Sprint’s International Roaming Plan is a Rip-Off

I usually do not like to characterize things in a blunt, negative light, preferring instead to outline the facts and helping people to understand my conclusion in a more diplomatic way but…I will say it again; Sprint’s international roaming plan is beyond a rip-off. I have tried to play devil’s advocate and, to Sprint’s credit, when I called Sprint’s customer service, the rep basically told me, “don’t do use data while roaming” when I was gathering information for this blog but the fact is, if they didn’t want people to use it, they would not make it available. This reminds me of a couple of years ago when a customer of ours used a data roaming plan with T-Mobile that had affordable (sort of) rates in X amount of countries but if you went to country Y, you would be blasted by huge roaming rates. So, an executive went on a business trip and went to a handful of countries where the rates were low but also went to one country that wasn’t covered in the T-Mobile plan and sure enough, his bill was $38,000. Now the reason this is a rip-off is that T-Mobile had the capability of blocking those countries where the roaming rates were high.

Here is a break down of Sprint’s roaming rates but first, I want to bring to your attention what Sprint advertises on their website regarding their data plan. This is directly copied and pasted from Sprint’s website:

Get discounted rates
Last Updated: Jun 27, 2014

Don’t miss a thing when traveling abroad. Add an international data pack to your domestic data plan for your smartphone, tablet, mobile broadband card or hotspot device and check emails and surf the web.
International Data Pack Add-on



Multiple Country Data Roaming
Multi-Country Pack 40MB $40 85MB $80

Usage Overage Rate per MB $10/MB


As you can see, Sprint offers a couple of bundles which are expensive and extremely low on capacity. If you go over, the slug you with a whopping $10 per MB charge. To put that in perspective, there are about 1000 (one-thousand) MB in 1GB. So, one 1GB with Sprint is $50,000 – plus tax. AT&T charges about $150 for 1GB, Verizon $250 for a GB, T-Mobile only offers 2G and Cellular Abroad charges vary but here are a couple of example rates:

Italy – 10GB $99
France – 5GB$69
UK 3GB $69

How come our rates are so low, Verizon’s and AT&T’s rates are relatively low yet Sprint’s rates are so high? It certainly cannot be attributable to buying power as Sprint is probably 10,000 times larger than Cellular Abroad and not far behind Verizon and AT&T.  As far as I can see, their strategy is to have way fewer customers that use data than their competitors but to make a killing on those few. In addition, unlike their competitors, they have tended to focus more on business users and large corporations that are not as likely to care about the huge fees and/or a huge bill will just get lost in the shuffle. In any event, do yourself a favor and arm yourself with enough knowledge so that you are not one of the unlucky victims of Sprint’s super rip-off rates.

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New Plan for Travelers to France

It still surprises me that anyone would roam with their US carrier to France or anywhere else. I know that all the carriers in the US have data and voice bundles and that T-Mobile has free 2G speed data but here is the problem – why would you want to spend a (at least) couple of hundred dollars with AT&T, Verizon or Sprint and spend your time on your vacation worrying about monstrous overages? Why would you frustrate yourself with T-Mobile’s 2G speeds (aka GPRS – remember that? from 10 years ago??). Don’t you WANT to use your cell phone to send videos, use Google Maps, Skype and do everything you do at home and perhaps even more? Well…maybe not since some people are going to France specifically to get away from all this but…for those who do, well, now you can.

The new plan for France offers 5GB of data at 3G speeds and unlimited texting and calling within France plus calls back to the US for just pennies plus free incoming calls plus you can even add a US phone number. With all these pluses you would expect to be hundreds of dollars but no, for around $100 you can use your phone almost as much as you want. Make sure your phone is unlocked and get a SIM card for France from Cellular Abroad.

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“Newer” and “Better” Cell Phones Are Often Neither of The Two


I knew this would happen. I finally had to “upgrade” my Blackberry Bold because the charging port wouldn’t fully charge my phone. As I tell people all the time, a “better” and “newer” phone isn’t necessarily better.

