We are frequently asked if students can use their regular cell phone abroad. Probably not, unless it’s a tri-band cell phone. Most US cell phones “can’t talk” to cell phones in the rest of the world. That is because the US and Canadian operating system, CDMA, and 75% of the world, GSM, are different.
The most reasonable choice is to purchase a phone when the student arrives at his or her destination. Many onsite orientation programs will include instructions and assistance for purchasing a cell phone. Buying a cell phone abroad is no more expensive than buying one in the U.S., and there is no need to get a plan that involves a monthly fee. For the most part, students pay as they go by “topping up” their minutes using a recharge card.
To “top up” a card, the student calls a number and adds minutes by paying with a credit card. Students can also purchase additional minutes with a SIM recharge card at any convenience store, grocery store, gas station, or news stand. GSM phones can be used almost anywhere. Incoming calls are also free.
Some students do purchase a tri-band cell phone before leaving for overseas. While convenient, the calls will not be cheap and there is a charge for both incoming and outgoing calls. Most of our students use the computer program “Skype,” as it provides free calls between PCs, and low rates on calls to phones.
Returned students have told us that having a laptop computer made writing papers and downloading photos more convenient. The AC adapter of most laptops today are dual voltage and can be used anywhere in the world with a plug adaptor. Some students however, had little use for computers and usually just went to numerous and affordable internet cafes in their host city to post photos online and communicate with family and friends by email.