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All you need to know about mobile phones

Mobile Phones – A Post Brexit Travel Guide

Mobile phones are a great way to stay in contact when travelling abroad but be careful of mobile phones and data roaming. Technology has advanced to the point that smartphones not only provide phone calls and text, but also serve as tools for capturing and sharing vacation memories, finding information about areas you’re visiting, and booking various travel services. But if you’re a UK citizen beware of roaming charges since the UK left the EU.

The majority of UK phone and data providers have stopped FREE roaming since Brexit and have rolled out deals that, whilst they appear value based, are often more expensive than they first appear – always read the fine print

An introduction to mobile phones

When traveling abroad, there are a variety of methods to make use of a mobile phone.

  1. Use the foreign network on your phone once you’ve taken it and your SIM card abroad (roaming)
  1. the purchase and use of a local SIM card while arriving at a new location
  1. Getting a phone and a SIM card when you get there
  1. Getting an international phone and SIM card in advance of your trip

Purchasing a local pre-paid mobile phone at your destination or a local SIM card for use in your current mobile device may make sense depending on the duration of your stay.

When traveling between countries in the European Union, using your current phone and SIM card may be feasible, but if you go farther outside the EU (even to countries that border the EU), the cost may be expensive or the service may be unavailable. If you live in a country where pre-paid SIM cards are hard to come by, you may want to consider switching to one of them.

Even inside the same nation, roaming costs apply in Mexico, for example. To avoid paying roaming fees while traveling abroad, get a local SIM card and verify that it may be used without roaming in all of the locations you want to visit.

Bring your mobile device with you

One of the best things about standards is that there are so many to choose between. Numerous mobile networks and phones exist, but they are not just on different wavelengths, they also don’t speak the same digital dialect. Fortunately, if you bought your smartphone within the previous two years, your odds of being able to use it abroad have increased somewhat. Despite this, it’s a good idea to double-check the compatibility before you go.

Mobile phones come in a variety of “generations,” each with its own set of sometimes-incompatible standards. In terms of mobile phone technology, a generation lasts around ten years.

  1. First-generation (1G) mobile phone services included NMT and AMPS, both of which used analogue technology. Turned off in 2008 and is now completely defunct.
  1. The 2G generation of mobile phones is the first to use digital technology. At the very least, there are two standards that are completely incompatible:
  • After emerging in Europe in 1991, GSM quickly became the world’s most used mobile phone standard. 3G and 4G have rendered GSM completely outdated, and several telecoms have shut down or plan to shut down their GSM networks by 2024.
  • In the United States, only Verizon and Sprint employ CDMA (particularly cdmaOne), while CDMA is the sole 2G mobile phone protocol in South Korea. It will, however, be shut down over the following several years. Major Canadian telecommunications companies have already discontinued their CDMA services, and the United States, South Korea, and Japan will all do the same by 2020 or 2021, respectively.
  • PDC was a Japanese-only standard that was also the country’s most extensively utilized 2G standard. Due to this one-of-a-kind standard, mobile phones from other countries could not be used in Japan or the other way around. In 2012, the last network was shut off.
  1. Similar to 2G, 3G was a technological improvement that was separated into two distinct types.
  • UMTS, a development of GSM, was the technology standard for most networks. HSPA/HSPDA and HSPA+ are UMTS versions that have been updated to provide quicker Internet data downloads than W-CDMA. Because GSM is being phased out by many operators, a 3G phone will likely function in foreign countries where a GSM phone would not.
  • CDMA2000 (particularly EV-DO) is a development of CDMA that was utilized by a small number of networks, much like 2G. Around half of the remaining ones will be decommissioned by 2020-2024. Many of them have already been shut off.
  • EDGE (a faster GSM technology) and CDMA2000 1X (a faster CDMA technology) have been sold as “third generation,” “3G,” or “3x,” respectively, since the idea of a mobile phone “generation” is primarily established by marketers. These aren’t UMTS or EV-DO standards; GSM and CDMA incompatibilities are still present in EDGE and EV-DO, respectively.
  • With HSPA+, the lines between “generations” are just as blurred (a faster 3G UMTS branded occasionally as 3.5G or 4G).
  • In the second part of the 3G period, modern cell phones appeared on the market. The chances are that your smartphone is at least 3G-capable unless you have a really old device (such as the first-generation iPhone).
  1. Most recent smartphones are compatible with 4G, which is a faster data connection (often LTE) accessible in large cities. Some phones support a half-dozen frequency bands, which vary by area. Every single 4G service provider or device supports both 3G and GSM in 2017, and the majority of devices may also use GSM as an alternative if the network enables it.
  • Sprint in the United States and UQ in Japan both utilized WiMax, which has since been deactivated.
  • Standard LTE and TD-LTE are incompatible. Many new gadget makers now include compatibility for the standard as nations outside of China embrace it.
  1. Since 2019, 5G networks have been deployed in certain areas. Although 5G networks are already accessible in many countries, phones that enable “global” 5G are not yet commercially available.

There are a variety of frequencies available as well. A device that doesn’t have the necessary local frequencies or isn’t compliant with the network’s standards will not be able to connect. To reiterate, a more recent phone is more likely to function with different frequency bands.

Outside of North and South America:

  • The most popular GSM frequencies are 900 MHz and 1800 MHz.
  • The most widely used 3G (UMTS) frequencies are 900 MHz and 2100 MHz.
  • The 4G frequency in Australia is 1800 MHz. 3G UMTS (Telstra) service is well-served by 850 MHz.