When I got my new Q10 from Blackberry (paid full price by the way so I got an unlocked phone of course), I starting playing around with it but after 10 minutes and needing to actually use my phone, I put my SIM card back in the other defective phone as it still worked, although it wouldn’t charge properly. After a few days, I tried the new phone again for about 20-30 minutes and, once again, I gave up since I didn’t have the time to figure this new phone out. For the next month, I kept using my defective phone and would just keep a wall charger handy. When it finally went 100% kaput and I was forced to use the new and improved phone, that is when I experienced the same thing that I tell people all the time when they ask me, “what is the best phone?”

First, I find the new Blackberry not only counterintuitive but it is also very easy to accidentally call people or go into applications I don’t want to be in because of the hair trigger on the touch screen. I am still trying to figure out how to do basic things. Granted, I never read the owner’s manual but I never have had to. I will eventually figure out everything that I need to do with the phone so I am not too worried about that.

My main beef is this. I drive to and from work every day and I have a very good sense of where the dead zones are – at least were on my older Blackberry Bold. Now however, the amount of dead zones has easily doubled and it rarely works in the office – as opposed to the “barely works” in the office of the previous phone.

This is frustrating because, contrary to many people I know, I actually use the phone, well, as a phone. In fact, I was almost temped to go the iPhone route but, I know that reception is a big issue for the iPhone as well.


The moral of the story is this; next time you “upgrade” your phone, consider what you are really using it for. If you do need a higher resolution screen, more memory or better picture resolution, usually a newer phone (unless it is on the low end of the spectrum in terms of price) is better. However, if you need it because you want something easier to use or better reception, usually a newer phone is not “better.” How do you know if the quality of the reception or decrease of dropped calls is better? Go online, read the reviews and then get a phone with a generous return policy.

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Take a Selfie Contest

That’s right, even the Pope is in on the act. And if it’s good enough for the Pope, it’s good enough for many of us – especially if you can win an iPad. Submit your photo to support@cellularabroad.com before September 15 for a chance to win an iPad. Our panel of 5 unbiased, nothing to do with Cellular Abroad, travel experts will select a winner. Or else….the first one to submit a selfie with the Pope wins – and we don’t mean with you in St. Peter’s Square and Pope Francis a mile away addressing the crowd from the Pope’s balcony! In addition, we will need proof that it is you and not some random person from Google images.

OK, we don’t really expect to see a selfie with the Pope. Besides, even a selfie with some random nun would probably be a good contender. Just be sure to submit the images to us before September 15, 2014 in order to participate.

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How to Use Your iPad or PC Abroad

Many of us, some more than others, are almost attached at the hip with some sort of tablet or PC. I can only concur – leaving home without my iPad just wouldn’t be the same. In fact, the first thing I do when I wake up is make coffee and sip it while catching up on significant (ok, I admit it, at times, less than significant) events. When I travel, I need to have my iPad with me more than ever. Whether it’s showing friends and family neat tricks (“hey, there’s my house!) on Google Maps or making a call via Skype to Bank of America to verify “suspicious” charges to reactivate my credit card, to finding out what is happening back home, I find myself using my iPad multiple times per day. In fact, it’s my lifeline back home and to the office.

While I am no Jeff Bezos, long ago I adopted something I read that Mr. Bezos does (or at least did at the time). Almost every day, I will answer a customer service call or a sales call here at Cellular Abroad. I do this in order to stay grounded with real customers’ needs. If there is one thing that stands out when I speak to our customers, many of whom travel on an annual basis, is that there are always stories of unexpected circumstances such as, “the wifi in the hotel was not available” or “I was on the phone for hours to resolve an issue – thank God I had your phone.” The point I am trying to make is that when you are on vacation or even traveling for business, the last thing you want to do is find yourself in a position where you are without internet access or affordable cellular access. Here’s what you can do to ensure that you indeed do have access to the internet on your device.

Free is Good
Yes, free is good but not necessarily great. The old adage, “you get what you pay for” is very often true. But, if your budget only permits or at least prefers free then here is what you can do in order to best take advantage of this. First, check with the hotel and ask them if they do have free internet access. Also, ask them how reliable it is. I had a friend who was told that there was free internet at her hotel in Sicily. Indeed, it was free…during the hour or two that it was typically working during the course of a day. She ended up spending hundreds of dollars having to get a taxi twice a day to a neighboring town in order to access her emails work emails. Not fun for her and it ended up being anything but free.
If the hotel staff tells you that it isn’t reliable or even if they claim it is, ask them where there is wifi availability in the surrounding area. Usually there are restaurants or cafe’s that have wireless access. If you can live with not having to have access to the internet anytime, anywhere then this may work for you.

