Best international/world cell phone options?
August 15, 2008 2:45 PM   Subscribe

I live in Canada and will be traveling to India (one month) Nepal (two weeks) and Thailand (one week). I would like to call or text home to Canada, check e-mails and google maps, and make some local calls (India only). What are my best options for a cell phone??
posted by gfroese to Travel & Transportation (4 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Based on my experience, I would suggest buying a cheap phone in India and using it through the other countries. I spent a fortune before I left Canada on a quad-band phone, had it unlocked and was set to go, and still found that it worked horribly abroad. In Portugal and Spain, it was tough to actually pick up a signal, and in Egypt I had to be practically standing under a tower for it to work. I don't know why, given that it was supposed to be compatible, I had so much trouble.

In the end I ended up picking up a cheap phone her ($40), and it works just fine. I imagine the cheap phones in India will be just as cheap as they are here
posted by scrute at 3:27 PM on August 15, 2008

This might not be the answer you want, but:

Internet stuff and Skype to call home at internet cafés; local calls and texts via a cheap, durable 900/1800 GSM phone like this and local SIM like this.

The second link is to an Airtel page [Airtel is a big Indian telecom company] where you can select the place you're going to be and it shows you rates and tariffs; I chose Delhi from the pull-down menu and was shown a 99-rupee starter pack (that's the SIM card and the number), 6-rupee (about 15 cents)-per-minute calls to Canada, and 5-rupee (about 12 cents) texts to Canada. Get both the phone and the SIM there; if large cities in India are like the other places in the urban developing world I've been, you will see phones and phone shops all over the place in virtually every city of any size. There are no contracts or anything like that; just show up, pay cash, have them set up the phone for you, and walk out.

I lived in Indonesia like this for a year; internet time at cafés cost me no more than $10-15 a month with some heavy browsing/chatting on the weekend and more basic news-reading/e-mail checking on weekdays, and my local phone, which came with a SIM card and heaps of included texts and minutes cost me $100 for the whole year; about $60 for the phone, which came with English instructions and was already unlocked, and $40 for a year of service (I'd get $5 worth of vouchers every month or so; you buy vouchers and use credit up whenever you use the phone). Texting cost something like one cent domestic, three cents international. All in, that's less than $100 on all your communication, which seems like a way better deal than anything else aside from not having a phone at all. You can buy phones all over the place; ask at the first hotel you stay at where you can find a shop and they'll probably be happy to direct you.

You could buy a tri-band phone, get it unlocked, and use it when you get home, but I still have my Indonesian Nokia 1108; the thing's a total tank and it works all over the rest of the world except parts of the Americas, South Korea, and Japan. Additionally, if you lose it, you're only out $50-60, which is way better than being out a huge amount more if you go for a more technologically-advanced phone.

Have a great trip!
posted by mdonley at 3:47 PM on August 15, 2008

Here's a direct link to one of the Airtime service+phone bundles for Delhi: a bunch of cheap phones are available, it includes 10 rupees of service (not a lot, but local texts are just 1 rupee!), and if you recharge for with a 159 rupee (about $3-4) voucher, you get "lifetime validity", so if you ever come back to India, apparently, you can have the same number!
posted by mdonley at 3:52 PM on August 15, 2008

I had the opposite experience from scrute. I bought a quad-band unlocked phone here in the US, ordered a SIM card from Telestial in India before I left, and everything just worked. You can top off your SIM card practically anywhere for a few hundred rupees.

I used Skype for most of my calls back to the US, though, because you will blow through your SIM credits in just a couple of calls.
posted by me & my monkey at 5:26 PM on August 15, 2008

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