ITU Zone 2 encompasses North and South America:

  • For 3G (UMTS), AT&T and all major Canadian carriers utilize the most prevalent GSM or CDMA frequencies of 850 MHz and 1900 MHz (Bell, Rogers, Telus)
  • T-US Mobile’s network used 3G (UMTS) at 1700 MHz and 2100 MHz 
  • In Canada, new entrants, regional carriers (such as Eastlink and Vidéotron) and 4G (LTE) services all utilised 1700 MHz
  • 4G LTE might make advantage of additional bands (such as 2600 MHz) to transport high-speed data

When using a local SIM card or roaming in a foreign country, make sure your phone’s frequency bands match those of the telco’s network. If your phone only has compatibility with one of the frequencies, you may be limited to using it in certain areas.

As a last step, look for any problems with your handset’s SIM (subscriber identification module), a little card that determines a mobile phone’s carrier and phone number. There are two ways to use your current mobile phone when traveling outside of the country:

  • As long as your home carrier and a carrier at your destination have an agreement to route calls using your current mobile telephone number, you may use roaming. Since invoicing is handled by two phone carriers and all calls to you must travel via your country of residence first before returning internationally, the cost rises even higher. The new “roam like at home” regulations established by regulators, which enable part or all of one’s plan allotment to be used anywhere in the EU without additional costs, may be a realistic choice while visiting a European Union nation from inside the EU. Prepaid cash mobile plans often do not allow users to use this feature since it is too expensive. Even if you don’t leave your country, you may have to pay a roaming fee. Mobile phones from regional carriers may “roam” when transported to domestic regions beyond their native region, particularly in nations with lax laws or where a single or small number of providers have “cornered” the market.
  • It is possible for the traveler to get an international prepaid phone plan with an international mobile number at an international rate by getting a local SIM. This won’t work if your phone is locked to a single service provider, but you can buy unlock codes for many popular phones from third-party websites online.

Dual-SIM phones are available, but they’re more common than you may think. Because they include two card slots for SIM cards from several mobile networks, they are referred to as “dual SIM.” This enables you to use the same phone for personal and business purposes, or for travelers to use SIM cards from many countries. Depending on the device, you may be able to use two lines simultaneously, each with a distinct number assigned to it. However, in some cases, you will have to manually transfer from one SIM card to another, which may require turning the device off and back on. Prior models let you use either number to receive calls and texts, while the latter lets you choose between using one SIM for data and the other for making and receiving calls and text messages. If you get calls from home (or anywhere else), you may want to use the local SIM most of the time, but if you receive calls from overseas, you may want to use the local SIM or your home number to return the call, depending on the price. Messages are the same way. Later versions allow you to monitor missed calls (if your operator informs you) and receive messages on your home number whenever you want, while utilizing the local SIM when you don’t. Local roaming agreements let you use your home number while you’re away from home, but you’ll lose signal if your home operator doesn’t.

Having a second phone with a local SIM card offers comparable advantages.

Many travelers’ cell phones are outdated yet remain working as a result of recent improvements. It’s best to carry a phone that has local frequencies so that you may use a local SIM card in one device while keeping your current home number active on the other. If your primary number is contacted, return the call using your local SIM card at local rates rather than incurring the higher roaming cost. Avoid flashing your phone if you live in an area where there are a lot of robbers.

Older phones may have more compatibility concerns than newer ones if you’re on the go.

When traveling, make sure you know the costs ahead of time.

Many businesses impose exorbitant call costs when “roaming” outside of the customer’s home region. Post-paid cell phone service, especially mobile internet, has racked up astronomical fees for tourists. In certain cases, a local prepaid handset/SIM will cost less than a roaming smartphone and, in other cases, Wi-Fi hotspots will provide the streaming video download for no additional charge. Once you join a foreign network, some service providers at the very least provide you a notification outlining the rates. Depending on where you live, this may be legally required.

Roaming

Roaming refers to using your phone outside of your home area’s service coverage. If you’re going to be wandering, be prepared by doing some research before you go. You have to know how much it will cost and what is included in that price. Even if you’re roaming, your costs may be the same as at home (for example, most EU-based subscribers roaming within the EU), or you may be required to pay a fixed daily fee – depending on your carrier, contract, and destination – or even thousands of dollars for only moderate usage if you’re abroad. Whether you want to pay to make calls or collect voicemail, there are options to suit your needs. As soon as you switch on your phone, background data might start accruing charges to your account.

Instead of paying per minute for phone conversations, try text messaging (SMS). These text messages have a maximum size of 160 bytes and may be transmitted between phones (messages can nowadays be longer, but are still delivered and paid for in such chunks). While SMS messages may be more costly (ranging from USD 0.30 to 1.00 per message) when sent internationally, they are less expensive than international calls and can be a great way to save money. In certain cases, obtaining them is completely free of charge. In addition, you will be charged at home rates if someone sends you an SMS from a carrier back home.

There are two things you should double-check before you arrive to make sure roaming works:

  1. Check to see whether your phone is the proper model and can connect with the foreign network’s frequency.
  1. Roaming agreements exist between your home carrier and at least one carrier in the nation you’re traveling, and do you have a plan that allows you to roam abroad?

Your phone

Even if you’re using your current carrier’s roaming services, your phone must be compatible with the standards and frequencies of the network at your destination with which your carrier has a roaming agreement.

However, if you’re using the incorrect frequencies or have a CDMA-only phone and go to a nation where service providers only offer GSM, you won’t be able to get a signal. Your device and plan’s manufacturer should be able to inform you which networks are supported.

Your carrier

In order to enable you to roam, your service provider has to have an arrangement with a carrier in your final destination country or region. Verify that a contract is in place and that the roaming carrier utilizes frequencies that do not conflict with your phone’s capabilities.

