Deciding whether to travel on your home country phone provider’s roaming package (post-paid roaming) or purchasing an international SIM card (with special international rates) or paying for a destination-country local SIM card (prepaid local) is a judgment call that comes down to your phone, your phone number, the roaming packages available, international SIM rates, prepaid SIM packages available, and your travel plans. Here is a break down of the issues you should think about when de
Price differences aside, the biggest factor in your decision is how you plan on using your phone while abroad because there are advantages to keeping your phone number while traveling and advantages to getting a local phone number.
- Learn more about prepaid local SIM cards
- Learn more about roaming with your existing home service plan
- Learn more about international SIM cards
Travelers who choose post-paid roaming keep their phone number, keep their phone plan, and pay their bills like normally while abroad. People will be able to reach you at your regular number, and you pay per minute for roaming charges.
If this is important to you and you don’t mind paying for the privilege, then picking a roaming plan is probably the right choice.
Buying a local SIM card or buying an international SIM card means that you will have a different local phone number in your destination country than the one you are used to using.
The disadvantage with roaming with your existing phone number is that you pay high charges whether they are local or international, and you have to pay for phone calls from friends back home who didn’t realise you were away.
A hybrid is to forward your home phone number to a VoIP service, which forwards your number to you local SIM in the country you are visiting. This allows you to receive both international and local calls to the same phone, but with different phone numbers. You get the best of both worlds: an inexpensive local phone number, and the convenience of your contacts back home still being able to reach you on your home number.
Most of the world uses GSM for mobile communication, while many companies in North America use CDMA.
If you have a CDMA phone, then you have fewer choices, and your home provider may not even be able to provide you with roaming to all destination countries around the world. Your only choice may be to roam or to use a VoIP service. Only GSM World Phone owners can use local SIM cards and international SIM cards.
Many CDMA mobile providers offer to rent a GSM phone to their customers so that you don’t suffer for your choice of provider. The biggest disadvantage with GSM rentals is that you have to order it a couple of weeks in advance.
Your Mobile Provider
The cost of mobile plans varies widely from country to country and there is an even greater difference in roaming plans.
Typically, Asian and European mobile companies provide roaming plans that are more reasonably priced than those provided by American companies, but prices change and are also subject to conditions in both your home country and where you are visiting.
Because the types of plans and costs vary so much, the simplest answer is to check with your mobile provider before making a decision.
Anyone getting their phone service from a company that gouges on roaming charges should have a serious look at getting a local SIM card.
Whether Your Phone is Locked
Mobile providers often lock their phones to prevent them being used with other cellular service providers. Unlocking phones is easy and the true cost of an unlock code is minimal.
The safest way to unlock your phone is to ask your mobile provider to do it, but some providers charge larcenous prices to unlock their phones.
The cheapest way to unlock your phone is to get your unlock code online. There can be some risk with online codes and they can void your warranty, but companies selling unlock codes online are more subject to competition than mobile providers who count on customers being locked in.
Your Travel Plans
Buying local SIM cards becomes a lot more complicated when you plan on visiting multiple countries.
In general, short trips, or trips where you will be visiting multiple countries for short periods of time are cheaper to purchase an international SIM card (and often, even post-paid roaming can be cheaper) rather than going through the process of purchasing a local SIM card in each country, and then calculating how much credit you should buy.
However, the decision is not always so simple. Many mobile service providers have agreements for service across close geographical areas. It may be cheaper to buy a local SIM card in one country and travel locally with it (even to surrounding countries), then to get a roaming package.