Plan B
Again, not every place does have free wifi or reliable free wifi. Plus, even if they do, you may need to access bank accounts or other accounts that require a secure connection, one that free wifi cannot offer. In this case, here are a couple of options.
If you are traveling to just one country, say only to Italy or only to Spain, AND your device accepts a SIM card, get a SIM card with a data plan for that country. If you are traveling to multiple countries, you can still get a SIM card but you will pay a little more. Either way, you can get data plans for small fractions of what it would cost to roam with an US provider. However, if your device is not 3G and does not allow you to put in a SIM card, your best bet is rent or buy a MiFi hotspot…and that brings us to plan C.

Plan C

I am a big fan of Plan C and based on all the positive reviews we have, for example, on our Italy MiFi Rental, I am not the only one. There are several things I really like about the MiFi. First, it is very easy to use and works with any device. All you have to do is to power it on, put in the security password and you and up to 5 others can go online. In addition, it is portable, works anywhere and is secure.  If you read the reviews for the Italy MiFi Rental, you will get some ideas of what people have done with their MiFi. Some of my favorites are using Google Maps in their rental card on their iPad to navigate their way around and video Skyping with their parents while running with the bulls in Pamplona. Let’s see the Kardashians top that!

While the MiFi is not dirt cheap, by comparison to other solutions, it is a great deal. For example, and using Italy as a comparison (which is however one of our better deals), just 3G data, without the device, with the least expensive US carrier for 10GB of data would be well over $1,000.00 whereas a two week trip to Italy with our device would run you about $150.

The last thing I would like to address is that almost everyone traveling has unique needs when it comes to cell phones and data. Some people just need something for emergencies, others to make a few calls and maybe check an email or two and still others need to send huge files of video back to the US for a Rick Steve’s travel show for example.  My recommendation is to call Cellular Abroad, describe your needs to us (and even me personally) and we will explain the best options – even if it has nothing to do with a product we carry.

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Your Smartphone is a Powerful Travel Tool

Samsung Galaxy S5

Ironically, there are many articles online telling travelers to turn off their phone, particularly the data portion of your phone, when traveling overseas. Even some of the carriers will tell you to turn it off as much as possible and try to rely on wifi. True, you will save money if you don’t use your phone. In fact, if you really want to save money, just stay home! Recommendations like this are as useful as telling someone who is going to a 3 Michelin Star restaurant to have only bread, butter and water. Isn’t it specifically when you are traveling that you would need to use your phone as a travel tool?

Nowadays, there are so many amazing things that you can do with your smartphone. It’s not just about calling home or checking your emails anymore. With a smartphone, you can truly enjoy your trip even further. Here are just a few ideas.


Google Maps

Many people are familiar with Google Maps. They help us find out where we are and help us to get to where we need to go. In fact, many people use Google Maps on an everyday basis. Imagine traveling to a city that you have never been before. Try getting from the Vatican to the Spanish Steps by foot without using either a map or GPS on your phone. A 30 minute walk could literally take hours if you had to rely on asking people directions every 5 minutes.

Language Translation Apps

This is one type of app that just now is beginning to gain traction with the travel community. This goes a big step beyond just typing something into your phone and using Google Translate. With a language translation app you can literally speak into your phone and have it translate into one of many languages. The app will translate what you said and speak it out in another language. While not perfect, I have had good luck with the Voice Translator App from Google.

Trip Advisor

What I really like about Trip Advisor is that you get to see pictures and read reviews from real travelers and not from marketing professional (although I am sure that a few posts slip through the cracks). If you are not familiar with Trip Advisor, it’s a site that lets users comment on and post pictures of hotels, bed and breakfasts’, restaurants (and more). You can also check pricing and book hotels.


Yelp and Zagat

A similar site is Yelp. Yelp’s focus is mainly on restaurants and business. Zagat is another great site for determining how an restaurant may be. They have been around for years and a probably the most discerning and the most reputable of the three in terms of reliability.