When it comes to European Union (EU) data use, most providers charge it as part of the subscriber’s monthly data quota. However, there are certain exceptions, such as those who provide mobile data at dirt cheap prices.

Verify if your plan’s roaming capabilities extend to other countries. It may be necessary to enable it, but this may be done much more easily from home. In many pre-paid plans, international roaming is either not allowed or limited in terms of networks or services that are permitted (such as SMS only).

In most cases, phones have a default option that automatically selects a roaming network. Change the network option from automatic to manual if you’re near the border of your country of origin or your planned destination, and stay on your home network until you lose the signal. Distance from the border reduces your home carrier’s signal strength; depending on terrain, you may lose signal even before crossing the border and likely at least 5 miles (8 kilometers) beyond – but your phone does not connect to an expensive network across the border when your domestic one is still working or you don’t need to be connected.

Especially in high terrain where domestic signals are weak and signal paths to foreign towers immediately cross water or in backcountry where there are no domestic towers in the vicinity, a stronger foreign signal may be obtained even without crossing the border. In border areas like Niagara Falls, Windsor–Detroit, and the Thousand Islands, mobile phone users routinely deactivate roaming from the phone’s menus to avoid being charged for roaming even when their phones were not used outside of their own nation at all.

Networks of swindlers

Numerous regional nano-networks (particularly in Europe) may “catch” your mobile phone if you have it configured to automatically choose a network. A good example is traveling on the Stena line boat between Scotland and Northern Ireland, where the best signal is likely to be their own network, with roaming rates of more than €1.50/min for incoming calls rather than the €0.05/min call limit if you are still using an EU network. After years of ignoring a socially beneficial technological breakthrough, movie theaters have begun adopting it to silence phones during shows.

When at sea and cut off from land-based networks, a ship-local network linked by satellite may be a lifeline for those who need it, but the costs may be prohibitive for others who can go without (even in the harbour).

Local SIM cards

In certain nations and regions, getting a local SIM card for voice or internet might be difficult. This may be due to a variety of factors, including technological limitations, legal restrictions, and more. Several nations have no cell phone coverage at all, while others are just partly covered. To get a local SIM card, you’ll often have to provide identification in your country of residence. If you’re planning on staying in a country for an extended period of time (like in Iran, Turkey, Indonesia, or Azerbaijan), you’ll need to register your phone and pay a tax or tariff to “import” your device. To register your IMEI in Pakistan, you must provide your fingerprints. Selling a traveler a voice-enabled SIM card is illegal in Japan.

An UMTS or GSM phone accepts SIM cards in place of the phone’s memory (often under the battery). It’s required for GSM phones since it gives the phone its own unique identification to the network. CDMA devices had the feature built in, however SIM cards are now accepted in the majority of them (or the R-UIM or CSIM variety). Roaming is expensive, so buying a local SIM card is a far better deal.

In terms of payment schemes, there are two main types: pre-paid (sometimes known as “pay as you go”) and subscription (paid on each consecutive month, post-paid).

While using a local SIM saves money on local calls compared to using a roaming SIM, there are additional factors to consider when making or receiving calls from outside the country, such as calling family or friends back home. Your choices are (and the expenses associated with each option may change significantly):

  1. making a regular phone call to your home phone (you pay a roaming surcharge)
  1. just using your regular phone number, you contact them (you pay for an outgoing international call, including a roaming surcharge)
  1. calling your home phone number (they pay for an international call)
  1. or by contacting them from a local telephone number (you pay for an outgoing international call).

Once you insert a local SIM card into your phone, the device is regarded as if it is in your home country and you have a local phone number. A small quantity of prepaid airtime may be found on certain prepaid cards (typically no more than half the face value of the card, sometimes even more). There are differences between prepaid and non-prepaid subscriptions in terms of call and data prices, thus the value of prepaid airtime will vary.

For the most part, prepaid SIM cards do not need the creation of an account or the use of a credit card or a bank account. Passports and other forms of identification are required in certain countries (in an effort to curtail criminals’ access to mobile phones), while non-residents are barred from purchasing mobile phone numbers in others.

To add credit to these SIM cards, go to newsstands, telephone shops, or convenience stores and purchase “refill,” “top up,” “recharge,” “reload,” or “add value” cards or vouchers. These terms are often used in the US, Singapore, the UK, Canada, and New Zealand. To top up a credit card from an ATM or the provider’s website may need a domestic debit/credit card or bank account, however this is achievable with certain carriers. Sending an SMS to the service provider may transfer credit (prepaid or plan) between customers on the same network in certain countries.

Prepaid SIM cards are available in mobile phone stores outside of security at several major international airports. This eliminates the need to leave the airport. A few shops cater particularly to tourists and provide SIM cards designed for them.

The SIM card and the credits on a prepaid plan expire quickly. The SIM and the local telephone number will expire if they are not reloaded on a regular basis (typically with a code acquired at a local shop or on a website using a local credit card). In general, top-up cards with smaller amounts last longer.

The card comes in a plastic packaging the size of a debit card, from which you may remove a chip card of varying sizes in one of three shapes (mini SIM, micro SIM, nano SIM). The chip in a micro or nano SIM is the same; the only difference is that certain phone models utilize a smaller plastic frame around the SIM. If you’re using an old phone, you may need a micro SIM card that’s a bit thicker than the nano models; be sure this is the case before purchasing.

When traveling to multiple countries, it may be more cost-effective to obtain a service that allows you to forward calls to a local mobile phone or SIM at a low cost (such as a Voice over IP provider), distribute that number to your contacts, and receive their calls on your local mobile phone/SIM when you arrive in a new country.

