International Cell Phone Calls - for Free!
This tiny (about 1" x
1/2") SIM card contains a computer chip that stores all your
account information for each phone service account you may
2 of an 8 part series - click for Parts
If you're not careful, you can
find yourself paying $10/minute or more for cellphone calls while
overseas - even for what seem to be local calls within the city
you are currently visiting.
Read on to learn how you can
reduce the cost of your international cell phone calling.
The Heart of your GSM phone - a
GSM cellphones have a major
advantage over regular US style cellphones. They have a
removable and replacement computer memory chip - a SIM card
(Subscriber Information Module). This SIM card stores your
account information and phone number as well as your phone
directory, text messages, and various other settings.
What is so good about this?
Two things. First, you can change phones, but keep the same SIM
and not need to change your phone number or lose any of your
phone directory information. This makes upgrading, or even
borrowing someone else's phone, a very easy task.
Secondly, you can change the
account and the service that you use on your phone just by
swapping the SIM chip from one service provider for a SIM chip
from another service provider. And therein lies the first
'trick' that can save you enormously on your international cell
NOTE : You can only swap SIM
cards if your phone is 'unlocked'.
Local Prepaid Phone Service
If you have a US GSM phone
and account, you will find that it will cost you anything up to
$3/minute when you use your phone overseas. Worst of all, some
companies will route a local call (eg from one part of Berlin to
another part) back via their US network, and so to make what
would normally be a local call within one city, you end up being
charged for two international calls!
You can probably already
guess the solution to this type of problem. Yes - buy yourself a
new SIM and account from a local GSM service in the
cities/countries you visit. This can be a very simple procedure
if you buy a prepaid account. You don't have to fill out any
paperwork or provide any credit checks or anything at all. You
simply pay a moderate amount of money and in return get a SIM, a
phone number, and a certain prepaid balance to be used for the
cost of phone calls.
When you have spent the
initial prepaid amount, you can buy additional time - perhaps
paying by credit card via the phone, or perhaps buying extra
time through phone shops. A new SIM card and phone number and
account setup will typically cost somewhere between $10-30, and
then you'll find that your local call costs are probably 20c-30c
a minute - perhaps only one tenth of the cost of a US based
Free Incoming Phone Calls
As you know, in the US, it
is normal for the owner of the cellphone pays all the costs of
both making and receiving calls.
In other countries, it is
more common that the person who calls a cellphone will pay for
the cost of calling the cellphone, and the owner of the
cellphone will receive that phone call entirely for free!!!
This situation certainly
encourages one to give out one's cellphone number and to invite
people to use it! And the cost to the person calling you is
comparable to the cost that you would incur if you placed an
outgoing call. Receiving free incoming calls is one of the most
pleasant experiences imaginable!
Calling Internationally from
your Cellphone (when overseas)
Here's a tremendous money
saving trick. If you're expecting to be regularly calling back
home, or to any other countries, do not use the long distance
service provided by the cellphone service. Instead, use a
'callback' service and enjoy enormous savings in cost.
To use your service, you
dial an assigned number in the US and allow it to ring, and then
hang up before the phone is answered. This call is probably
free, because it was very short and there was no reply. The
callback service computer notices your special phone number was
rung, and that triggers it to then call you on your cellphone
(or at any other number that you have programmed into the
callback system). When you answer the callback's call, you are
given a dial tone and can then place outgoing calls, at the
callback service's very discounted rates, while your cellphone
service thinks that you have merely received a (potentially even
free!) incoming call.
Calling Internationally from
your Cellphone (when in the US)
Try to never make an
international call from your cellphone in the US. You'll end up
paying an enormous amount of money per minute. If you regularly
call internationally, you should get a prepaid calling card, and
then use this account any time you make an international call -
from home, from work, and from your cell phone, too.
This means that you simply
call a local number from your cellphone which probably costs you
nothing at all (who uses up all their free minutes these days?!)
and then pay the tremendously discounted rate through the
calling card service for the international call. For example, it
costs me 3c-5c a minute to call to Britain, Australia, or even
Russia using the calling card; whereas the taxes alone on the
cost of calling internationally from my cell phone are much more
Call Forward your US Number(s)
A possible disadvantage of
using different SIMs in different countries is that people who
might want to remain in contact with you from the US may never
exactly know which number to call you at. The easy solution is
to use the call forwarding service on your US cellphone number
(or your home phone or whatever other phone numbers you have) so
as to cause those calls to automatically forward on to your
current cellphone number (but thanks to reader Michel for
pointing out that you'll of course need someone back in the US
to reprogram this forwarding number as you change from country
This also means that you're
almost certainly paying a very much lower rate for receiving
incoming international calls than you would be if using a US
cellphone account while overseas.
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15 Mar 2002, last update
21 Jul 2020
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.