Jan 24

Mobile Phone SIM CardDo you use your mobile phone when traveling in foreign countries? Yes? No? Apart from the comfort of not having to change your SIM card and just calling and getting called like you’d do everyday; the usually outrageous roaming charges will surely knock you out of your travel budget soon.

But – it doesn’t have to be that way. Just get a local SIM card!

Is it really that easy? Yes and No.

Skype for Pocket PC and PDAIt pays to change your calling behaviour a little to save the most on connection fees and money spent. For calls back to your home country, just try using Skype or other VoIP services and you can save a lot of money. If you use a PDA or similar phone as described here or here (with WiFi and Mobile Skype); you can even use free-of-charge hotspots to call home!

While I wouldn’t recommend to anyone to using your prepaid phone card to call back to your home country (it’s simply too expensive), a prepaid phone card (SIM) *does* come in handy, when traveling a bit longer in a certain country. You will meet a lot of people, make new friends and want to arrange to meet for dinner or other joint activities. Being able to hand over a local phone number usually is a big advantage – if you are planning to see those people again. :-)

So how to do it in Asia?

In most countries I traveled here it’s easy like that – just bring your own phone. Visit any of the many phone shops in the main city centres and ask them for prepaid phone cards to use with your existing phone.

They usually have a wide array on providers to offer, from 3 (Singtel, M1, Starhub) in Singapore to 4 o 5 in Thailand or Malaysia and up to 8 (simPATI, KartuAs, IM3, Flexi, ProXL, Fren and others) in Indonesia.

And how to find out, who offers the best rates?

The local dealer will tell you anything to sell one of those with the highest commissions. It pays as well, to use the same networks like your friends do, as usually the rates for calling the same provider are lower then calling into another network. So better ask your fellow travelers or local friends, or google for it!

Usually you have to register some personal particulars with the network provider as well, which became mandatory in most countries after 9/11. Somehow too many people seemed to use their none-registered mobile phone cards for other activities.

After having installed your new SIM card you are ready to go. If you run out of credit – just top it up again by purchasing “Top Up Credits” for your network. You will get a plastic card with a rub-off-field, which reveals a secret number. Dial the Top Up number, follow the automatic voice and key in the numbers on your plastic card -> Voila! More credits to use your phone with.

There are differences from country to country, on how prepaid SIMs are handled by providers:

7-11: A Coke or a SIM card?In Singapore you can register and buy phone cards in the country-wide ‘Seven-Eleven’ Stores.

In Thailand, prepaid SIM cards will be deactivated after 4-6 weeks, if you don’t top-up them again. This can be pretty annoying, as you might not even used up all your credits. You won’t be able to call or receive calls until you add additional credits.

Mobile Phone SIM Top Up Fees in BaliThe same counts for Indonesia, although the expiration dates are longer (up to 3 months, depending on provider). In Indonesia it’s still bl**dy expensive to use your mobile phone card for calling other people, that’s why most people do mainly SMS. So don’t expect anyone to talk with your on the phone for hours and hours – except, if you pay, of course! ;-)

In Philippines, SMS were even free-of-charge for the first couple of years! Until the permanently-financially-stricken government noticed the huge revenues they unnecessarily forewent each year – then they started to tax it. After great civil unrest of course! But that’s the Philippines.

Anyway – a general rule of thumb is: do use prepaid SIM cards, when you plan to stay longer then 4 weeks in the same country.

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written by Chris

34 Responses to “Using Mobile Phones when traveling abroad”

  1. RobNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    Absolutely, Skype is a good choice when calling long distance especially when travelling… and you can use it with mobile phones of your choice you can try Widgets and Gadgets they features the latest gadgets nowadays.

  2. dodong floresNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    This article is interesting and very informative. Can I use this article in my blog? Best fit with my Travel Tips section. I’ll give you the credit by linking back into this blog… Thanx in advance…

  3. imagoNo Gravatar AUSTRALIA Says:

    Hope to put this info to use one day. Is good to have some background info.
    Its Australia Day here today.

  4. HeliodoreNo Gravatar not found Says:

    Calling a phone number with Skype could be expensive also in some country. But still a good solution, when ther’s a good connection.

  5. ClarkNo Gravatar TAIWAN Says:

    Buying a local sim card is what I always do. You can always have people from home call you to the local number but with the proliferation of wireless in so many out of the way places skype can be an easy alternative.

  6. miguelNo Gravatar MALAYSIA Says:

    While I wouldn’t recommend to anyone to using your prepaid phone card to call back to your home country (it’s simply too expensive), a prepaid phone card (SIM) *does* come in handy

    It’s not as expensive as you think.

    In Malaysia, with a Digi prepaid SIM, calls to USA and to landlines in Western Europe, Australia, etc., are RM0.18/minute. That’s about US$0.04 – not much more than Skype, and a whole lot more convenient.

