Saturday, March 05, 2005

How The International Business Traveler Stays Connected

Heading overseas on a business trip or vacation? Working abroad? Giving your high school or college student the opportunity to live and study in a foreign culture? You have the luggage, the tickets, the passport. But are you ready to communicate?

No, I don't mean carrying around a phrase book or one of those electronic translators. I mean how do you stay connected with home or the home office? Have you given it any thought or just figure you'll use whatever facilities they have in the hotel? Ouch! That stabbing pain is coming from you wallet and its hemorrhaging money.

If you need a passport to get where you're going, you should also be making plans for how you'll stay in touch. Internet facilities may be non-existent, hard to find or very expensive. Ditto for standard telephone service, although you'll probably be able to place a phone call at some price just about anywhere. Figuring you'll just flip open your cell phone and call as usual? Oops. It doesn't even work.

A better plan is to control your costs up front. Take your voice and data services with you and use the local facilities only to connect to a toll free or local access number.

Can you take your cell phone along? You can if you are a T-Mobile subscriber and you have a "world phone" that works on the international GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) bands. You'll need a dual band or triple band cell phone for this. The USA cellular band phones don't operate overseas and vice-versa. You also need to activate the T-Mobile "WorldClass" service before you leave to have global roaming on your cell phone.

Otherwise, if you have your heart set on using a cell phone outside your home country, your best bets are to get your service locally. Sign up for cellular service in the country where you'll be staying if you are going to be there for a year or more. If it's just a short trip, you'll be better off renting. Be forewarned, though, these are not necessarily your lowest cost options.

For telephone calls far away from home, it's hard to beat the billable international calling card. The per minute rates are low, they work to and from most places you are likely to be, there are no minutes to run out and leave you stranded, and you don't pay anything just for having the card or virtual card in you wallet. Your credit card is billed for the calls you make.

By the way, a virtual calling card is just like a regular calling card, sans plastic. You get an account number, PIN, and dialing instructions via email when you sign up for service. You keep this info in a safe place for when you need it. An advantage to this type of service is that you can generally get it ready to use within one business day since there is no physical card to send through the mail. Perfect if you forget to make arrangements until the last minute. A very popular virtual international calling card service is provided by CogniCall. A more traditional plastic card is available from AccuGlobe.

Now that you have your international communications plans set, there's only one more thing to say: Bon Voyage!

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