How did I ever live without Skype? It's hard to cast back in distant memory to the day when I didn't have and love Skype, the way to make phone calls for this traveler. I've just made a call to the US from the Mexico cafe where I'm having early morning coffee and watching the clean up of last night's fiesta in the zocalo, and it cost me about 63 cents (and perhaps a positive sanity judgment from the few passersby: just another American talking to her computer). And had I been talking to someone else with Skype
, the call would have been free.
If you´re unfamiliar with it, Skype
is a VoIP
(Voice over Internet Protocol) application, of which a few exist. Download it to your computer, buy some credit, and you´re good to go with phone calls from pretty much anywhere to pretty much anywhere. Since I lug my laptop
, not to mention a headphone-mike (I can be such a geek
), everywhere, actually talking on my computer is no problem, silly though it may seem... hey, I´ll do a lot to save a buck. And major bucks are what international cell phone calls can cost me.
(Major disclaimer: this may be completely incorrect, but it's my understanding and I'm sticking to it.) The problems with using a US cell phone abroad are these:
- GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) phones work on international bands.
- Most US cell phones are either not GSM (quad band is best) phones, or they are locked GSM phones.
- If you've got a locked GSM phone contracted with a US company (like Verizon), making phone calls overseas on your cell phone can be done but may be horrendously expensive because you're roaming from the US, basically (and because you're at the monetary mercy of your mercenary US cell phone company).
- US cell phone carriers tend to lock GSM phones so that you cannot use other companies' SIM cards (Subscriber Information Module chips).
So -- to avoid those massive charges, you must have an unlocked
GSM phone so you can buy SIM cards
for it for other countries (sort of like using a local calling card in another country). SIM cards enabling you to make phone calls with that phone in the country you're in are available on practically every corner in some of those countries (or you can buy SIMs in advance
)... but you can't always put those SIM cards in your locked
US phone, GSM or not.
(Why? I dunno, but I´m assuming it´s because most US cell companies lock their phones so that you must sign over your first born and swear allegiance to the company before they'll hand over a not-so-free phone, which means you can't switch your love to any other company mid-contract without then sometimes having to buy the phone. An unlocked GSM quad-band phone
, or one that works abroad with SIM cards
from the local convenience store (how convenient), is not simple to come by in the US (read expensive or unavailable -- though, as once disclaimed already, my understanding of these technicalities is admittedly very limited).
I'm lucky enough to have gotten an unlocked GSM phone
for free with my account through my beloved, albeit tiny, Union Cellular
phone company, and I bought a Mexico SIM card for it yesterday in a Guadalajara mercado for $13 with 25 minutes worth of in-country calls. I can buy more minutes (with subsequent minutes becoming much cheaper) using my credit card and the provider's system. (I have a little collection of SIM cards with leftover minutes from other countries alongside all the pocket change I always forget to spend
before I leave a country. In the bad old days before I had an unlocked GSM phone, I even bought a phone
in the UK and
in Australia. Those are now objets de curiosity in my souvenir collection.)
Depending on where I am, though, making phone calls using Skype on my laptop, which I'm always lugging
that I am, can be cheaper than using my cell phone and a SIM card. The drawback, of course, is that I must be near my laptop and pepared to don the aforementioned headset to talk on Skype, thus drawing the aforementioned looks. Or there´s always the old bag over the head.
If you don't have Skype yet, check it out:
Learn more about GSM phones and SIMs:
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