temporary phone for india/china
April 27, 2012 8:54 AM   Subscribe

temporary phones (gsm 900/1800 or quad band) for use in both china and india. should i buy them stateside with a US plan (att, verizon, etc - which one would you recommend?) and enable roaming (which would be convenient but expensive?), or do i buy sim cards (cheaper) in the respective countries? would prefer convenience and to not have to buy the phones outright. what worked well for you as a temporary phone? thanks for any tips!
posted by jak68 to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I would reconmend buying a phone when you're there, unless you really need is as soon as you touch down. When I went to Europe last year, I needed a temporary phone. I picked an unlocked Nokia while I was in London for like 20£ and just used disposable sim cards wherever I was at the time. There were phones for even cheaper than that, and I'm sure you can get a really cheap but serviceable phone in India or China.
posted by Geppp at 9:09 AM on April 27, 2012

i think if possible we'd like to have them working as soon as we touch down. they're for kids on a school trip....
posted by jak68 at 9:24 AM on April 27, 2012

In India I bought just a sim card, with pay-as-you-go top-ups, but there was a restriction on phone and sim card sales requiring proof of residence (the restriction was not insurmountable, however.) That was a couple of years ago so may have changed. No clue about China.
posted by anadem at 9:25 AM on April 27, 2012

Will the kids be in several states of India? Each mobile company has its own scheme in each state/large metro area. Topping up outside the state you buy your SIM can be annoying so make sure they buy enough credits if they are traveling around.

Old simple Nokia phones cost as little as $4 (USD) in India. You can get no-name fancyish (MP3, internet, dual SIM) Chinese phones for very little ($10 and up). A new reliable phone Nokia will run $14 and up I think. SIM cards are free with free call credits through $3. Calls throughout India are half a cent up to 4 cents a minute. I always paid 10-15cents/min for calls to the US. In Metro areas like Delhi you dont need a local address- your hotel will suffice. That said, every state has different rules (all related to terrorist worries across India- Internet users have also been affected).

It is likely they will be picked up by escorts at the airport and soon after be in places with phones and Internet and call stands very close by. I think they can take care of it once arrived.

My experience in China is similar.
posted by maya at 10:21 AM on April 27, 2012

we'll only be in bombay.
thanks for the info. any other ideas would be welcome :) We're trying to make it braindead simple for the kids.
posted by jak68 at 11:48 AM on April 27, 2012

I went on craig's list and bough a used unlocked "quad band" or "world" phone. But this harder than it sounds, one guy was about to sell me a phone (with the AT&T logo) that I had looked up and verified was quad band, when I popped in a t-mobile SIM and got the message that it was locked. He was surprised, he thought it was unlocked, but obviously he'd never checked - most Americans don't have random SIM cards lying around to check these things.

Anyway, unless you know how to test for these things you can either pay full price and buy a quad band phone for like $90-$100 from a trustworthy vendor like Amazon (example, example, just search for gsm nokia quad band) or pay $10-$30 when you arrive at your destination and get one from there.

BTW, my in-laws got a world phone from Verizon and used their plan while roaming. It cost them about $1/minute to call back to the United States and I'm sure the phone was over $100. Totally not worth it. Calling the US from India and Pakistan is super cheap if using local phone providers.
posted by exhilaration at 12:49 PM on April 27, 2012

I can testify that the Delhi and Bombay airports both have Airtel stands right outside of the baggage claims after you've gone through customs. You plop down a few thousand rupees, and boom you've got an impressively capable phone that cost you less than half of what you would have paid in the US.

Even though you're worried about getting the kids in contact as soon as they land, the problem with a phone purchased in the US is that it has as good a chance of not working in India because of differences in the GSM bands they use. The phone I had with me in India does not work in the U.S., and presumably the phone I purchased to replace it (a cheap Huawei made for AT&T) would not work in India.
posted by anewnadir at 3:58 PM on April 27, 2012

thanks all.
in the end we went with local phones and local sim cards in india/china.
posted by jak68 at 8:24 PM on April 29, 2012

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