    In Singapore most of the prepaid SIMs have offers that allow you to dial these same countries (USA etc.) for the price of a local call within Singapore, US$0.06/minute.

    In Thailand there are special dialing codes that can get you good deals – ask at the shop where you purchase your SIM card.

  7. JakeNo Gravatar UNITED KINGDOM Says:

    Very useful, but what if you are planning to live in a country for a while?I plan to live in Sydney for a year – what would be the best option for me?

  8. ChrisNo Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    What do you want to do, Jake? Possibly a combination of prepaid SIM card for
    local calls and Voice over Internet aka Skype for long distance and
    international calls could work for you. But really depends of course on your
    specific needs. ;-)

  9. TelecomNo Gravatar INDIA Says:

    Is it OK to travel with mobile phones. But it should be unlocked and sim supporting GPRS facilities.

    iPhone features

  10. JuulchinNo Gravatar VIET NAM Says:

    I have a cool tip to share with fellow nomads for keeping friends and family in touch.

    I use a Skype “Online Number” with call forwarding so that folks back home can reach me wherever I am, and without having to figure out WHERE I am and what my number is. My family dials my “Online Number,” which is a local number for them (and is free for them). Skype forwards the call to ANY phone number I want (typically my mobile number), and I pick up the tab. So when I land in a new country I pick up my SIM, and tell Skype what number to find me at. Works like a charm.

    It is wonderful for my friends and family to be able to call me on a whim, without having to remember/write down my number (which changes every few months). I do the work for them. I even pay for the call.

    Skype call quality is excellent, and I have used this system successfully in Mongolia, China, Vietnam, Thailand, and Singapore.

  11. ChrisNo Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    Juulchin, that’s a great tip worth to try it out! Thank you for it!

    My own experience is, that most of my friends or family prefer e-mail or simply SMS to reach me. The reason is that I mainly don’t use my mobile phone much anymore and during the day rarely bring it with me, enjoying the independence after being a mobile phone slave for too long. So I’m rarely reachable directly. But then mainly I am the one having to skype-out them back, which is okay with me.

  12. JanetNo Gravatar UNITED STATES Says:

    Great article. Thanks!

  13. LatoyaNo Gravatar AUSTRALIA Says:

    i am going to bail soon. i want to buy a hip top there but i don’t know if it will work back in Australia. can you help me plz. from Latoya

  14. ChrisNo Gravatar INDIA Says:

    Latoya, what is a hip top? I have no idea! For phones and accessories I can only recommend driving into Denpasar, especially to Jalan Teuku Umar (one of the main roads) close to the big roundabout. There you have phone shop after phone shop, very affordable prices due to heavy competition. A charger goes for less than Rp 50.000, basic headphones or batteries for Rp.20.000 and up and mobile phones start at Rp 300.000. You can buy used ones also. If they don’t have yours, they can get it within a few days for you.

  15. Coffee MachinesNo Gravatar AUSTRALIA Says:

    If you purchase a local sim card for receiving calls, can you then use that with an internatioanal calling card for making cheap calls?

  16. ChrisNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    Should be possible! Never tried it though, but I can’t think of any reason, why it shouldn’t work.

  17. SunnyNo Gravatar SINGAPORE Says:

    I suggest we do the following:
    1) Buy a prepaid card in the countries we visit. Most people still call the conventional ways using phone numbers.
    2) After exchanging phone numbers, ask for MSN and Skype contacts. Now, if your friend doesn’t know or have these, sell these to them. Tell them about the advantages. If they don’t know how to use them, if you have the time (nomads usually are not in a rush), bring them to an internet cafe and show them how to do it.
    3) Wherever you go, buy a data SIM and connect to Skype and MSN 24/7 using your smart phone/laptop. Alternatively, if your guest house has WiFi, you can use it to connect your laptop online.
    4) Another very interesting technology is this: http://meraki.com/products_services/access_points/outdoor/ Meraki is a device that you can connect to an internet cable, then broadcast the internet WiFi to a range up to 8km outdoor!

    I did mention this to Chris before. I wonder if it is possible to ask the guest house owner to plug his cable into this device during your stay. It benefits his guests who are using WiFi also. Then, if you are within the range of 8km from the guest house, you can use your WiFi enabled smart phone to connect you to skype 24/7.

    Alternatively, you might have a prepaid cable internet connection in the apartment you rent for a few months, then connect the cable to this device.

  18. ChrisNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    Sunny, great advice. I never used calling cards in my life before, Skype is a more comfortable solution to me. With new 3G phones (not iphone, they only made it more popular) like Windows Mobile, Android or Symbian S60 smartphones, you can even run Skype (or any other VoIP service for that matter) directly on your phone (don’t need computer anymore) and call cheap international numbers wherever you go and have mobile coverage.

