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Making Your Mobile Phone Work in another Country

Are you planning to use your mobile phone while traveling internationally? How would you determine if your mobile phone will work in that country? Or at least if it is compatible with the mobile network carriers pf the foreign country?

Let’s consider another scenario. You are looking to purchase a mobile phone and after searching online, you find one that’s perfect for your needs. The only problem is the shopping site is in another country, How would you know if the mobile phone will work with the mobile network carriers of your country?

Here are the methods for ensuring that your mobile phone will work in another country;

How to Make Your Mobile Phone Work in another Country

·        Get a SIM Card From the Country You Want to Travel to

Most mobile phones come with provisions for Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) cards. These are integrated circuit chips that are designed to store the International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) of a user and its related key securely. These are what is used to identify and authenticate subscribers on a mobile network carrier.

The SIM card can also be used to store contact information. It is always used for GSM (Global System for Mobile Communication) mobile phones while CDMA (Code-Division Multiple Access) mobile phones need to be LTE-capable to use them. They can also be used in computers, satellite phones, smartwatches, and cameras.

Different Sizes of SIM Cards

Basically a SIM card allows a phone to connect to a local mobile network carrier. They can be gotten from local mobile service providers (country-specific SIMs usually provide the best rates) or travel companies that specialize in mobile communications abroad.

How SIM cards work

Most SIMs operate a pay-as-you-go policy (except for prepaid US SIMs). You buy credits either at stores, retail outlets, or online in the host country and you will be charged cents (or the local equivalent) for each call/text/megabyte.

Most travelers opt for this because it is convenient and does not require them to get a mobile phone contract or a postpaid plan. Also, you can stop using the card at any time you wish and you will not be charged.

If you plan to stay for a while in a foreign country, a country-specific SIM will be your best choice, cause they provide the best rates for individuals in that country. However, if you plan on traveling a lot, a regional or world SIM will be your best choice, as they charge lower rates than country-specific SIMs which will add a roaming charge.

Advantages of SIM Cards with Mobile Phones

  • Make calls, send texts and use services without needing an internet connection
  • Avoid roaming charges (if you are using a country-specific SIM in its respective country)
  • You receive a local number that can be used to connect with local friends
  • Ability to make calls in an emergency situation or in a power outage.
  • A data plan can be provided for use with mobile apps
  • It can be canceled at any time as it is not a mobile contract

Disadvantages of SIM Cards with Mobile Phones

  • Can not call when you run out of credit
  • It requires an out-of-contract, GSM-compatible, unlocked, or a rental phone
  • SIM options are limited in the US
  • It can be expensive if you use a lot of data and minutes but do not have an unlimited plan

To top up the SIM card online, most of the time you would need a credit card or a local bank account. If the SIM card company does not support international credit card purchases, you might have to go to a store and pay in cash.

As soon as you’ve gotten a SIM and purchased some credit, all you need to do next is simply put the card in a mobile phone, follow the instructions supplied and then start calling.

Where to Buy SIM Cards

Where to get a SIM card depends on when you want it; If you want it before you get to the other country or not. A SIM can be delivered to you before you get to the foreign country through online stores, some of which are;

If you know the mobile network carrier you would want to use, you could check Amazon and eBay. If you would like to get the SIM card as you get to the country, this Wikia site provides information on where to find SIMs in almost every country in the world as well as their rates and their carriers.

·        Determine Your Phone Standard Technology

The two most common mobile phone standards being used all over the world are GSM and CDMA. CDMA mobile phones are generally incompatible with GSM networks.  If you are visiting a foreign country, it is recommended that you find out the technology used by the mobile network carriers in that country.

How to know what technology your phone uses

Both CDMA and GSM are 3G networks, but GSM- and CDMA-networked phones are able to use 4G as long as the phone supports it. Some mobile network carriers use a specific technology by default, so a good way to know the technology your phone uses is by knowing what technology your mobile carrier uses.

·         Consider Your Mobile Carrier

Carriers like Sprint and Verizon use CDMA, while carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile use the GSM technology.  If you bought the phone from a carrier, it is most likely using the carriers’ default technology. Although some mobile carriers support both technologies, such as Verizon phones are equipped with CDMA but also support GSM.

·         Check Your Phone’s About settings

If you see an ESN or a MEID category, then your phone uses CDMA, however, if you see an IMEI category then your phone supports GSM. It is possible for a mobile phone to support both.

IMEI Category in Phone’s About Settings

·         Look Up Your Phone’s Model Number

In the phone’s about settings, you will find the model number and an online search will display the technology associated with the phone model.

Phone About Settings

·         Call Your Current Mobile Carrier

Most of the world uses the GSM network, so it is safe to get a GSM enabled phone before traveling. But for accuracy, check Wikipedia as it has dedicated sections – like pages for Asia Pacific, India, and European Countries – that lists which standards are used by the various mobile carriers in that particular country.

If the mobile network carrier is using the GSM standard, you will need a GSM-compliant phone and the device should be unlocked (This will be treated in the remainder of this article).

·        Check the Frequency Band That is Being Used in the Other Country

Mobile network carriers in different countries operate on different MHz frequency bands. Mobile networks in America operate on the 850 MHz and 1900 MHz frequency bands while those in India operatee on the 900 MHz and 1800 MHz frequency bands.

Whether it’s getting a new phone or traveling to a country with a mobile phone, ensure that the mobile phone operates in the frequency that is being used by the carriers in that country. The phone finder database at GSM Arena is an excellent tool for determining the frequency bands that are supported by any Mobile phone.

Find the frequencies supported by the cellular operators in the country and compare them with the frequencies that are listed in the technical specifications of the phone. Once they match, then your phone is compatible to be operated in that country.

Note that a quad-band unlocked GSM phone should not have compatibility issues with most GSM networks worldwide.

·        Find Out If Your Mobile Phone is Locked.

Throughout this article you’ve come across the terms, ‘Locked’ and ‘Unlocked’ mobile phones. A locked phone is described as a mobile phone with a lock on its software. Most phones that are under contract (ie. The user did not pay full price for the phone) are generally sold with a lock on their software.

This means that the phone would only be able to operate with a certain carrier and as such it will not work with a SIM card that is different from the carrier it was locked into. This will greatly hinder the ability to use that mobile phone in another country especially if the mobile carrier does not roam there.

It is possible to unlock a mobile phone, however, the legality and ability to do so varies greatly with each country. There are also exceptions like most iPhone models come with a SIM card slot that’s unlocked for international use, no matter what company it was bought from.

To check if your mobile phone is locked, contact your mobile network carrier or you could borrow a different network’s SIM card and put it into your phone. If it works then the mobile phone is unlocked.

Alternative Methods of Using Your Mobile Phone in another Country

If none of the above work out for you there are still other ways to use your phone in another country. These methods are;

·        Turn off your cell data and use a Wifi instead

This is the most obvious method and requires you to turn off the cell data before you board the plane and let it remain that way until you get back. Most accommodations around the world include Wifi at little or no cost and restaurants and cafes can provide you with wireless internet on the go

It is not as advantageous as having a cellular network but it is a cheap alternative

·        Use Apps that support calls

Consider having apps like Whatsapp, Telegram, Skype, Google Voice, etc. that allow you to make calls and text cheaply with anyone around the world provided that there is an internet connection.

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