I’ve been thinking about this for the past few days, and I have done a bit of research. I think taking a mobile phone will be a good idea as it provides that extra piece of mind incase of emergency, and will probably keep our parents happier.
Looking for information about this topic was harder than I expected, and I’m a bit on the fence about what to do.
There are basically four options:
The first of these is a definite no go right from the start. Its common knowledge that roaming prices can be extortionate, and this is usually in relation to holidays in Spain etc. I dread to think what the bill would be for places like Peru!
One idea I’ve seen floating around on a number of occasions is that you should buy a cheap unlocked quad band phone (quad band is the techy bit that means it will work all over the world), and then buy a local pay as you go sim card in each of the countries you’re in. It seems like a fairly sensible idea and means that you will get local rate calls (to local numbers) and text messages.
The main advantage of this though is that you will be able to receive calls for free. Unlike most UK phone companies that charge you ridiculous amounts to receive calls abroad, it should be completely free. Great if your family wants to keep in touch.
The only disadvantages of this are that you will have to buy a new unlocked phone, and your number will keep changing. Not the end of the world by any means, but it could be a bit of a hassle keeping friends and family updated with your number.
This one is pretty self explanatory. A number of companies offer so called “International Sim Cards” that give you coverage in a huge number of countries. The sim cards are pay as you go but you usually have to pay a one off fee of about £40 to buy one. Most are loaded with about £10-20 credit that you can use straight away.
One of the big advantages of this is that you will have one phone number through out the entirety of your trip. Useful if somebody is likely to need to get hold of you easily.
How much they will save you compared to standard roaming charges depends on where you will be. Most of the companies I have looked at either do one of two things. The first is to have different tariffs for each country, and the second, and the simplest approach, is where they split all of the countries into different price bands. The more developed countries making up the lower price bands, and the less developed in the higher ones.
If you are going to be traveling within the lower price band countries, one of these sim cards could be very cost effective. Most of them allow you to receive calls for free, and have reasonable tariffs for making calls. Not quite as cheap as making calls from a local sim, but no where near as expensive as from a roaming sim.
On the other hand, when you are traveling in the higher band countries making and receiving calls can still be very expensive. For example one company I looked at charged £1.55 a min to receive a call in Peru, and between £0.51-£1.90 per minute to make one!
Oh yeah, you will still need an unlocked phone to use one of these sims as well.
Doing this would save you the risk of taking a mobile phone but you do lose the convenience of being able to call from anywahere and make texts.
You can pick up international phone cards in most countries and they can offer very cheap rates. For example, after a brief search, I found you can buy phone cards in Peru to call the UK for less than 10p a minute!
If you’re on a very tight budget this could be a good idea but remember people won’t be able to call you!
I’ve talked a lot about the cost to you, but I haven’t really touched on the cost to others. You must not forget that with any of these solutions it won’t just be you forking out the monies. Anyone who rings you will have to pay the very high international rates. These will be made even higher because they’re calling a mobile!
Skype is the best solution I have seen suggested. Get your families to download Skype for free, buy some Skype credit, and they will be able to call you from their computer for fraction of the cost it would cost to call from a land line.
Just to be consistent I will keep Peru as my example. With Skype you can call a Peru landline from the UK for 5.1p a minute. Now I haven’t looked up the equivalent without Skype, but I can assure you it will be much more than that! If the Peru landline is in Lima it will only cost 2.1p a minute, and if you are calling a mobile in Peru, it is only 20.7p a minute.
We haven’t made a decision on which one of these options we will be using yet, but I think I am swaying towards the unlocked phone + local sim card option. I’ll keep you updated once we have made our decision!