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Which cell phone carrier is best for making calls from Eastern Europe to the US?
August 5, 2009 9:01 PM   Subscribe

My father, a physician, is going on an European cruise through Denmark, Russia, Finland, Estonia, Norway, Sweden, and Georgia. He needs a cell phone plan that will allow him to call his patients here in the U.S. from each of those countries. He will be on this trip for roughly two weeks. He is more concerned about connectivity in each country, rather than price. What would be his best option?
posted by invisible ink to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
If he will have access to a wifi network all the time, I'd recommend a skype wifi phone.
posted by caelumluna at 9:06 PM on August 5, 2009


Thanks caelumluna - unfortunately, he will not have access to a wifi network:-(
posted by invisible ink at 9:11 PM on August 5, 2009


Any pay as you go on the EU gsm networks.

Pricing is WAY better than the US too. Coverage should be near 100% when he's on shore.

Where's he leaving from? Depending on where he flies into he can pick up a pay as you go at a local shop.

Hell, I can tell him exactly where there are DNA stores in Helsinki where he can get a good phone, but I assume that's later in the trip.
posted by Lord_Pall at 9:17 PM on August 5, 2009


Oh yeah.. If you want to use a US based network and pay ridiculous roaming rates, t-mobile is a good bet.


Tri or Quad Band GSM phone paired with that will work too.
posted by Lord_Pall at 9:26 PM on August 5, 2009


If price is no option, a satellite phone would allow him to call to anywhere from anywhere.
There are companies that you can rent the phone from on a weekly basis
http://www.satellitephonerentals.org/

On a side note, I have never had a doctor call me when she was on vacation.
posted by digividal at 9:31 PM on August 5, 2009


Hi Lord_Pall - I am hopelessly confused when it comes to wireless terminology, so please bear with me:-) Can you point me to any website links for specific cell phone plans? Your assistance is much appreciated!
posted by invisible ink at 9:32 PM on August 5, 2009


Digividal - thank you so much, that satellite phone is definitely an option to consider:-)
posted by invisible ink at 9:36 PM on August 5, 2009


If he's not particularly concerned about price I'd second the T-Mobile suggestion. I have the international roaming on my corporate T-Mobile phone, and it has worked fine with my US number in Europe, SE Asia, and the Middle East. That option can be turned on and off as needed, so once he gets back to the US he can easily downgrade his plan.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:37 PM on August 5, 2009


Bear in mind that satellite phones tend to be much larger (think a home cordless handset with a big, swing-out antenna) than typical mobile phones and are much more of a target for theft if he's seen using it in public. They also don't work indoors.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:38 PM on August 5, 2009


What city is he flying into? That'll determine the easiest place to get a prepaid if you want to buy something when you get there.

Conversely, if you want to pick up a phone in the US, you can get a plan through T-Mobile. T-Mobile uses GSM in the US, so as long as you get a tri or quad-band phone, it should work just peachy in Europe and Russia.

For example - This Nokia is a quad band phone. It'll work everywhere you're visiting in addition to in the states.. You can pair this with a prepay or some variant so you don't need to sign a contract.
posted by Lord_Pall at 9:56 PM on August 5, 2009


A satellite phone is not the answer. You're talking at least $1 a minute airtime. They don't work if there's overhead cover--even a dense tree canopy or certain atmospheric conditions can block it. They almost never work in the city. Or in a valley. They're huge--1990's Motorola brick phone huge. They're heavy. They're expensive (which is a factor if he loses it or it's stolen during his rental). Call quality is often poor. Talking battery life is poor.

They're great if they're your only option to communicate with civilization--you're at sea, or the Sahara, or the Congo. But, if you're in a developed and populated part of the world, a cellphone is a far better choice.
posted by Netzapper at 10:04 PM on August 5, 2009


Agreed that if he already has T-Mobile, that contacting them first is the best solution to activate International roaming. The average T-Mobile phone can work pretty well most places worldwide.

If not, Roadpost's Brightroam bundle makes it pretty easy to get an international cell phone and SIM card while still in the states. It's not the cheapest solution, but it's a one-stop, easily obtained solution. We've done business with Roadpost at my work for international Blackberry rentals, and that's always worked well. They offer satellite phone rentals as well.
posted by eschatfische at 10:08 PM on August 5, 2009


Verizon's World Phone (Blackberry 8830 with a GSM Sim) does CDMA and GSM networks, they are partnered with Vodaphone for the coverage outside of the US. I've been all over the world and never been in a country where it did not work. However, it is not cheap.
posted by iamabot at 11:01 PM on August 5, 2009


TMobile has worked for me in Taiwan, Germany, Italy, St. Maarten, St. Thomas, Grand Cayman, London, Paris, Spain, and Portugal. It just works. And it's about $1/min in most of those places.

So when I got off the train in London two weeks ago, and saw someone selling pre-paid Lyca Mobile SIM cards (that offered UK to US calling for 4p/min) I jumped on it. 5GBP later, I had 5GBP worth of minutes and a free SIM. It even worked in Paris, but it roamed there, and cost closer to 35-50p/min there.

Either way, a pre-paid SIM is definitely the way to go, so long as the patients don't need to call HIM. (They can, but he'd need to get the number to them, which means he'd need to buy the phone first.) There are a number of pre-paid European SIMs and you should look into them a bit closer to see which offers the best mobility, so that he's not having to switch SIMs from country to country.

He'll also need a tri- or quad-band phone. Mine is quad-band, so it just works, in basically every GSM country. It's fantastic. And I carried my TMobile SIM in my wallet to switch to for emergencies. Lots of chatter about pre-paid SIMs here. Typically, the roaming is what gets you.
posted by disillusioned at 11:10 PM on August 5, 2009


Thank you, everyone, for the detailed & informed answers. All of these suggestions will help him immensely in finding the right phone/wireless plan. Once again, AskMe has saved me doing all of the headache-inducing research - thanks a bunch:-)
posted by invisible ink at 11:25 PM on August 5, 2009


If everything else fails (unlikely!), do a google search with the terms "roaming card".
posted by rom1 at 12:36 AM on August 6, 2009


Those are all GSM countries. So a domestic phone from AT&T or T-Mobile should work. He can pay for the international plan and get a discount. I suggest a Nokia quad-band phone. Blackberries are good too. Thats what we do when we travel and it all works fine.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:01 AM on August 6, 2009


I took a pair of quad band GSM phones on a trip, bought new SIM cards at the airport, and had instant Italian phone numbers, making it easier to travel w/my teenager. We could each do what we liked, and meet back up easily. I bought a my quad band phones on ebay, after researching here.
posted by theora55 at 8:56 AM on August 6, 2009


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