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Mobile Phone Service When Assigned outside CONUS

Several options exist for those now stationed or looking at a PCS or TDY assignment outside the States and who will need or want a cellular telephone. If your stay will be short, it makes sense to rent a phone. If your stay is for a month or more, it may be more economical to purchase Pay As You Go cards, using only what is necessary. Another option is bringing your current cell phone with you, and using it while assigned overseas.

Which Phone?

Currently, about 20% of US and Canadian-based cell phones work overseas. In Europe and many other places, cellular carriers use the GSM system. These are not universal. Some of the newer phones have the correct 900 and 1800 MHz frequencies built into them, which allow their use in many countries overseas. Before you leave home, check with your provider to find out if your phone has these frequencies or "bands" (all quad bands and most tri bands do).

If your phone will work in the country or countries you’ll be going to, you may want to consider "roaming" with your current service. This assumes that you will be using the phone very little, or perhaps it is necessary that you keep your current cell phone number. The most economical way to use your US phone (if it indeed has the correct bands) is to remove the SIM card (the chip in the phone giving you service) and insert a new,SIM card. This will give you a new phone number and you will be able to take advantage of the local rates. Make sure you ask your carrier for the unlock code, so that your phone can accept another SIM card and service.

You can usually get a local SIM card in your destination country once you arrive, or prior to your departure. It may be more convenient getting it before you leave, since you will then have the new number to give to people before your assignment. There are normally several telecom companies in that offer Pay As You Go plans using scratch cards or "top-up" cards. These "Cards" are usually available in many locations. It is even possible, in some cases, to "top up" over the internet. Ortel, for example, offers rates specifically designed for the tourist and foreign nationals living in Germany. With Ortel calls back to the US and Canada are only 0.07 Euros per minute or about US$0.09 and there is an unlimited internet package that one can sign up for that costs just 10 Euros for 30 days. One of the advantages of these plans is that you do not sign any contracts. On the other hand, there is always the possibility that you will run out of talk time. Still, you can easily buy more talk time.

Renting A Cell Phone

If you have determined that your current phone will not work overseas, you can easily rent a cell phone. You get them at the airport upon arrival or at major US hubs, or you can rent from one of many companies online. Renting a phone at the airport should be your last choice as it can be quite expensive. Online companies generally charge about US$1 per minute, in and out.

Buying a Cell Phone

Some travelers prefer purchasing a telephone and a SIM card rather than renting. The cost of purchasing a cell phone has dropped considerably, and the marketplace for mobile telephones has become voracious. There are certainly good deals available. If you are traveling to certain countries for more than a month, it definitely makes sense to investigate this option, as it may ultimately save you money. An international phone will work not only within a selected country, but with the proper SIM card, in approximately 200 other countries. There are even "roaming SIM cards." This is convenient for people who travel frequently to several different countries. If you are staying only in one country, you may not need this feature.

Generally speaking, if your current phone works abroad, then buy only the local SIM card. If you travel infrequently or only for short trips, then rent a phone. If you are a frequent traveler or will be moving to a country for an extended stay, buy a cell phone and SIM card. Having reliable service at an affordable price is what everyone wants.

More information about telephones, SIM cards, Pay As You Go plans and hands-free sets is available at They offer a special $10 initial order discount for DoD ID card holders. USE THE PROMO CODE GA10

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