Calls made using a subscribed SIM card should function immediately after installation, however data connections may need further configuration before the device is able to locate the Internet gateway. Normally, the configuration data on the SIM card is used to set up the network automatically, but in certain cases, provider-specific Access Point Name (APN) settings must be entered manually.

Buying a SIM card from an outlet of a telecom may be helpful so that your phone works before you go. This eliminates the need to manually apply settings, which might be confusing. With no mobile data set up, it may be necessary for you to check the provider’s website. Depending on the supplier, mobile data may also come with a login and password.

When it comes to carrier technical assistance, you’re generally just given a short list of options and told to contact the device’s maker with any further questions you have If you don’t provide the access point name (APN), you won’t have mobile data, even if you solely use MMS for a few particular apps (such as texting photographs). If you bring your own unlocked device, you’ll need to add your local SIM provider to the connection list for data since phones bought from particular service providers normally preload the settings specific to that provider. The new connection on the list may also be pointed to instead of your home carrier’s gateway by a setting in your mobile browser.

If you have one-button access to your voicemail on your phone, that function will automatically contact a number that you choose in the phone’s setup menu. This number may often be gleaned from the device’s SIM card, although double-checking is always a good idea. Even if you have messages waiting on your home provider (original SIM) and on a local provider, any on-screen “message waiting” signs will only operate for the presently inserted SIM (local SIM). If your phonebook entries or Wi-Fi passwords are stored on the SIM card, swapping SIM cards will need you to copy or re-enter them.

International SIM cards 

An international SIM card is one that may be used for international roaming. They’re more costly and more complicated than local SIM cards, but they save you the trouble of having to purchase a new one in each new nation, even if you still have airtime remaining on your old one from the previous location. Consequently, they may be a fascinating choice if you’re planning a quick trip to a few nations (EU is an exception, as a SIM bought in one country often works in all of them).

As a rule, “international” calling cards provide low-cost or no-cost incoming calls to a large number of countries while also providing free or inexpensive outbound calls through an automated callback service. This eliminates the need for numerous renumbering.

Many businesses just resell the services of many large roaming providers. Most foreign roaming SIM cards run on one of three operating systems:

  • to provide an Estonian platform with services such as TravelSim, AirBalticCard, and others
  • using a JT Telecom platform situated in Jersey with a Jersey-based “UK” number
  • on the Naka platform, which is powered by this Swiss MVNE

Shop around since there are so many different reseller firms to choose from, and pricing may vary so widely. It’s possible that the cards available for purchase at airports aren’t the best value.

Locked and unlocked phones

If you wish to use your own phone, make sure (as mentioned above) that it is unlocked and that the destination, kind, and communication frequencies are all compatible with the phone’s operating system (or “carrier SIM-locked”.)

According to the law, in certain countries, service providers must provide device unlock codes for their customers after a specified length of time and generally for a cost. While a “unlock” code may be acquired for as little as $10–20 from a variety of Internet merchants for many popular devices, it is more unusual that a smartphone needs to be transported to a specialist vendor in order to be unlocked.

From December 2017, clients in Canada will be able to request a free phone unlock from their service provider, and all newly acquired mobile devices must be supplied to them unlocked as well.

Unlocking a phone is not the same as “jailbreaking” (which allows non-Apple software downloads on Apple devices) or “rooting” (which allows access to rival mobile providers) (which provides a “run as administrator” option for Android programs). Unlocking a phone might be a pain on certain models but not on others. In contrast to Motorola or Sony phones which need extra equipment and may necessitate bringing your phone to someone, older Nokia phones may easily be unlocked at home with only the use of a simple code. For certain Japanese domestic market phones, a new SIM-based technique connects to your SIM card, enabling you to transfer it across phones. Look around: Unlocking services in Europe and Asia are often less expensive and more readily accessible than those in the United States.

Buying an unlocked phone is an option as well. Phones are never secured in certain nations, such as China. The “bargains” you may obtain by signing a contract for a service and accepting a locked phone can be found on many websites and in certain stores in Western nations that offer unlocked phones, generally at a higher price. Factory-unlocked phones from third-party electronics sellers are more likely to include travel-specific features like “quad-band,” “dual SIM,” or travel chargers, which are designed to keep devices functioning with various carriers in multiple countries. Anywhere from US$150 to US$500 from an internet mail-order company may buy an unlocked 3G (UMTS/WCDMA) dual-SIM quad-band Android phone without carrier-specific branding.

Internet-based phone calls

Installing a softphone application and joining up with a VoIP service may allow smartphones to make voice-over-IP calls using a wireless Internet hotspot (or, with the correct software, any reasonable Internet connection). Unless your Internet connection is pricey, this is a low-cost method of communication; phoning someone who is also using an Internet phone or app linked to the same servers may even be free.

Local cellular telephone networks are not required for VoIP conversations, but Internet access is. VoIP calls might be interrupted at the Internet firewall if connectivity is not available. These VoIP calls might be free or pricey depending on your mobile phone carrier if you are using mobile data to connect to the Internet. Additionally to voice, they may link compatible apps through video, text chat, and file sharing.

There are two types of Internet voice service providers: The generic VoIP gateways follow an Internet standard (SIP) and enable users of any application that meets the standard to contact normal phone lines – frequently for as little as a cent or two per minute, without any minimal requirements – (many small independents fall into this category; in the US, Google Voice may be another option). In contrast, third-party applications (like Facebook Messenger) primarily link users of the same service with connections to other systems often considered as telephone network calls (e.g., WhatsApp, Viber, Skype). In most cases, the applications are free to download from the app store on your phone’s operating system.

Buying or renting a phone when traveling overseas

As an example, if your phone does not support the local network or you want to keep your domestic number, you may choose to use a different phone when traveling, such as one that is less expensive. It’s important to verify compatibility if you intend to purchase the phone before you go, and where you can get it once you arrive so you can prepare to get by until you have it.

