Using your cell phone overseas (how to do it cheaply).

Although I’ve not gotten a stamp in my passport in about 18 months, in recent years I’ve spent literally hundreds of days overseas away from the convenience of my landline phone and US-based mobile. I’ve tried a wide variety of means to stay in touch, but I think I’ve finally come up with a formula that makes a bit of sense. And since the New York Times is writing about the same thing today now is as good a day as any to share my thoughts.

In the old days, I would take an unlocked GSM phone and simply buy a UK or DE or HK SIM card upon arrival in a new country, giving me a local phone number where I could be reached. Unfortunately this did not help me with making calls back to the US, which usually required calling cards (that ended up being quite expensive). Pay as you go also was quite expensive on a minute by minute basis. For example, a week in the UK would easily run me £100 in phone charges. And added to this is the fact overseas Pay as You go numbers often disappear after lack of use of 6 months or so (which is now an issue).

Now my setup is much cheaper.

First, Skype. I have Skype, Skype Out and Skype In set up. I have a phone number in London and one in Hong Kong that people can call and it will ring on my computer if my computer is turned on. If my computer is not turned on, then it forwards to a number of my choice. I can also use my iPhone and Fring should I be without a laptop (rare). Note, both computer and iPhone require an internet connection, but since I usually have that in the hotel it’s not really a big issue.

Second, the unlocked phone is still around. I usually have that as the recipient of my Skype calls so I don’t have to pay the massive data roaming charges using my US phone overseas. I also like the freedom to call friends ‘in country’ without having to pay roaming. But now that I’m not using it as frequently the costs have definitely gone down quite a bit.

So now for international calls, I will use Skype in the hotel which is only pennies a minute, and for local in country calls I use my country-specific mobile phone. For calls from other countries to me they are routed to my ‘device of the moment’ so people can continue to reach me on my consistent Skype In number and not have to memorize whatever pay-as-you-go number I’m using at the time.

During my last week in London, my phone charges were £10 total. Quite a savings.