RECENTLY, I read an article in TechCrunch by Brenden Mulligan discussing ways to avoid international roaming fees while traveling internationally with a smartphone. I could not agree more with Brenden about how smartphones are single handedly the greatest traveling tool to have fit our pockets. Of course a Swiss Army knife would have a bone to pick on that one but smartphones are a completely different ball game. We aren’t exactly in the age where we need Bear Grylls’s skills on a trip to lands foreign. Regardless of where you are, if you have an Internet connection on your smartphone, you will immediately have access to maps, directions, restaurant recommendations and what not.
Brenden suggested a number of ways to avoid international roaming charges while traveling internationally. Some of the tips included activating an international plan on your phone, forwarding your phone to Google Voice account, turning off texting, using only Wifi while you are abroad etc. Though many of these strategies help you lower your international roaming, they still put a huge dent on your phone bill. In this article, I intend to propose a solution that may not be fit for every phone consumer out there but if you are an avid globetrotter, it is worth considering: buy an unlocked phone (GSM standard).
UNLOCKED PHONES: Let me walk you through some of the basic advantages of an unlocked phone before moving on to discuss why globetrotters love unlocked phones. If you have an unlocked phone, you can simply opt for a carrier that looks most economical to you and has the best reception in your area. You will never have to drudge through a restrictive and overpriced contract while bleeding hundreds of dollars month after month. If you think you save money by buying an expensive phone on a subsidized price from your carrier on a contract, we already explained to you how contract plans rip you off.
Unlocked phones are a blessing for globetrotters; you will never have to pay that hefty international roaming fees again. Having an unlocked phone means that you can buy a local SIM card in any country you visit, insert it in your phone, and voila your smartphone will dole out the smarts as if you never left home. 80% of mobile markets in the world use GSM technology and since the other 20% includes a huge chunk of CDMA users in the US, it is almost impossible that you will not find a local GSM service in the country you visit. Not only will you slash the extremely high international roaming fees that US mobile service providers charge, you will also notice that mobile service in 99% of the countries is cheaper than that in the US. Trust us, an unlocked phone will do wonders to your phone bill.
For instance, if you are traveling to Europe, you can buy a local SIM card, which will not only provide a superior service than your US carrier but also cost a modest $40; compare that to an average of $200 people pay in international roaming fees. Never having to think about international roaming fees ever again is truly a blessing. You might want to read NYTimes article “How to Beat Roaming Fees While Traveling Abroad” to see how Verizon billed Jeff Gardner, a small-business owner, $11,000 for his four day trip to Jamaica. You don’t have to be a math genius to see the basic logic behind our proposed saving.
If you’re already on a 2-year contract with your carrier, we don’t have the best news for you; you might have to work with Brenden’s suggestions. But if it has been over two years you have full ownership of your phone and your service provider is legally obligated to unlock your phone at your request. Read on to find the policy of your service provider:
Your carrier will provide you with the code needed to unlock your phone provided you meet certain requirements:
AT&T will provide the unlock code for free if you have been a customer for at least 90 days and are not currently under contract
T-Mobile will provide the unlock code for free if you have been a customer for at least 40 days. (60 days for prepaid customers with a balance of at least $10)
Bell will provide the unlock code for $75 provided that you’ve been a customer for at least 30 days or purchased your device outright
Rogers will provide the unlock code for $50 given that you’ve purchased your device outright, or at least 30 days have passed since the expiration date of your contract
Telus will provide the unlock code for $50 given that you’ve been a customer for at least 90 days or purchased your device outright.
WIND Mobile will provide the unlock code given that you’ve had an active account for at least 90 days and you haven’t requested an unlock code in the past 90 days.
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