departure and get an Italian cellular plan or Wi Fi plan before you go. For those reading this the same day you plan to travel, here is a short but quick Italian lesson for you: “sim card” in Italy is a “carta sim”, and a cell phone is called “cellulare.” If you already have an Italian SIM card and just need to add call credit, go to a tab and ask for a “ricarica.” Be sure to tell them who the provider is, otherwise, it is like going to a magazine stand and saying, “I need a magazine.”

What’s the best plan for your trip?

That is a great question and, like most great questions, there is no simple answer. The answer is, “it depends on what you need.” Some travelers need to stay in touch with their friends or the owners of their apartment. Some travelers need to stay in touch with their office back home and some travelers just need data service so they can use Google Maps. Others need a combination of all of this to one degree or another. The good news is that Cellular Abroad offers solutions for all of this and more. While it can be confusing, Cellular Abroad has been providing service to travelers since 2002 and are experts in finding the best solution for your personal needs. Therefore, if you are confused or stuck, just call us or chat with us online.

Some Typical Scenarios

Again, many travelers have unique needs and situations (I will be traveling to Italy and need to use data so I can check my emails on my phone but I will also be going to other countries for the weekends) so, while we cannot possibly address all of the possible scenarios, here are several of the top ones.

1. I am traveling to Italy and just need an emergency phone.

The solution is to either get a SIM card for your phone – if it is unlocked – or to rent or buy a cell phone for your trip. The decision whether to rent or buy depends on the length of the trip. If it is short, you should rent. Otherwise, you can buy an Italian from Cellular Abroad if your trip is a month or more.

2. We are traveling with a group and we all need a solution. In this case, what usually is most cost effective is to rent a wireless hotspot. That way, anyone can connect to the internet regardless of the device they are using. While this service is limited to data, nowadays, there are many apps that allow you to place a call.

3. I have a Verizon cell phone. Verizon told me that it is unlocked. What should I do?

This is easy, just get a SIM card for your phone. That way, you can continue to use your iPhone 6 or Samsung Galaxy but instead of paying Verizon’s roaming fees, with an Italian SIM card you get more features (like an Italian number and a US number if you want), better service and lower rates than roaming with Verizon.

4. I just need to be able to use my iPad but I want to watch videos and not worry about huge bills.

We also offer data only services. If you only have one device, just rent a data SIM card instead of renting a mobile hotspot.

5. We are shooting a documentary and need to send our footage back for editing in the United States.

OK, this is not a likely scenario…but we just had to throw in this example to demonstrate that here too we have a solution. You want data? We got data, and plenty of it. In fact, we can provide you 100GB of LTE data or even more if you need.

Still confused about what you need to do for your trip? You are not alone as there are plenty of other scenarios for cellular and data service that travelers need. Feel free to browse our site or to contact us. Cellular Abroad can safely say that there is no other company in the United States, including Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile or others that can offer the wide array of services at low prices that we can.

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Using Your Phone in Cuba

There is a lot of confusion regarding the possibility of using one’s cell phone in Cuba. Indeed, up until 2015, the answer was easy as you couldn’t use your phone, period. Now, some US providers actually allow you to use your phone in Cuba. Verizon was the first provider to allow roaming. However, and as this CNN article mentions,

“The service isn’t cheap: Voice calls will cost a pricey $2.99 a minute, data will set you back $2.05 per megabyte and texts will be charged at hefty international rates.

Sprint’s rates are slightly lower yet still very expensive while T-Mobile and AT&T currently do not offer service.

There are two big problems with using your cell phone in Cuba. The first is that the Cubans cannot call a US phone number. Therefore, if your hotel or a friend wants to call you and you have a US phone number, you are out of luck. The second is that there is no really good way to make sure that people do not call you unnecessarily. What I mean by this is that any non-important phone call will go through and whether you want to or not, you will have to pay for the call. If you turn off the phone, besides defeating the use for having a phone to begin with for the most part, you will still pay for the calls going into your voicemail.

A good alternative is to use the National Geographic Travel SIM or the Travel Phone. The service provides two phone numbers, a US number and a UK number. The US number is a new one that you can give out to whomever you actually WANT to reach you (or, if you want everyone to call you, you can simply forward your current number to the new number). The UK number is the one that you will want to give to the Cubans so they can call you.

The FCC has a good article about cellular communication as well. Besides mentioning Cellular Abroad, they also mention renting a local Cuban SIM card in Cuba through Cubacel. There is no mention of the rates but they are surely very good – at least to call within Cuba. You probably cannot call back to the US however. Additionally, you need to fill out a lot of paperwork to get the SIM card and, when you are done with your trip, you need to go back to the store and return it. Probably not the way that most people want to spend their time in Cuba.

In sum, you now can use a cell phone in Cuba. It may not be your cell phone but if you need cellular and data connectivity during your trip, it is possible and legal to do. Now that the easy part is done, the hard part is finding an easy and legal way to Cuba to begin with.

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