Wednesday, May 7, 2014

International Traveling with Your Cell Phone

The Case of Merriam Webster vs. T-Mobile

When I touch down in a foreign land I begin taking in all the new scenery, sounds and smells. 

When my fancy GSM "smartphone" touches down in a foreign land it starts scanning for cell coverage. And, unless I've remembered to turn off my data roaming* feature, it may start accruing charges at 99¢ / minute.   

99¢ a minute / 24 hours a day. 

Day in and day out. 

Forgetting to switch off data is a little mistake that (for many travelers) has resulted in thousands of dollars in roaming charges.

Don't get me wrong taking your smartphone still offers some value. When I find myself in a free Wi-Fi hotspot (like a McDonalds) I use it on Wi-Fi to surf a bit and check my e-mails. And, I periodically switch on the cellular feature to scan for text messages.

But aside from that, without the purchase of a costly foreign data roaming plan, my slick American I-phone becomes a shiny flat stone in my pocket.

Yet, when I see folks from Europe or Asia arrive to the US, they use their smart phones as if they were at home.

Here's why. The I-Phone they buy in Asia or the EU is "open" and will work on anyone's network.

The I-phone we American's buy is "locked" to the carrier you bought it from. So, if you bought it from ATT it only works on ATT etc.

Thank you ATT!

American cell carriers make big political contributions to keep it that way. And now their contributions are unlimited!

Thank you Supreme Court!

And if you go get your I-Phone "Unlocked" in some dark alley, Apple will cancel your warranty.

Thank you Apple!

So Lets Talk Bout T-Mobile......
Recently I read that T-Mobile now offers free and unlimited international talk, text and data in 120 countries.

Roadboy's pilot light lit right up!

So last night I went to a T-Mobile Store. It is officially 2 hours of my life I'll never get back. The sales rep had halitosis and was clueless.

So I came home and scoured T-Mobile's website, and eventually called its "800" number.

Here's the skinny.

The details of the plan seem to be deliberately vague and appear to vary depending upon your total usage of T-Mobile's domestic network. The plan should be called T-Mobile's "free and unlimited for short durations" international plan.

To Roadboy "free and unlimited" means if I go to Barcelona for 6 weeks, my phone should work just like it does at home, for 6 weeks.

To T-Mobile "free and unlimited" means if they feel you are spending too much time off of their domestic network, they will kill your "free and unlimited" feature.

So, if you are planning a few short trips (generally 2 weeks or less) to one or more of T-Mobile's 120 covered countries, their "free and unlimited short term" plan is indeed pretty cool.

If, however, you plan to spend more time abroad than just a short vacation, no soup for you. Just plan on picking up a prepaid phone in the country you visit.

Roadboy's Travels © 2014

* Turning off "Data Roam"
Be sure to check with your carrier and your smartphone mfr. on the specifics of turning off "Data Roam" your specific phone.

On my I-Phone I click "Settings", then "Cellular", then I switch off "Cellular Data". This restricts my phone to Wi-Fi hotspots.

I then select "Roaming (Voice and Data)" and turn off "Voice Roaming" which turns off the cellular phone function and avoids telephonic roaming or SMS charges.  This is the setting I turn back on now and then to see if I've received any texts.  

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