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Rental Cell Phone - A Rental Cell Phone Is the Best Option For International Travel

what to do?

For an American abroad, finding the right cell phone to take on a trip can be frustrating. Standards for cellular, wireless, or mobile phones vary widely between the United States and the rest of the world.

In most parts of the world, the coverage standard is Global System for Mobiletelephones (GSM.) GSM systems have over two billion subscribers worldwide, and are used in almost 200 countries from Europe through Australia. The largest concentration of GSM subscribers is found in China where they number well over 660 million. Other parts of the world where GSM standard cell phone usage is growing by leaps and bounds include Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East, and Africa.

But while GSM usage is growing in the United States and Canada, coverage can be scarce outside big cities, and the GSM frequency bandwidth used by T-Mobile and AT&T, the two American GSM providers, is different from the one used by European GSM systems.

That means in all likelihood our American traveler’s current cell phone will be unusable when he travels internationally. Of course he can always buy a second, GSM-enabled mobile phone that operates on the frequency bandwidth of the place he’s traveling to — but that can be expensive. Besides, he already has a cell phone that works perfectly well.

What to do?

One alternative might be to rent a cell phone for the trip.

A number of companies rent out GSM cell phones to international travelers:

• Sprint: Sprint’s international cell phone service is among the most expensive around, but it may make sense to rent a Sprint phone if Sprint is your US carrier and you know you will be receiving calls at your regular Sprint phone number. For international cell phone use, you will be charged a $30 activation fee, and a $6 monthly fee with a one year commitment. Rental of a cell phone with a GSM system costs a flat $35 a week, on top of which you will be charged usage fees: if you’re traveling to a GSM country, that fee will be $1.50 per minute; otherwise you will be charged $0.99 plus roaming rates which can vary between $1.20 and $5.60 per minute.

• AT&T: Although AT&T uses GSM in the U.S., it uses CDMA as well which means that the vast majority of AT&T customers will not be able to use their domestic phones when they travel. AT&T does not rent phones.

• Verizon: Phone rentals through Verizon cost $2.99 a day. Verizon does not have its own international cell towers; instead, it rents the local carrier’s network system at a premium it passes on to you. Verizon’s international cell service, then, will always charge you at a roaming rate.; you’ll pay either $1.49 or $2.49 per minute depending upon where you are. Since you’re roaming on another carrier’s network, there’s an increased risk that calls you make will not go through.

• Cellular Abroad: A California-based company called Cellular Abroad will rent you an GSM phone and provide that phone with a SIM card, from one of 50 countries, to minimize your costs.

SIM stands for Subscriber Identity Module: it’s the card or the chip inside your phone that programs the phone with information about the company through which the phone has service, the calling rates set by that company, and the cell phone number. In theory SIM cards or chips can be used in any GSM phone, but AT&T and T Mobile program their phones so that they can only be used with one SIM card, in order to prevent the cell phone user from bypassing their service and using cheaper local carriers. This process is called “locking.”

Cellular Abroad rents unlocked GSM phones through a co-branded service called National Geographic Talk Abroad. Phone rentals start at $18 per week, incoming calls throughout Europe are free, and outgoing calls are less than one dollar per minute.

Where To Rent A Cell Phone

The most cost-effective way to rent a cell phone is to make arrangements with your U.S. cell phone carrier or with Cellular Abroad before your trip.

Alternatively, many international airports have kiosks that offer cell phone rentals. Be wary here: though frequently the rental of the handset itself may be inexpensive or, at times, even free, these companies make their profits by marking up the per-minute rate charges. Even if you don’t make any phone calls, they will frequently impose a minimum daily charge. You can ending up spending a lot of money for this rental cell phone.

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