Thursday, March 22, 2007

Traveling with a cellphone

Overall I am not sure having an international cellphone is worth it. It is very expensive, and can create more headaches than it fixes, but that could be related to the places I've traveled to. The big up front cost is the unlocked quadband GSM phone, and no matter how tricked out it is, it still won't work in Japan. Then to use the phone you need a sim card. I got a mix of international and local sim cards. The first two I got were Mobal International and Australia Telecom Revolution Prepaid, and later purchased an Indian Airtel Prepaid one in coutry as they are not sold overseas due to the lengthily forms involved.

The Mobal card, which is based in Britain, worked fine in New Zealand, but is very expensive, usually $4/min for international calls and $2/min for local calls. It's redeeming quality is that it works in over 140 countries, so this was my emergency back up card. Unfortunately my service cut out somewhere between Australia and Japan, so when I got to India and tried to call home to say I arrived safely I got no dice. So much for emergencies - I do not recommend Mobal in anyway.

Our Ausi card worked great in the cities but was also expensive. Though not nearly as much as Mobal, we still managed to blow over $100 on minutes. The biggest problem was that we were only in cities for two weeks of the three months we spent in Australia, place a day here and there between wwoof hosts. Most of the time we were so far out in the bush you needed some other kind of non-gsm phone to get reception - to bad for us. So I'd only recommend this if you were planning on staying in town.

The Airtel card is very complicated, but the rates are ok and receiving international calls is free. You need copies of your passport, visa, proof of address, local address, and passport photo just to buy the thing. Then you have to pray the person you bought the sim card from gets all the papers to Airtel's HQ. I'm afraid I wasn't praying enough and after a week of use my service cut out and I got a sms saying I needed to send in my visa form. I couldn't even use the phone to call customer support, and when I called from a payphone they didn't speak English. I went to an Airtel office and they gave me all the forms to fill out again, which I did, only I didn't have another passport photo. I tried to explain that I already filled out the forms in Jaipur but again a lack of English interfered. I couldn't even get them to tell me where I could get a passport photo taken, so I left. If you need an Indian Sim card try Reliance or Hutch, but god help you if you try Airtel.

I remind the traveler now that payphones still exist for local calls everywhere, and it is much less expensive to email home and friends than call. If you getting the phone just for emergencies don't be surprised if when the emergency comes your phone doesn't work. The best options maybe to ask you current cellphone provider if they have international options so you don't need to get a new phone and sim card, or go for a satellite phone.


Anonymous said...

Live and learn!!!! The next trip will be very different - first of all moi will be with you!!!!!!!!!!!! bb