How many times have you just “Googled” something to get more information on it? Chances are, when you travel abroad, you will come across a church or a building or something that you have no idea about its history and want to know more. Being able to have information at your fingertips is extremely useful while traveling.



Tourist tend to do a lot of walking with the occasional bus ride or taxi ride. I hardly every take a bus because I am just not fond of them and I either walk or take a taxi. However, if you have ever tried to hail a cab in New York City on a Friday night in the rain, you know that it’s not always easy. Uber is a site that connects you with a towncar driver. The great thing about it is that you can see if a driver is available in your area and he can use the tracking function on your device to see where you are. This works great in the US and is usually about the same price as a cab far. I have used on several occasions and they have really come to the rescue. Many larger cities in Europe offer Uber but, from what I have seen, the rates are more expensive than back home. Still, it’s always good to have a back up solution.

As you can see, there are many ways that a smartphone can come in handy when you are traveling internationally. The problem is that when you need free wifi, it is usually not available and if you roam with your US or Canadian carriers network, they will charge you an arm and a leg. The best solution is to use another provider, like Cellular Abroad. In many cases, you can literally spend 1/10 or even less of what it costs to roam with your usual provider. If you need to retain your usual number, this too can be done (although many travelers want to relax and don’t want to use this option. Usually, we will give our customers a local SIM card with two phone numbers, a local number and a US number. If you need data, and more and more people do, you can add an affordable data bundle and not only check your emails but communicate with the locals, see where you are going and where you should eat and shop.

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Unlocking Your AT&T iPhone

There is almost no way around it, if you want to have your AT&T iPhone unlocked, you need to go through the proper channels. The proper channels are through AT&T and AT&T has a few very strict and rigid rules regarding unlocking an iPhone.  Indeed, many people are frustrated regarding the restriction of being able to do with what they please with what they deem ‘”their” phone and are moving away from  reduced upfront costs but 2-3 year contractual obligation model and biting the bullet and paying the unsubsidized cost to own a phone free and clear.

Currently, this is what you need to do to get your AT&T iPhone unlocked. First, you must be a customer or a former customer of AT&T and you must be in good standing. Second, your phone must be payed off. Most iPhones are being subsidized by crediting the customer per month for 2 years and therefore, it takes 2 years to pay off an iPhone. Before the 2 years is up, customers cannot have their iPhones unlocked. Therefore, if you take a trip overseas, you cannot simply purchase a local SIM card from Cellular Abroad or when you arrive and expect it to work with your phone.

AT&T customers are allowed to unlock up to 5 phones per year. That does not mean that they can unlock ANY phone. For example, you cannot purchase a phone from Ebay and unlock it simply because you have an AT&T account or ask someone who does to unlock it for you. AT&T requires additional information including what the phone number was that pertained to the phone as well as the last four digits of the social security number.

Another way to unlock an iPhone is to go online and pay a vendor to unlock it for you. Today’s going rate is $100-$150 to factory unlock it. Factory unlocked means that AT&T has provided the unlock code for the phone and that once unlocked it will not be unlocked again. I tried to find out how companies like this are able to obtain the AT&T unlock code and, although I was unable to find out, my suspicion is that they have someone who works at AT&T who doesn’t mind risking his job to make a quick buck.

Alternatively, you can purchase a phone directly from Apple, or from someone who did, that has never been locked. While the upfront cost for an originally unlocked cell phone is several hundred dollars higher than buying one from AT&T, there are several benefits such as being able to change carriers at will in the US or when traveling abroad. In the US there are scores or MVNOs who  compete for the best rates. An MVNO is short for mobile virtual network operator and is essentially a smaller provider who uses the same network as a larger provider such as AT&T or T-Mobile and establishes their own rates.  Once such company is Lyca Mobile. Currently, they offer plans with unlimited calls and texts and some data for just $16 per month. While MVNOs are not for everyone, they are certainly for some and the possibility of being able to have more options as opposed to less options is certainly a good thing.

Consumers are becoming fed up with not having choices and the proof of this is how successful their current trend of BYOP or bring your own phone is becoming. This allows consumers not only to use whatever provider they want and switch if and when they find a better deal not only in the US but while traveling abroad.

