Travel abroad: Why use local GSM phone SIM prepaid card

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Locals SIMs are a great way to save on cell phone calls when traveling internationally.

Best Cell Phone Rates – Local Rates
A pre-paid SIM card in an unlocked GSM cell phone gives you service from the local phone company in the countries you visit.  Since most cell phone users around the world receive ALL their incoming calls free and use their phone on a pay-as-you-go basis, it is the perfect arrangement for the short-term visitor needing a cell phone for England, Italy, China or any of the other 200+ countries that use GSM phones.

** Your GSM Phone Must be Unlocked and Operate on the Correct Frequency for the SIM/Carrier **

If GSM phones and prepaid SIM cards are new to you, read below for a quick introduction on how to get the best cell phone rates overseas by using the local phone company.   For SIM-savvy travelers, read on to learn about other great products such as Follow Me 800 numbers, worldwide calling cards, and laptop “soft phones”.  Most of these products are also pay-as-you-go with no ongoing charges or commitments when the service is not being used.

Intro to GSM Phones and Prepaid SIM Cards

Local Rates, No Bills
The most common cell phone technology in the world is GSM.  Also, about 80% of people outside the US use their cell phones on a pre-paid basis and most of the world receives all incoming calls for free on their cell phones.  With the right GSM phone and a SIM card from the local phone company, you can become a customer of the local phone company on a pay-as-you-go basis and receive the same free incoming calls (yes, from the US too) residents in most countries enjoy. You will have a local phone number from that country, but see above if you need a toll-free solution for callers from the US.

GSM Phones and Pre-Paid SIMs
A SIM card (Subscriber Identity Module) is a small plastic chips that fits in the back of a GSM cell phone, usually under the battery.  Around the world, carriers sell SIM cards that residents can put in their unlocked GSM phones in order to obtain service with that cell phone company.  The SIM in a GSM phone makes the phone work on the carrier’s network and contains customer and account details such as phone number, the rates charged and phone numbers from the address book.  Without a SIM, a GSM phone has no phone service and cannot function.

Add Credit with Vouchers
The SIM will have a few Euros (or Shekels or Rand) credit to get you started.  Charges for outgoing calls are deducted from that balance, depending on whether they are local or international calls.  When the credit is low, you purchase a scratch-off voucher, sold in multiple denominations, at newsstands and corner shops or anywhere displaying the cell phone company logo.  Vouchers are sold everywhere because locals need them daily to add credit to their cell phones.  Text messages will alert you when the credit gets low, or check the balance anytime with a free call.

Costs More to Rent Twice
Owning an unlocked GSM phone that works on the overseas 900/1800 MHz frequencies costs about as much as two cell phone rentals.  Once you own the phone, you simply buy a new SIM for your next destination county or use the international SIM.  An unlocked, international GSM phone can be used for many years to come on all continents as well as in Mexico, Jamaica.  It’s perfect for study abroad programs or occasional business trips.   A billion people use GSM, so the technology will be here for some time.

GSM Frequencies or “Bands”
In the US, Cingular and T Mobile use GSM phones and SIM cards.  However, the GSM frequencies in the US are different from those used overseas, that is why it is necessary to have a phone that works on the 900/1800 MHz frequencies for MOST places outside the US.  Frequencies 850 and 1900 MHz are used in North America, parts of the Caribbean and some South American Countries.  A quad-band GSM phone has all four frequencies and can function on any GSM network, IF Unlocked.  Check under “GSM Roaming” on GSM World dot com for a complete list of GSM networks, carriers and frequencies worldwide. Be sure your phone operates on the frequency used by the carrier whose SIM you are purchasing.

“Unlocked” Phones Work with Other SIMs
Most GSM phones purchased directly from a wireless carrier are electronically configured to only work with that carrier’s SIM card.  It’s a trade off, customers get subsidized prices on new model cell phones, but the carriers make it so you can’t easily take that phone and use it with a competitor.

Some carriers will unlock phones for their customers, and some listings on eBay offer to do it.  Before wondering whether a phone is locked, make sure it works on the correct GSM frequencies for the country and carrier where it will be used.
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