M.E Phone Home!

I remembered that I needed to have a look into what the best options were for using my mobile while overseas. So I’ve been spending a little time doing that.

As far as I can tell you need to ask yourself a few questions first.

  1. Where do you want to take your phone?
  2. Do you want a blanket solution or something different for each country you visit?
  3. Will you be making or receiving calls, or both?
  4. Will you be making calls back to Australia (including text messages)
  5. Are you made of money?

So once you’ve written down your answers for those questions you can start looking around at the various options.

There seems to be three:

  • Add International Roaming to your existing Australian phone plan
  • Buy an International Sim Card made for Travelers
  • Buy a prepaid Sim Card in the Country/Region you are visiting

International Roaming on an Existing Plan

Last time I went overseas I used this option. I really only wanted it for emergency calls and to still feel connected. I used it for the odd text message and a fairly expensive mothers day call. You really need to be aware of the T&Cs when you’re using this option. Even though I asked the person who was activating international roaming to my account if calls made overseas were including in my monthly call credit, and they said yes,  I still came home to a large bill from the calls and texts that I had made while overseas that were on top of my monthly call credit.  I was not happy.

The benefits of this option is that you keep your same Australian number everywhere you go. People at home can call you as normal. The downside is that you’re charged on top of your normal monthly call plan charges and you’re usually charged for making and receiving calls. If you will be travelling for any extended period and you have a post paid plan I would suggest dropping down to a lower plan to save yourself some money while you’re away.

International Sim Card for Travelers

I’ve had a decent look around at these cards and it is currently one of the options I’m throwing around. There are stacks out there. TravelSim, TruPhone, BackChat, WorldSim, just to name a few. They all have their differences. The main drawback with this option I feel is the high entry price. Most of these options start around $25 and go up. Thats before you’ve made any calls. Some will include call credit to get you started but usually not to the same value of the sim pack.

Their rates are generally good though and cater for all call options, calling within the countries you’re visiting, calling other countries, and calling home. Some will also offer 3G data roaming too. Although this is still fairly expensive.

Prepaid Sim in each Country/Region

Having a look at some of the major carriers international websites like Vodafone, Virgin, T-Mobile, 3, Orange, and O2, they all seem to have their pros and cons and is really where you’ll need your answers to the above questions the most.

I think the first benefit of this option is that you are able to pick up a prepaid sim from most of the major carriers for free.

All of the carriers offer international roaming options for their prepaid customers, and you’ll be able to go into a store and buy a starter pack when you arrive.

Vodafone offer a service called passport which give you the same call rates as what you would pay in the UK (20p/min) in all EU countries. They charge a 75p call connection fee for both making and receiving calls, and have extremely cheap options for calling back to Australia from the UK. The only downside is that international calls to countries other than the UK while roaming are charged at £1 per minute. So if you won’t be calling back to Australia or won’t be making many calls at all then this is a great option.

T-Mobile on the other hand have a totally different pricing structure and would suit someone who wanted to make the odd call back to Australia from where ever they might be. You’ll have to check their website for call costs but most EU countries seem to be the same (Switzerland is an exception). Calls cost 43p a minute to anywhere. Text messages are 11p to anywhere. Not bad value really. At the current exchange rate that is much less than what I pay a minute in Australia.  T-Mobile do charge 19p/min to receive calls so this is something to be very mindful of.  Also if you need data while roaming it will cost £1.50/MB which is not cheap but its not as expensive as some.

Cheaper still would be picking up a prepaid sim in every country that you visit meaning you get to take advantage of the local competition that is happening in that particular country. This might be good for the wallet, but I’m not so sure about your sanity.

Which one?

Well if it was that easy I wouldn’t have had to write this article to help me figure it out. You really need to work out which one is best for you and which one fits into your budget. Are you on the phone all the time? Or do you just want it so that you’re contactable?

At the moment I’m leaning towards the T-Mobile option. Free Sim means no initial outlay (apart from a top up which you get to use 100% of), I can make the occasional call home without racking up a huge bill, and I don’t have to worry about different options for each country. I doubt that I’ll be making many calls, but the cheap text messages will get some use.  Data is not too much of a concern for me now that I’ve found out about all the free WiFi options throughout Europe.

So happy hunting, I suggest not talking on the phone while crossing the road in European cities anyway!

Go Go Gadgets!

So amongst all my planning for the trip I realised how different technology wise this trip will be compared to my last trip 4 years ago.

Back then I took a mobile phone, a digital camera, and my ipod. Which is not exactly roughing it but this time around I’ll have a smartphone with internet, wifi, camera, music, video, and application abilities, a very portable netbook, and a digital camera. Same amount of devices but much more convergence and functionality than last time.

I don’t need to take my ipod this time as I can play and listen to the same music on my phone. I can store huge amounts of data and access the internet through wifi with my netbook, and back up my photos from the camera too.

Even though the phone has a built in camera I’ll still be using a standalone. Thats one area of convergence that they haven’t gotten quite right yet, but they’re getting closer.

Who knows what I’ll be taking on my next trip.

I’ve grabbed a fantastic app called NaviComputer for my phone. Its only available for Windows Mobile 6.x phones but it enables you to download and save maps onto your phone so that you don’t need to be connected to the internet to view them. Considering the cost of mobile 3G data roaming across Europe this app will be very handy. It will even show you your location if you have a built in GPS receiver. Check it out at http://navicomputer.com/

So only 65 days to go now. Things are really starting to come together!