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How You Can Use Your Cellphone In Another Country Without International Roaming

Updated on January 9, 2017

There may come when a time when you need to go abroad to some other country. Since cellphones are pretty much indispensable in today's world, you will probably want to have a phone with you in order to communicate while you're abroad.

The most straightforward way of accomplishing this is to use international roaming provided by your current cellphone company. However, this option is not available to everyone. You need to ask your phone company whether international roaming is included in your phone plan or what you need to do in order to have it included if it's not.

A second option is not to use your current phone company, but another cellphone company in the country you're traveling to. This option is more complicated than the previous method. However, there's reason why you should go for this option despite its complications.


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Why you should avoid using international roaming with your cellphone

Depending on your cellphone company and the cellphone plan you're on, you may have the option of international roaming. Using this service, you can make phone calls abroad as if you're still at home. Your own cellphone company and another in the country you're traveling to have some sort of arrangement which makes it very easy to use your phone abroad.

However, while international roaming is easy, it's usually much more expensive than making phone calls locally. A cheaper method would be to use a local phone company in the country you're traveling to instead of the company in your own country.

By taking advantage of local rates, you can save some money during your stay abroad. This can be somewhat challenging from a technical standpoint, but it's absolutely worth pursuing this option.


What you need to have in order to make use of your cellphone or smartphone abroad

Your current cellphone or smartphone may work at home, but that may not be the case abroad. Before leaving, you need to make sure that the phone you're bringing along satisfies the following conditions:

  • You need to use a GSM phone
  • Your cellphone needs to be unlocked
  • The phone supports local network frequency bands

Only when you've made sure that the phone will be compatible abroad with foreign phone companies can you be sure that your phone will work over there.


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Why it's better to have a GSM phone than a CDMA phone

The vast majority of people around the world use the GSM cellphone standard. In a few places such as the United States, another standard known as CDMA is also used in addition to GSM. Note that a GSM phone cannot be used on a CDMA network and vice versa.

A CDMA phone is therefore a poor choice if you intend to travel abroad because it's not used in most places. On the other hand, a GSM phone can be used pretty much everywhere around the world and that's why it's the preferred option.

One distinguishing characteristic of GSM phones is the use of a SIM card, which contains all relevant information about the subscriber such as phone number and contacts. The advantage of SIM cards is that someone can easily move their information from phone to phone.

By simply inserting and removing a SIM card from cellphones, someone can start using a GSM phone. However, simply having a GSM phone abroad is not enough. Having a GSM cellphone is a good start, but it also needs to satisfy a few other requirements.


Why you need an unlocked cellphone

In countries such as the United States, the cellphones you get from the phone companies are usually locked. That means you can only use the phone with that company only and not with any competitors. Before you can use the phone with another company, you will need to have the phone unlocked, which will allow you to use the phone with any cellphone provider.

You can request your cellphone company to have your phone unlocked for you. They may grant you your wish, but they may also refuse to unlock the phone. In that case, you can either try to find a third party who can unlock cellphones or you can buy an unlocked cellphone from somewhere else.

In many countries around the world, cellphones are often already unlocked as a standard feature. If this is the case, you do not have to worry about unlocking your phone. The cellphone only needs to satisfy one other requirement.


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Why you need a world phone or a phone that supports all network frequency bands

In order to communicate with a cellphone tower that is within range, a cellphone needs to use a frequency. In the case of GSM and its faster variant EDGE, that frequency is one of four used, namely 850, 900, 1800 and 1900 MHz.

Different countries use different frequencies. In order to maximize the probability that your phone will be compatible with local frequencies, it's best that you take a phone with you that supports all four GSM / EDGE frequencies. These phones are sometimes referred to as world phones.

Note that while GSM / EDGE are sufficient for ordinary use such as voice, SMS and light Internet use, they are not fast enough to support high bandwidth applications such as watching streaming movies. For that, you will need to have 3G, whereas GSM and EDGE are termed as 2G and 2.5G respectively.

The 3G standard also has different flavors. The one that is most widely used is known as WCDMA or UMTS and its faster variants are known as HSPA. Whatever you choose, you have to make sure that the phone supports at least one of the local frequency bands.

There are phones that pretty much support all the frequency bands used around the world, while other phones only support some of them. Generally speaking, the more frequencies supported, the more expensive the phone.


What you need to do with your cellphone once you've arrived in another country

Once you've arrived in another country, you should get a SIM card from a local phone company and swap out the existing SIM card in your phone. Alternatively, if you have a dual-sim cellphone or a phone with support for two SIM cards, you can install the new SIM card next to your old card. Activate the new SIM card and you should be able to make phone calls locally using your cellphone.


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