    My old, trusty M600 finally broke, so I just got myself a Nokia 5320 for 8.500 Pesos, which is around 125 Euro, weighs a mere 90 grams and works like a charm; even with prepaid SIM cards.

  19. JurgenNo Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    Sunny, I have to correct your statement about the Meraki device. There is no way you can use your smartphone or laptop within an 8km range with this or any other kind of “miracle” hardware.
    It might be possible that you are able to “see” the signal but your device will never ever be able to connect because it’s missing the transmission power to send the acknowledgment signal over this huge distance. You would have to connect a highly powered external antenna on your device, but I guess there are very few phones or laptops that offer this possibility and even if your device would offer this, portability would be at a stake.

    Chris, I have to correct you too. You cannot use Skype on a mobile phone in order to make cheap international phone calls, you can just use it for chatting. This at least applies to all Asian countries we’re talking about here on this blog. The reason is that Skype on the phone works different than Skype on the PC, phone calls are made calling a local access number and only from that point they are transmitted over the internet. Only very few countries have this local access number in place. A different approach would be emulators like Fring or Nimbuzz but the call quality is not so great compared to a Skype call from the PC.
    A last approach would be Iskoot, the company that actually wrote the Skype Lite application for smartphones, they have much more access numbers in place, but again, no one in the whole SE Asia region.

  20. ChrisNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    Jurgen, previously I used the official Skype application (Skype Mobile) on my Windows Mobile device and it worked faily well. I only used it via Wifi though, as my device didn’t have 3G yet.

    On Symbian S60, you are right, you basically have only Skype Lite for Chatting and Fring, which you can use for international fixed line calls and which can use your Skypeout Credits (or other VoIP services) also. Fring (over 3G/HSDPA on Nokia 5320) works reasonably well for me, especially calling Singapore or Germany, which usually have better connections and call quality than the rest of world. It’s a very convenient way to call ‘home’ without having the standard costs and just using up your Skype Credits. Nimbuzz doesn’t seem to work so smooth on my device, but maybe I just have to invest some more time with it….

  21. SunnyNo Gravatar SINGAPORE Says:

    Meraki Outdoor
    Typical Coverage Radius

    * Indoor: 150 – 250 ft (50 – 80 m)
    * Outdoor: 500 – 1000 ft (150 – 350 m)
    * Outdoor with high-gain antenna:
    0.6 – 5 mi (1 – 8 km)

  22. SunnyNo Gravatar SINGAPORE Says:

    Anyway, Meraki had been field tested in many places. The whole town or neighborhood could be provided with WiFi coverage. http://meraki.com/solutions/industries/municipal/

    Meraki’s wireless solutions work for your community

    * We build wireless networks that provide cities with secure and reliable access to wireless Internet.
    * We’ve leveraged our expertise to build wireless networks in many cities and business districts, some large like San Francisco and Harvard Square, some small like Prestonsburg KY, Ypsilanti MI, and Nashua NH, and some in other parts of the globe, like Coelemu, Chile.
    * Our customers have deployed Meraki WiFi across their downtown business districts, pedestrian malls, and Main Streets. Meraki’s WiFi networks have helped them attract businesses, tourists, contributing to local economic growth

    Superior technology enables superior results

    * Our mesh technology enables the best coverage, ensuring reliable, secure, and dependable WiFi for any city, in any community
    * Our self-configuring systems allow you to deploy a wireless network for your city in days, not months
    * And our web-based dashboard minimizes the time you spend managing the network, it virtually runs itself
    * Meraki’s solar wireless provide energy efficient and streamlined networks for your community

  23. JurgenNo Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    Sunny, I probably did not make myself clear enough. WiFi connection is different to the transmission of e.g. a radio station. While any Radio receiver is able to receive a givens channel signal, in case of WiFi the device has not only to be able to receive the signal but to transmit it too.
    As Meraki states on their site you need a high-gain antenna in order to transmit their signal for 8km, but that’s not enough in our case. You would need a similar antenna attached to your smartphone in order to get back to the Meraki system and as such a thing does not exist or if it should, it would be very bulky.
    Therefor your excellent idea of just getting this little piece of hardware with you in your backpack, connecting it to the router of the guesthouse and then automatically have free WiFi in an 8km range simply doesn’t work… :(

  24. SunnyNo Gravatar SINGAPORE Says:

    Hi, Jurgen, I am not sure whether Meraki really works like what you described. But if it does not support wifi devices like smart phones that are located KMs away, then the range it gives would have no meaning. What end-users want is that they can connect to the internet using their devices in that covered area to both receive and transmit data.

