Friday, November 1, 2013

Communicating When You Travel Abroad




In this wired world, communicating back to the USA via your smartphone, or laptop is relatively easy and affordable when you know how. Here are a few tips gleaned from a recent trip to France, Spain, Amsterdam and Sweden.

Many, but not all, smartphones now have the ability to work in other countries, something that was not possible just a few years ago. Most US carriers offer a temporary discounted add-on international option to your current plan. In my case Sprint offered a $5.00 monthly charge, pro-rated if less than a month, that links you with various European carriers at preset prices.

(TIP: You are not charged if you do not answer the incoming call. Since caller ID displays the caller’s number you can easily determine if and when to answer a call. You could also opt to call the caller back from a less expensive or FREE service or respond by email or text. Voice mail messages do not appear on your phone’s display, but are accessible by calling your mobile phone number and when answered pressing star followed by entering your pass code when asked. If you do not already have a pass code you need to set one up by visiting your carrier’s website. )

Most countries belong to an alliance that charges $1.99 a minute for incoming/outgoing calls and texting at 5¢ incoming and 50¢ per outgoing text. Non-alliance members, such as Sweden, charge the same texting rates, but a $2.99 per minute incoming/outgoing phone charge. Generally, when you cross the boarder from one country to another you will receive a FREE text indicating the rates in that country.

(TIP: European phone providers cover different areas of a particular region, so it’s not uncommon to see the provider’s name change while moving around in the same city or country.)

Data service is not included and such service should be avoided, as the cost is extremely high. This means your use of a GPS would not work unless you are willing to pay the high cost of data.

Data service can easily be turned off on your smartphone by accessing the system settings function. Turning this service off has no effect on your smartphone’s ability to connect with wi-fi. You simply go to your settings and select the wi-fi service that’s available. Your US carrier will walk you thru the settings process. Be sure not to turn off the CELL SERVICE feature, as doing so will eliminate phone call reception.

If you subscribe to the VOIP service for your home that’s offered by Vonage, you have a FREE iPhone App available to you known as EXTENSIONS. This app allows you to use the Internet connection on your phone to call worldwide, toll-free. I used this a lot in my European travels.

Another alternative is FACEBOOK MESSENGER. This feature permits you to send instant messages that can only be seen by the person that it’s intended for. Naturally, it does require Internet access and the recipient must be a Facebook member.

(TIP: There are many hotspots in Europe that are FREE. The problem I noticed is that most of them want some information about you before you can connect. The questions are generally in the language of the country you’re in, so, if you can’t read the language you could have a problem. Also, you may willingly be subscribing to their junk emails. Many airports offer FREE wi-fi, or a pay option that provides faster service. Charles de Gaul Airport, for example, allows you only 15 minutes of FREE service, after which you must pay. European smartphones also allow tethering, a feature US providers have banned since they don’t want you to not purchase their service for other devices such as iPads and laptops. Tethering allows one phone to act as a hotspot so other phones, iPads and laptops can connect to the Internet via that phones ability to access the Internet via their mobile provider. This proved to be a valuable feature while on the road with a relative, receiving an important text and needing to respond by calling the US. Apps by PDA and FoxFi are available for Android phones that allow tethering. Unfortunately, Apple removed them from the Apple store eliminating this capability. )

Bob Skidmore is a freelance writer, who may be contacted at, or followed at for the latest gadget industry news. He does not represent, or endorse any of the products he reviews and his opinions are solely his points of view and not those of the manufacturer. The manufacturer generally supplies products at no cost for the articles and no other compensation is received. THE GADGETEER is highly selective as to products he feels worthy of review so as not to waste the reader’s time, thus the reason for many superior ratings.


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