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How to Use Your iPhone in Europe Without Going Broke

80% of travelers have smartphones and 35% of those are iPhones. Yet, while the iPhone is a great tool for trip planning during your trip (think Google Maps, Skype or just researching a pizzeria), they are still quite expensive to use. In fact, the #1 money saving tip that AT&T, Verizon, etc. offer for overseas travelers is, get this…”Don’t use your phone!”. Unless you are trying to get away from it all, isn’t that when you need the phone the most? With prices as high as $20 per MB with Sprint, unless you are on the Forbes 400 list, your iPhone becomes virtually useless for data once you are overseas.

Here are the TOP 5 tips using your iPhone or other smartphone abroad

Use free wi fi when available
Pro – the price is right
Con – Not secure

Get a local SIM from Cellular Abroad
Pro – Affordable, works everywhere, secure
Con – You need an unlocked phone

Purchase a bundle from your provider
Pro – You don’t need to swap out SIMs
Con – Still not cheap and watch out for overages!

Use Skype to call
Pro – Easy to use, inexpensive
Con – You need a data connection

Rent a Mobile Hotspot
Pro – works with multiple devices
Con – Good value but priced middle range

If you happen to use T-Mobile, they recently announced that they are offering free data while roaming in over 100 countries. While this is a great offer, it is a little bit of a loss leader in the sense that the data they are offering is only 2G meaning that it will be fast enough for emails but not for using Apps such as Skype or downloading and uploading images. Still, if you mostly use the data portion of your iPhone for emails, it is really a great deal.

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My Experience Using a TIM SIM Card in Italy

Italy SIM card

I have been a TIM customer in Italy for nearly 20 years and through my business, we have sold and rented thousands of them over the past 12 years. While we no longer sell TIM due to some of the issues that I will address, I think that I know a thing or two about them.

TIM, or Telecom Italia Mobile, branched off of SIP, the now extinct national carrier. They were the first mobile solution in Italy and are still the largest, albeit not by a large margin. The coverage is very comprehensive and it has always been a force to be reckoned with. The other two main carriers, Vodafone and Wind, are also major carriers (Wind is a distant third place and is known as the “immigrants’ carrier” and it is also very widespread in the South). While Wind probably has the best deals, their coverage, with the exception of the south, including the islands, is sketchy in central and northern Italy. Vodafone, while practically unknown to most Americans,  is a huge carrier and is second in subscribers only to  China Mobile. The fact of the matter is, I really like TIM and the service and have had my phone number, a very easy one to remember (ex. 3333843333, not exactly this but very close) for many years. However, would I recommend TIM to Americans or Canadians or really any other nationality traveling to Italy? Not unless you speak Italian. This is why.

As I mentioned previously, Cellular Abroad sold thousands of TIM SIM cards each year. About 5 years ago, we switched to Uno Mobile. Uno Mobile is an Italian SIM card that uses the Vodafone network.  The main reason we were frustrated with TIM is this. On occasion, when you attempt to add call credit or even to make a call, the operator comes on the phone, basically to solicit and sell a new product to the user. While this is aggravating enough, the real issue is that if they do not understand you, they can, and often WILL, block your SIM card, requiring you to go to a store and present them with a passport or another form of ID and confirm your identity.  In addition, if they see irregular calling patterns, like many international calls, which is what our customers did, they can block your SIM card. This would occur to about 2 or 3 percent of our customers. While it was beyond our control, asking them to go to a TIM store while on vacation was certainly not the first thing on their agenda. This was the main issue with TIM when we were still selling them and I know that this still occurs, probably even more than before, as I always find myself having an (unwanted) conversation with someone from TIM when I am using my phone in Italy. Still, since I speak Italian, they can confirm my identity over the phone and I can tell them that I don’t want to know about their new products and services…thank you very much!

Another big issue that I am aware of is receiving expensive text messages. According to a conversation I had recently with TIM, this is a problem even for Italians. It works like this. You receive a message that prompts you to answer so that you get free – whatever, weather report, news, money, etc. The problem is, in the terms and conditions, this signs you up for weekly or monthly texts that cost you money. I have seen them up to 5 Euros per message. Although we do not use TIM anymore, we do hear from TIM customers all the time who complain about this.