Most places, including airports, allow you to rent a local mobile phone when you arrive. The cost of renting a cell phone at the airport is typically significantly more per minute than the local prepaid rates, therefore in many countries it is cheaper to buy an inexpensive phone with a prepaid SIM card and use it for a week instead. During peak travel season, airport rental kiosks may be shuttered to passengers arriving on late-night flights or run out of phones.

For example, AT&T GoPhone phones start at $20 while the SIM card alone costs $10 in the US, but the smartphone is SIM-locked to a single operator, which charges full price for prepaid minutes. It will not work with another carrier’s SIM card when you return unless the phone is unlocked, in which case it should be discarded. When traveling to other countries, it’s a good idea to get an unlocked phone.

A major advantage of purchasing a low-cost “disposable” prepaid phone is that even if your phone is stolen, you will only lose the (relatively low) value of your phone and the remaining balance on the chip – as well as messages, call history, and whatever else you store on it – and not the several hundred euro a new model smartphone would have cost you.

However, if you want to use a local phone and make local calls, it’s a good idea to get to know the local phone system and prices. A powerful firm may perform shenanigans on you such as not calling anybody or other shenanigans, and you may discover your balance “disappearing” after only a few days. This is particularly true in nations with weak or no government restrictions against such corporate activities.

For certain phones, you must register, accept agreements, and download updates in order to do so. This may need Wi-Fi, which isn’t always accessible where you buy the phone or even where you stay. Changes to the language settings on your phone may need assistance if it is configured to utilize the local language as the default.

Before your trip, consider buying or renting a phone

You’ll be able to give out your phone number to relatives, friends, and coworkers if you have your phone and SIM ready before you go. When you arrive, you’ll be able to use your phone right away. In your native language, you’ll find detailed instructions on how to use your phone, including how to see how much credit is left on your prepaid account, how to add more credit, and how to contact customer care.

Of course, you’ll need a suitable phone and SIM card to do this. If you’re looking for these items, you won’t find them at your destination’s stores. If you do, expect to pay a premium. Some nations, such as Hong Kong, have whole street markets devoted to phones and SIMs of various kinds, for usage both at home and overseas, making it quite simple to locate one.

Aside from that, Amazon has a good range of “globally compatible” phones, which are those that work with the most widely used frequency bands (such as 2G and 3G) and may be used with local SIM cards in certain countries. Once you’ve done your research and know exactly what you’re searching for, eBay is a great location to seek for them.

Buying a USB charger

This is what you’d expect from a USB-C charger. Fast charging, for example, may not be supported by all chargers, which might have an impact on certain gadgets due to the additional power they use. Despite the fact that they are offered together, the cable and charger may be switched out if they are kept separate.

As a result of EU pressure, mobile device manufacturers have switched to using +5V USB as the usual charging connection. You should be able to locate a USB charger that works with your destination’s electrical system, or you may use your laptop or another local computer to recharge.

The cord that connects your phone to the charger’s USB connector is still required. However, they do not meet all of the industry standards.

MicroUSB, which was formerly the de facto Android standard, is currently only available on ancient phones and on a few budget models.

The Lightning connection is found in the majority of Apple products, including the latest iPhones and iPads.

USB-C ports, which are incompatible with older USB generations, are now on most non-Apple phones and tablets (particularly, iPad Pros and Airs released after 2018).

The cord on some chargers is permanently attached to the charger. This limits your options. It is possible to use your cord with a new charger you purchase across the border if the charger has a standard USB outlet and the equivalent standard connector on the other end of your independent cable. It’s not necessary to get a charger that has the correct wire when purchasing a new charger; instead, simply make sure it has a USB outlet. If it has, great news! You’ll never be without one again.

Region-specific information

Africa

  • Egypt is finally allowing visitors to purchase SIM cards, but the registration process for non-citizens remains cumbersome. Instead of wasting time searching for stores in town, do it right away when you get to the airport.

North America

America has different frequencies than the other continents (ITU region 2, in blue).

Only a few major North American carriers provide GSM, which is often used at 850 MHz or at 1900 MHz. 3G (UMTS/WCDMA) networks from AT&T, Bell/Telus, and Rogers all utilize 850 MHz/1900 MHz frequencies. Other continents’ standard frequencies differ significantly from these.

New entrants, regional carriers, and high-speed mobile data services all need more frequencies.

GSM is used by AT&T and T-Mobile in the United States. If they support local frequencies and their home carrier authorizes it, European phones may be able to roam on these networks (for a fee, which is normally rather high). A greater number of service providers are supporting 3G (UMTS/WCDMA) compared to GSM, however frequency allocations vary greatly.

To use a local SIM card at the location, you’ll need an unlocked quad-band GSM or UMTS phone. As of 2017, the AT&T 2G network was shut down, and the 3G network will be decommissioned in February 2022. Even though Sprint was bought by T-Mobile in 2020, the two networks will not be completely linked until mid-2022 when T-Mobile expects to shut down Sprint’s 2G CDMA network in January and its own 2G GSM network by the end of 2022. As of June 7, 2021, Rogers in Canada will discontinue its 1900 MHz 2G network, followed by its 850 MHz 2G network by the end of the year.

Mobile phone users in the United States and Canada must pay airtime for all calls, inbound and outbound. (This is not the case in the countries of the Caribbean.) It is possible to convert from wired to wireless service while keeping the same handset number. The cost of calling a mobile phone is the same as calling a landline, thus both are free. Prepaid SIM cards cannot be used until they have been “activated” through phone or (in the case of certain carriers) online. This is because the subscriber must choose a city (which need not be their place of residence) from where they will get their local incoming number.

