Saturday, October 10, 2009
Staying Connected Internationally
When we travel we plan to bring our 8 year old son with, while our 6 year old daughter will be staying at our house with grandma and grandpa (I will blog about this decision another time because I know it is one that many families face). Thus it is REALLY important to me that we are able to stay connected no matter where we are. There are about three good options for calling home while out of country. When we were in Ethiopia we had cell phone service with T-Mobile. Since most of their phones are global ready we just called T-Mobile before we traveled and had them flip a invisible switch to make our phones capable of calls internationally. So this is option number 1 and we used this as our back-up plan because the charges were upwards of $3 a minute. Thankfully the CHSFS guesthouse that we were staying at had a computer with internet access so we emailed home updates every day. They also provided calling option number 2, which was unlocked international cell phones for which we purchased SIM cards in Addis Ababa and used those to call home (just like a calling card in the US). The SIM cards were way cheaper and I think came out to something like a dollar a minute. So I have been going over our options this time because I am not sure that we will be at a hotel or guesthouse in Rwanda and Ethiopia which will have these things readily available. We have also been looking at getting new cell phones and switching our provider (long story and it made me crazy going over all the options for phones and plans with all the different providers). We have settled on the Samsung Solstice with AT&T. You can get the phone for free if you start a new AT&T plan through Amazon.com (I know, I know you would think I am a rep for them). We decided on this phone because it is global and web ready, has a camera and video camera and decent battery life. Plus the unlimited data plan is only $15 a month compared to $30 for the I-Pod or Blackberry. O.k. so back to the point, the cell phone will actually again be our back-up plan as At&T charges $2.50 a minute for calls from Rwanda and $3.50 a minute for calls from Ethiopia. We also will not use the data service on our phone when in Africa because international rates for data are astounding. If you own a I-Pod or other smart cell phone they recommend that you temporary disable the internet service so that you do not get charged. BUT, if you have a cell phone or netbook that has WIFi service then you can use the internet for free if you are at a WiFi hot spot such as at the airport, some hotels, and coffee shops. So I found a great deal on a mini Acer Netbook which we will be able to obtain Internet connection when at hot spots and the kids can watch movies on it. But back to making cheap calls, we are keeping our old cell phones and getting them "unlocked" so that we will be able to buy SIM cards while in Rwanda and Ethiopia to make cheap calls home every day. The 3rd option for calling cheaply is if you do have a I-Phone or a Windows capable cell phone then you can get SKYPE.