An Insider's Guide to Travel: News, Tips, Information & Inspiration

Travel News / Travel Gear

International Cell Phones, Data Plans, MiFi Data Cards, And Google Voice

Share on: Share on Google+

Staying In Touch Abroad - International Cell Phones, Data Plans & Google VoiceAnyone who travels abroad knows the hassles of managing costs for phone calls and data for email and Internet access.

Gadget guy Phil Baker has tried practically all the options and reports on new solutions for the international traveler.

You can rent a phone with a local SIM card in the country you visit, but that doesn’t provide a data solution.

Calls will be about 50 cents a minute and phone rentals can be about $100 or more per week. You’ll have a new phone number that you can give out for those who need to reach you.

Another option is to take your phone with you. If it’s an AT&T or T-Mobile phone, or other phone on the GSM cellular network, they will work in hundreds of countries.

But you’ll need to manage your use to prevent racking up hundreds, and even thousands, of dollars of charges.

International Mobile Phone Rates = OutrageousThe carriers charge rates that make little sense, other than trying to gouge us. For example, AT&T charges $50 per month for 50MB of data used outside of the United States, but then piles on huge penalties for going over. On a recent trip to China, when unexpectedly my data usage hit 200 MB, the charges exceeded $800. (Fortunately AT&T reduced the charge to “only” $200 after I called.).

On my next trip to Tokyo I needed to find something different. When I landed at Narita I never turned on my phone’s cellular service, but turned on its Wi-Fi and began using a MiFi Data Card that I rented fromXCOM Global. The product can also be rented when arriving at Narita, but is made by Novatel in San Diego.

The pocket-sized card made by Novatel is fitted with a country-specific SIM card, in this case one for Japan that connects to the local cellular network, NTT DoCoMo. It creates a Wi-Fi hotspot to which you can connect your smart phone. It works exactly like the MiFi cards offered by carriers in the United States: the phone connects to the card using Wi-Fi and the card connects to the cellular network.

I used the phone and card everywhere to send and receive email: outdoors, in meeting rooms, in restaurants, and even on the train. I also used the card to make phone calls from my iPhone using Skype over Wi-Fi. Instead of paying $2.29 per minute, I paid just 2 cents. The card provided about two hours of use from a full charge. And, of course, I used it in my hotel room with both the phone and my notebook, avoiding the $22 per day Wi-Fi charge.

Learn more: Everything You Need To Know About International Calls.

The card costs $17.95 per day for unlimited data. XCOM Global sends it to you at no charge by FedEx and provides a postage-paid FedEx return envelope. The kit includes a universal charger, an extra battery and complete instructions in a travel pouch. The service is available for any of 32 countries.

What are the disadvantages? Unless you have a Skype phone number, you cannot receive incoming calls. But you can use various services such as Google Voice that will email you when a phone call comes in. Or change your phone’s message to ask callers to email and you will call them back.

Google Voice App LogoUsing Google Voice

Google Voice provides you with a free local phone number that you can give out to others. When that number is called it rings your various phones—home, cell and office—all at once.

Simply go online to the Google Voice Web site, sign in, add a new number or select which phones to ring or not.

Once you’re on a call you can transfer it to another of your phones. Voicemails are converted from voice to text and immediately sent to you as an email message.

Google Voice also lets you initiate calls from your computer.

Click on the number, either in the email message or from your Google contacts, and designate which of your phones you’d like to use.

A few seconds later, that phone rings and connects you to your call. Calls are free within the lower 48 states and a few cents per minute elsewhere.

By Phil Baker for Read Phil’s blog here and check out his book, From Concept to Consumer: How to Turn Ideas into Money, available at bookstores everywhere and as an e-book on the Nook and Kindle.

Related links on