Because national networks like those operated by AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Bell/Telus (in the US and Canada) are the norm, roaming is seldom a problem. In contrast to the EU, there is no regulatory cap on how much operators may charge for roaming while using a Canadian phone in the US. Downloading enormous volumes of data from other countries has been known to cost people hundreds of dollars or even more. For this reason and others, Rogers does not have its own network in Canada’s northern territories, so users with prepaid Rogers SIMs (visitors) must purchase a separate prepaid Ice Wireless SIM while in the region. As a result, plan ahead and get a Bell/Telus SIM or purchase a separate prepaid Ice Wireless SIM while in Canada’s northern territories. As a result of the intense competition in the US market, providers in that country have been forced to lower their rates for roaming to Canada significantly. For example, Verizon prepaid costs an additional $2 per day in Canada, while T-Mobile prepaid plans can roam for only $5 more per month in Canada.

Because of the increasing competition, there are a few regional carriers that no longer charge extra for domestic roaming inside their home zone. However, prepaid top-up cards are unlikely to be available outside of these carriers’ home service areas.

For both prepaid and postpaid services, North American carriers have a reputation for flooding the market with branded devices that are SIM-locked to a single carrier An advertising technique often used is advertising in big print an affordable phone, with the fine print requiring the subscriber to fill out an application for a costly postpaid mobile service that takes years to pay off. In Canada, prepaid phones are commonly available for a cheap initial cost; however, the per-minute rate is higher, and mobile data charges have increased (a cent per megabyte on low-end Canadian prepaid devices or a monthly bundle with 1GB for $30 is not uncommon). Prepaid plans are less expensive in the US than postpaid plans, however the network priority is lower, resulting in slower data speeds during peak hours.

Prepaid is the sole choice for frequent travelers and consumers. There is a bewildering assortment of brand names; some are major carriers, others are “mobile virtual network operators” (who resell capacity on the network of a big carrier at a lesser price), and some are just one of the majors rebranded under another name to create the impression of competition. However, even if all of them are utilizing the same network, prepaid minutes purchased from one provider will not function with those purchased from another.

Prepaid card refills and top-ups are widely accessible in convenience shops, gas stations, big-box retailers, pharmacies, and Canadian post offices in the United States and Canada, respectively. Refilling with a credit card online is rather common. In Canada and the United States, store-brand virtual operators (such as Loblaws and Petro-Canada) sell via their own stores (chosen locations) or solely online. It’s cheaper to use data-only service in conjunction with a VoIP provider like TextNow (US/Canada) or Google Voice to make long distance calls when using basic low-end prepaid plans ($0.25/minute airtime + $0.25/minute for a domestic long-distance call is the norm on low-end “local” or “provincial” prepaid plans in Canada) (US only). Prepaid mobiles come with limited data allowances that may be supplemented with additional plans that cost money. International direct dial (or previous +1 809 Caribbean points) calls are costly on prepaid plans and should be avoided.

Calls are normally billed from the time they are dialed, not from the time they are answered, and service providers round call durations up to the nearest minute.

Directory help is offered at 4-1-1 or +1-area code-555-1212, although it’s pricey; alternatives include the advertising-supported 1-800-Free411 and websites like 411.ca, 411.info, or canada411.com. Roadside help is accessible to CAA or AAA members by dialing *222, and certain services, such #TAXI (#8294), will call a taxi for you for $1.25 to $2 in much of Canada and the US.

Independent phone stores that can unlock a phone are hard to find outside of big urban immigrant populations in the United States. Buying factory-unlocked phones, second hand phones, or codes to unlock your current phone may be done online, or if you’re feeling brave, on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace.

In addition to the storefronts of US mobile phone operators, numerous big retailers such as Target, WalMart, and Best Buy sell prepaid GSM SIM cards. There is a $10 T-mobile prepaid package available in-store or online, and an AT&T SIM-only prepaid plan is available both online and in stores. Prepaid phones are another alternative; if you want to relocate the SIM to your own unlocked handset, do not place the SIM into the provided phone (on AT&T “GoPhone”) since this would lock the SIM in this phone.

Prepaid SIMs may be sent worldwide or special “travel SIMs” can be shipped to North American locations by certain internet providers, although they usually charge excessively (for example Telestial or Cellular Abroad).

