Mobile phone options for Africa to US calling?
February 21, 2011 9:41 AM   Subscribe

Help me stay in touch with my baby while in Africa.

I'm traveling to Tanzania soon for 2 weeks and need to stay in touch with wife and newborn in the US. (I've seen other posts on using mobile phones with European travel, but only this one for Africa - not sure if it applies here).

The scoop: I have T-Mobile in the states. Their website shows 4.99/minute for international calls from Tanzania. That's alot.
I'm willing to buy a cheapy phone from any carrier just for this trip, but need an affordable way to call & text home periodically. I won't really need the phone for any other reason except for emergency.

What would you do in this situation? The last time I was oversees, mobile phones weren't really around :).

posted by smelvis to Technology (16 answers total)
Where will you be in Tanzania? Couldn't you go to an internet cafe and use skype or gtalk?
posted by JimmyJames at 9:45 AM on February 21, 2011

I'd use skype- alot cheaper and you can buy either by the minute or a monthly plan that will cover your location.
posted by TheBones at 9:52 AM on February 21, 2011

Another great thing about skype - Buy a local number back in the US for your account, and forward that number to your local Tanzania number. Then you pay local rates the entire way without being chained to a computer for calls. Or skip the last piece and they can call your computer at local rates. Much better than traditional telco options.
posted by msbutah at 9:56 AM on February 21, 2011

Same as everywhere in the world: (Assuming your phone is GSM/unlocked/quadband) buy a local SIM when you arrive in the airport (or hotel), or use Skype. Both will work great, have a good trip!
posted by wingless_angel at 10:24 AM on February 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

Most cell providers in Tanznia use the 800/1900 Mhz bands. T-Mobile in the US uses 1900Mhz so you will need to verify that your phone will work. If it doesn't you can either buy a phone in Tanzania or find a cheap Nokia on eBay before you leave. You can buy a SIM card from any of the major providers (Vodacom, Airtel, Tigo) in Tanzania once you are there and have your wife call you. Google Voice rates to Tanzania are $0.23 per minute, you won't be able to beat that with any other callingcard. Incoming calls are free in Tanzania. It will probably cost you between $0.20 and $0.50 to send an international SMS depending on your provider.

You can also use Skype in most Internet cafes, some have headsets but probably most do not. You could bring your own.
posted by ChrisHartley at 10:30 AM on February 21, 2011

Buy a phone there - it will be unlocked. If you buy one and take it there, you will need to find someone to unlock it. Cheap Nokias are around $30 each in West Africa, should be the same on the East side. Buy a SIM. You can talk and text like that.

Next, if you don't mind spending a bit more money, you can buy a SIM-driven external modem type thing. I don't know what these things are really called. They look like a usb stick and use a SIM card to connect to the internet. This will likely cost you under $200 for the hardware and one month's use. You can use this with your laptop to skype mama and bebe.
posted by pick_the_flowers at 10:44 AM on February 21, 2011

Response by poster: Where will you be in Tanzania? Couldn't you go to an internet cafe and use skype or gtalk?

I will be on the road and camping - Kilimanjaro/Arusha area - so the internet cafes/wi-fi really aren't an option. I think this means Skype is out too.
Do the SIM cards work like pre=paid calling cards? Does t-Mobile billing play into this at all?
Thanks for your patience...
posted by smelvis at 10:50 AM on February 21, 2011

Best answer: Leave your phone and sim card at home.

Either get an unlocked phone with a charger that works in Tanzania, or get a cheapie phone there.

Buy a pre-paid sim card and put a lot of money on there ($200US). That way you KNOW you will have extra minutes to talk to your family. If you only put $20, you would be worrying all the time about whether you have enough minutes left. Spend a few more dollars and talk to your family in peace.

Thats all.
posted by hal_c_on at 10:59 AM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh yeah, no doubt you can find a phone/sim card at the airport. If you know of someone "in the know" that you trust, ask them to tell you where the cheapest sim cards are.
posted by hal_c_on at 11:00 AM on February 21, 2011

Also...use google, its better than askme at getting answers:
posted by hal_c_on at 11:02 AM on February 21, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks all -
I think Hal C's suggestion may work best in my situation.
posted by smelvis at 11:06 AM on February 21, 2011

Best answer: Yes, you buy a SIM card to go in your phone to give you a Tanzanian cell phone number and then prepaid top off cards to add credit to your account. T-Mobile is out of the picture when you take your T-Mobile SIM card out.

As pick_the_flowers said you will need to make sure your current phone is unlocked. If you are looking at phones on eBay make sure they are unlocked, most will be.

hal_c_on - under no circumstances should you put $200 on your phone in Tanzania. Phones get stolen ALL the time and you will have very little recourse to get your $200 back. Add money as you need it in 10,000 Tsh increments. You also don't really need to worry about getting ripped off for SIM cards, best case you pay $3, worse case you pay $10. Not worth worrying about when you are fresh off the plane.
posted by ChrisHartley at 11:07 AM on February 21, 2011

I use to make international calls from the US and they are the cheapest call providers to where I call. Calls to Tanzania are 18c a minute from USA.

Buy a local SIM Card. Use it while you are in Tanzania. Ask your family to call you on that number via

(let me know if you'd like a referral to rebtel )
posted by bbyboi at 12:55 PM on February 21, 2011

Rebtel Rates to Tanzania
posted by bbyboi at 12:56 PM on February 21, 2011

If you are going to be in a larger city then just use internet. also give your number to your wife and have her call you via skype.
posted by tarvuz at 1:02 PM on February 21, 2011

hal_c_on and ChrisHartley pretty much have it. Here in Kenya AirTel just slashed calls to the US to only 3KSH / minute (like, less than 4 cents USD / minute). They haven't done the same in Tanzania yet but they probably will soon.

AirTel TZ currently advertises 568tzs / min peak, 396 off-peak to the US, which is less than 40c/min at the current exchange rate of 1500 to 1 USD. Doable, but not great, and text messages are 120tzs on and off-peak (~8c / min).

Use the phone when you have to and Skype when you can. Safe travels.
posted by allkindsoftime at 4:51 AM on February 22, 2011

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