  25. JurgenNo Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    Sunny, what I described was basic physics and no company on earth can overcome these natural laws! What Meraki does on their website is mixing different kinds of information on purpose. They clearly state that there range is between 50-350 meters (exactly the same like any WiFi router on the market!) and then they add this stunning 8km figure without explaining it further. Actually this function is meant to work only in repeater modus which means that on the receiving side you need such a device again which on his behalf creates another WiFi cloud accessible and reachable by your smartphone or laptop. This technique is used to deploy the WiFi signal to a distant point which otherwise would not be easily reached by a network cable because of terrestrial problems, e.g. a road, a river or a deep canyon in between point A and point B.
    Btw, you can do that with nearly every WiFi-router on the market, the difference to Meraki is only that they are cheaper, not so cute and maybe a bit more cumbersome in installation.

  26. SunnyNo Gravatar SINGAPORE Says:

    Hi Jurgen,
    Thanks for your explanations. But I have a question: how do our mobile phones connect to the network? If our phone must also transmit data beside receiving, how can they be so powerful to transmit data so far?

    Let’s consider another solution. Do you think Meraki should develop a mini weather-proof Meraki (powered by lithium batteries or solar) that we can carry around (perhaps clip on our backpack or hat) in a Meraki-covered neighborhood to broadcast a mini WiFi cloud around the backpacker while he uses his smart phone or laptop? Such a device should be as power-saving, light and cheap as possible. Since it’s not necessary to create a large WiFi cloud, it needs not be as powerful as the normal Meraki.

    So, using this model, we have a Meraki that broadcast up to 8km from a Hostel, and another mini clip-on Meraki we carry with us that connects to this and broadcast a mini cloud around us (radius of 1-3m).

    Do you think this works?

  27. JurgenNo Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    Sunny, the answer to your first question is: modern phones have many different antennas and transmission modules under the hood e.g. a gsm/umts antenna, a wifi antenna, a gps antenna, a bluetooth antenna and so on. each of these antennas have a different transmission ranges e.g bluetooth up to 10 mt, wifi up to 300 mt. and gsm up to 32 km (all these values are theoretical and you won’t be able to get them in real life).
    if you want to try out the wifi transmission power of your phone get yourself joikuspot or joiku light (just google for it) switch it on and try with a second wifi device the distance you’ll be able to cover.
    your second question: this mini device unfortunately would always need the high gain power antenna in order to establish the 2-way connection… :-(

  28. SunnyNo Gravatar SINGAPORE Says:

    What about 3G? Is it superior to GSM and CDMA in the range? Perhaps the most practical means is for all the shops or homes in a neighborhood to buy a Meraki so that our phones/laptop can always be within the range of 350m from the nearest Meraki. As you explained, we must be within this range to transmit data to a WiFi link. For remote places, perhaps solar Meraki? I suggested this before. This could turn the entire neighborhood into a WiFi town. If everyone would co-operate, it would become a business and tourists heaven.

  29. SunnyNo Gravatar SINGAPORE Says:

    I’m not sure how it’s done. My uni campus had the whole area covered with wifi. Is there anyway to do it economically?

    My home has a wireless router. And I think with a Meraki we can achieve the same as with an ordinary wireless router. So why not encourage everybody to use a Meraki instead? It works like a wireless router, broadcasting internet around the whole house. Also in this way they can share the unused bandwidth with people within the range of 350m radius. Better, if someone else also has a Meraki within the range, the bandwidth can be broadcast further by another 350m. Is this understanding correct? So, say there is a shop or cafe every 100-350m away in an area, the whole town can become a Meraki town.

  30. JurgenNo Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    Sunnyyeah that’s right, that would be possible but I guess it will be kind of hard to convince so many people to buy a new piece of hardware which they don’t really need, not to mention the technical and legal complications with sharing a single internet connection. I further agree that it would be techie-tourist-heaven, but I don’t really see the business in it…
    BTW, how id you manage to go frm Singapore to Australia and back in such a short time? ;-)

  31. Chris SimpsonNo Gravatar AUSTRALIA Says:

    Singtel Singapore, Smart Philippines, and Optus Australia are all the same company. Automatic roaming, reload compatibility, no number change.
    I have had problems with both Optus and Smart but this automatic feature is brilliant; therefore I stick with them.

  32. NickNo Gravatar CANADA Says:

    Some companies like AT&T let you use your own phone is another country for a small fee. Not all the companies do that tho and some change way too much for a similar service.

  33. ChrisNo Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    True Nick! Even better if you have an unlocked phone. Then you can simply put in any SIM card of any company in any country, as long it’s the same mobile technology (GSM/CDMA). In most countries, prepaid SIM cards are cheap and the way to go for affordable mobile calling, texting and mobile internet. ;-)

  34. DavidNo Gravatar INDIA Says:

    I used local sim card, and calling cards while calling cards in Russia, but it was still pretty expensive and the calls were not of the best quality and kept getting dropped, so I ended up paying for bad service. Now I make VoIP calls using skype and nymgo depending on destination and which works out to be a lot cheaper.

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