Asia

  • Some Chinese service providers employ TD-SCDMA (a 3G UMTS handset incompatible alternative to W-CDMA) or TD-LTE (as an alternative to LTE on 4G devices). Most devices will support TD-LTE since it has been adopted in many countries outside of China and is far more common than TD-SCDMA.
  • Getting a SIM card in India needs a copy of your passport and a few pictures for foreigners. The method is straightforward, although you may have to wait a day or two before your account is activated. INR 350 ($ 5) gets you 6 GB of 4G data and 3 months of calling.
  • UMTS (3G) is available in Japan and South Korea and should be compatible with most contemporary phones that have 3G capabilities on the local frequencies (Korea has 2G and 3G CDMA coverage as well as 3G UMTS coverage).
  • If you’re in Japan on a visa waiver or short-term visa, you can only buy a data-only SIM card. Your other alternatives are to roam (with a suitable LTE or 3G phone), rent a phone, or buy a data-only SIM card. Alternatively, you may have it delivered to your hotel or office through one of the main airports (Narita, Kansai, and perhaps others). You should expect to spend $1–2 each day (around $100–200), plus expensive per-call/per-minute costs for this service. It may cost anywhere from less than 5,000 (about US$50) for unlimited data for seven days to over 10,000 (about US$100) with just 5GB of data for one month, so do your homework before you go for your vacation on how much data you’ll need. Some service providers provide voice-capable SIMs to short-term visitors, but they demand a high price for the privilege. For example, Mobal charges 4,500 (about US$45) for only 7 GB of data, plus a per-minute fee for outgoing calls and SMS messages.
  • Prepaid SIM cards with voice and data are now available to short-term tourists in South Korea. If you’re coming late at night or on the weekend, be sure the SIM card you purchase may be activated after normal business hours.
  • Visitors visiting Singapore have the option of purchasing a SIM card at any of the city’s currency exchange shops, TelCo service centers, or 7-11 supermarkets. However, in order to use the service, customers must provide a valid passport at the time of purchase. Maximum of three Singaporean SIM cards may be registered to a user’s name at a time in Singapore.
  • Thailand‘s three main carriers all provide tourist plans for sale at the country’s major airports (Bangkok/Phuket), and depending on your data use, these may be a decent price. To save money, or if you’re planning on visiting another country after Thailand, look for a store selling non-tourist SIM cards in the airport. Non-tourist SIM cards from the big three providers can roam in neighboring countries for as little as 99 baht (US$ 3 for 2 GB) and 399 baht (US$ 13 for 7 GB) in much of the rest of Asia, and they have access to a rotating selection of promotions separate from the tourist SIM lineup..
  • Etisalat, a major UAE carrier, operates outlets in Dubai’s Terminal 1 as well as Abu Dhabi’s. A passport is required for purchase of prepaid plans since they are less expensive.

Australia/Oceania

  • 3G operates at frequencies between 900 and 2100 MHz (Telstra uses 850 and 2100 MHz) while 4G operates between 1800 and 700 MHz.
  • You should be aware that Australia has certain “external regions” that are serviced by different carriers from those in Australia, and you’ll need to get a second prepaid SIM if that option is available to you.

Europe

If you have an EU-based SIM card, all of your calls, texts, and data should come out of your domestic allocation at first. However, there are several key exceptions and restrictions. Furthermore, certain cards do not allow any roaming at all, and operators might levy a (modest) roaming premium in such situations. Using the card extensively in countries other than those to which the SIM belongs is also subject to surcharges – greater usage abroad than domestic use during a four-month period – which is authorized. Details about EU roaming may be found at ec.europa.eu.

Calling a foreign number from the nation where the SIM card is registered does not fall within the scope of EU roaming laws. Whether you plan on calling home or friends in Europe while traveling or using the SIM card in more than one country, check to see if such calls are free or compare the rates on the separate pricing list.

In Germany, registering a SIM card is now required before it may be used. It is necessary that you purchase your SIM in a telco-operated store (click here for T-mobile, O2, and Vodafone shops) or its appointed partners (click here for a list of Lebara and Lycamobile partners) and bring your passport with you as registration involves verifying your identity at the same time. Despite the fact that purchasing a German SIM card may seem difficult, it is not necessary to be a German citizen to do it. T-Mobile, on the other hand, may be finicky when it comes to requesting proof of residence, therefore opting for O2, Vodafone, or a reseller like Lebara is suggested if coverage is a must.

Prepaid French SIM cards must be activated after purchase. There are two options for the user: either log on to the service provider’s website or call a hotline using the instructions that came with the French SIM card. Without identity, certain tourists’ SIMs may be activated; however, these SIMs will deactivate after 30 days unless identification is presented.

In order to activate a SIM card purchased in Italy, visitors must provide a passport. A merchant/retailer may decide that a photocopy of the passport is adequate in certain instances. Prepaid SIM cards are available at foreign exchange counters and at the retail locations of mobile phone service providers. Additionally, you may be requested to submit an Italian tax ID, however an unauthorized version that is good enough to buy a prepaid SIM may be created online.

Vending kiosks near baggage claim at Heathrow Airport sell UK prepaid SIM cards (sometimes known as “pay as you go” cards). SIM cards and top-up coupons are available at supermarkets and off-licences. If you make frequent calls abroad, choose one of the specialized mobile phone companies like Lebara, Vectone, or Lycamobile. Representatives of mobile phone carriers hand away SIM cards for free at public events and festivals, but recipients must top them up with the appropriate credit. GiffGaff, for example, is a company that exclusively operates online, although its SIM cards may be obtained at special events on occasion. The UK is no longer compelled to include EU roaming in its service plans once Brexit removes the UK from the EU’s “roam like home” agreement. It has been reported that additional roaming costs would not be applied to pay as you go SIMs by all major providers, however this may change at any moment, so double-check before making a purchase.

A Russian SIM card will be required to use a phone in the Crimean Peninsula because there is a legal dispute over whether the region belongs to Russia or Ukraine and because Russia de facto controls the peninsula.

Satellite-based phones

Satellite phone service provided by Inmarsat following the Sumatra earthquake in 2005 in Indonesia. If you’re in a distant area where mobile phone service isn’t available, your only choice may be a satellite phone. Satellite phones aren’t a good substitute for mobile phones since they’re heavier and slower, and you have to be outside with a clear view of the satellite to use one. Ships, expeditions, and pleasure ships regularly employ satellite phone services for distant data and voice communications. More information about connecting to this service should be available from your local telephone service provider.