Another issue, and one that we struggled with back in the day, is the different calling plans and TIM’s efforts trying to get people to switch their calling plans. It is difficult enough to begin with to try to figure out what plan works best for you (call landlines for free but cell phones or competitors cell phones cost a ton of money, or nights and weekend rates great, poor during the day, etc.etc.) but what happens on a regular basis is that TIM texts you and says, “we are switching your plan to the XYZ plan. Text ‘no’ if you are not interested”. Many of our customers of course didn’t understand and the rate we promised, and originally had, would change.

About 5 years ago, thanks to this issue as well as the fact that TIM makes you give them a copy of your passport to register the SIM card, we met with Uno Mobile. They were looking for a SIM card that would work perfectly for English speaking travelers to Italy. Since we were in the business of selling SIM cards to English speaking travelers going to Italy, they listened to what we had to say. They asked for a list of what a tourist going to Italy would want in a SIM card and we gave them this list:

1. Low rates within Italy and back to the US
2 No registration required with a copy of the passport
3. Easy to understand rates
4. English prompts
5. English speaking customer service reps

They were able to implement all of our suggestions  and we even became exclusive vendors for Uno Mobile in North America.

For the last 5 years, we have been selling this SIM card with great success but, to be fair, I do have to mention what the number one problem, and probably really the only one that I am aware of. Recharging the SIM card can present a slight challenge. Here is why. In Italy, when you need to add call credit to a SIM card, you go into a cafe’ or tobacco store


or even a gas station. You can go into one of these stores and add call credit to your SIM card. Virtually all of these stores sell top ups. These top ups are done through a terminal that the clerk behind the counter has access to. Sometimes, if you ask for an Uno Mobile voucher, especially with pronunciation that is not typically Italian, the clerk will say they do not have them. The fact of the matter is that if they can top up any carrier, they can also top up Uno Mobile. All top ups are done automatically through a terminal, hence, if they have one they have them all.  Here is my recommendation:

1. Insist with the clerk
2. Buy a voucher through Cellular Abroad
3. Buy a voucher online at the Uno Mobile website

If you purchase it through the Uno Mobile website, the credit will be added automatically. Please note that they do not take American Express credit cards and the service is in Italian. This by the way is another advantage of the Uno Mobile SIM card. You cannot purchase TIM, Wind or Vodafone vouchers through their online stores unless you have an Italian credit card.

I would truly like to hear your experience about purchasing TIM or any other SIM card in Italy. Again, it works for me as a client but as vendors, working with TIM SIM cards was a challenge.

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New Germany Data SIM Card Rates for Ortel

Ortel, a German cellular provider using the EPlus network, has offered extremely affordable calling and data plans for a couple of years now. In the past, the main issue with them is that although they offered inexpensive data plans, the data plans were limited and not ideal for travelers who use a lot of data on their phones or tablets. In addition, when you ran out of your data plan, you had to wait until the 30 day plan was up in order to get more data credit. This month, they launched the ability to continue to add data on your plan as needed. For just 9 Euros (about $12), you can add an additional 5GB of data to your data bundle. When considering that carriers such as Verizon charge $25 per 100 MB, this is an incredible deal. In fact, it’s about 1% of what Verizon charges. This is how it works.

First, you need to have a SIM card for Germany with the ability to have mobile data. Then, you once you arrive in Germany, you send a text message for the data bundle that you want ex. 15 Euros for the 3GB plan for 30 days. While this is a lot of data and the vast majority of people will not consume it, there is always the exception. Hence, if after a couple of weeks you run out of data, you can send a text to 77300 saying “SpeedXL” and if will add 5GB to your plan. This will deduct 9 Euros from your credit and therefore, you need to make sure that you have enough credit on your account. You can always check your account by dialing *100#. If you need more credit, simply go to an E Plus store and purchase a top up or order one from Cellular Abroad.

While the SIM card DOES work with tablets such as the iPad, you will need to first insert the SIM card into a phone in order to activate the SIM or add the plan. Another alternative is to call Ortel directly and have them activate the data plan.

In closing, I would like to add that while it does take perhaps an extra 5 minutes of ones time to purchase a German SIM card online as opposed to simply roaming with your current carrier, the savings are significant and if you are planning on using your device, whether it be a smartphone or tablet, without having to worry about either running out of data or paying huge overage fees, this is a great option.

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