One geostationary satellite may cover a big part of the Earth, while a couple of geostationary ones can cover the whole planet. This technology is used by a number of networks. Voice conversations are not the only use for these; they may also offer reasonably fast data connections (perhaps around 60 to 512 kbps, and up to 50 Mbps in some of the newest hardware). There are certain drawbacks to using this technology, such as a delay of roughly 0.25 seconds owing to the speed of light, and the inability to acquire a clear line of sight if there are hills or trees in your path. The poles north and south of 70-80 degrees latitude are also not covered. Despite the fact that a number of organizations bundle and supply the services to customers, describing the few satellite operators is more informative. They are as follows:

  • Inmarsat has 13 satellites that provide global coverage.
  • The North American MSAT satellite system
  • The North American subsidiary of Terrestar
  • Thuraya — Their network permits roaming from GSM to satellite when using a Thuraya device and when the network is available. See whether your home network and theirs have an agreement. The inbound call rate charged by certain networks (such as Vodafone UK) is quite expensive (£6.00/min). If you’ll be making a lot of phone calls, get a satellite phone SIM card. Thuraya calls cost between $0.50 and $1.30 per minute. In Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, Thuraya’s network utilizes geostationary satellites, so double-check to see whether you’ll be covered there. For optimal reception, you may need to point the device’s antenna towards the satellite.

Two more networks use low-Earth-orbit satellites to transmit their content and data. A network of more than a dozen satellites is used to circle the Earth every 112-2 hours. Because satellites are only visible in the sky for 5-15 minutes at a time, reception fluctuates fast on the ground. As they arc across the sky, obstructions may briefly block your signal. If your signal is blocked before the network can send connections to the next satellite, calls may be dropped. Currently, data transfer rates are in the range of 2200-9600 bit/s, but future enhancements should boost those speeds up to 128 kbps or higher.

  • There are gaps in some distant places where there are no nearby stations for the Globalstar system, which theoretically could cover the majority of the planet (except the polar regions) and several seas. Most nations use Globalstar, which charges $1-1.50 per minute plus a monthly membership; in Canada, for example, a Canadian could acquire a geographic number for Calgary or Smiths Falls, and subscribers pay to receive calls.
  • There is just one genuinely worldwide network: Iridium. Iridium may be used everywhere there is a clear view of the sky. Because their satellites circle from pole to pole, they provide good coverage throughout all continents and oceans, as well as in the far northern and far southern hemispheres. As a result of the calls being routed from satellite to satellite until one of the four ground stations receives them, there is a significant and fluctuating amount of delay (around 1 second up to 1.8 seconds). To call another Iridium phone, expect to spend roughly USD 1.50-2.00/minute for outbound calls. As a result, Iridium does not engage in direct sales and instead relies on dealers to resell the phones to customers.

Satellite Internet may be sufficient for Internet telephony in off-the-grid stationary systems. As there is no local infrastructure, a firm selling a wi-fi hotspot must feed straight to a dish in order to reach places like Chicken, Alaska, or an outfitter’s camp in the wilds of Labrador.

It’s possible that satellite phones aren’t accessible or are illegal to buy in countries like Saudi Arabia and China. They’re also banned in countries like India, Myanmar (formerly Burma), Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea, and North Sri Lanka. However, they will continue to work in these areas. For satellite phones to work inside their borders, you may need a specific authorization from the government.

The Newfoundland government, on the other hand, will provide travelers on the Trans-Labrador Highway, which passes through isolated parts of Labrador, with a satellite phone with limited capabilities so they may contact for roadside help if they need it.

Usage

Travel photography and video recording are made easier with the inclusion of a camera on most mobile phones. Even though they lack capabilities like optical zoom or interchangeable lenses, they are still less competent than specialized digital cameras and pricey DSLRs but are easier to carry about because of their compact size and absence of flash. Travelers can find a plethora of handy smartphone applications.

Your memory card may run out of capacity if you’re shooting video or taking a lot of images, and the tiny current ones are easy to lose while changing cards in crowded situations or off-road. To make things simpler, plan ahead of time to do it on your laptop (or with a compatible converter) or to use USB sticks, which are smaller and lighter. It’s possible to utilize mobile data to upload the recordings, but make sure you factor in the amount of storage you’ll need, how much it will cost, and how long it will take to upload using actual bandwidth.

Wireless public alerting (WPA)-compatible 4G LTE phones in the United States and Canada may receive emergency alerts from different levels of government to warn of bad weather, fires, natural catastrophes, terrorist threats and civil crises. Messages that serve as alerts in other countries are transmitted as ordinary SMS messages. Unless the phone is switched off, you will continue to get these notifications, which are geo-targeted and can’t be opted out of.

Avoid danger by following advice from “EMERGENCY ALERT/ALERTE D’URGENCE” messages.

Stay safe

Make sure your batteries don’t run out if you use your smartphone for navigation, tickets, or money. Have a back-up in case anything goes wrong or something is taken.

Even though a mobile phone is pricey on its own, the data on it and the contracts that go along with it may add significantly to the whole cost. Even if you purchase a cheap phone with the intention of throwing it away, you should think about the possibility of it becoming broken, stolen, or misplaced.

For the most part, modern phones include at least three different types of permission codes (of the SIM). The SIM uses a PIN, whereas the phone may use fingerprint recognition or something similar to authenticate users. If it’s not configured to anything else, the SIM PIN will be blank or random (e.g., 0000, 1234). If you put a memory card in another device without encrypting it, anybody can read what’s on it.

Unless your phone is secured, a thief may easily remove your SIM card, put it in their phone, and use your plan to make calls. Unlocking a phone that locks it with the SIM card is as simple as swapping out the SIM card.

It’s more difficult than you think to unlock a phone or SIM that’s been locked with a PIN or anything. If you reset your phone to its factory settings, you’ll lose all of your data, including images. To reset the PIN, enter the PUK code found on the SIM card. Either the SIM comes with it or the service provider stores it and sends it to you when you need it. Some of the data may be recovered thanks to good backups.

If you have banking applications, passwords, or other private information on your phone, the theft or cracking of your phone might have far-reaching consequences for you.

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