We Americans suffer unnecessarily when it comes to cell phones. Things are changing, but there is resistance. And why shouldn’t there be? There’s money to be had!
Although it’s no longer strictly company policy, most Americans still buy their cell phones on a contract. The initial “price” of the phone is ridiculously low (often free), but the penance paid is a two-year contract with a minimum monthly payment and a near-criminal cancellation fee. At the end of the two years, you’ve paid for the phone at retail prices and then some. It may be undisclosed, but the payment is made regardless.
It doesn’t have to work that way in Spain. Here’s how we did it:
First, we bought “unlocked” phones (often referred to as “GSM” phones, for Global System for Mobile Communications). These we bought before we left Portland. Unlocked phones are sold like computers: there are occasional discounts, but the essential deal is cash up front. There are no contracts.
GSM phones come in all flavors and prices, from the old flip phones to fancy smart phones. I get four hundred pages of results when I query “unlocked cell phone” at Amazon, priced from less than $50 to over $700.
Louise and I arrived in Spain with two GSM phones (Nexus models, purchased from Google). We walked into an Orange store (Orange is a dominant cell-phone carrier in Spain, and the Orange store is just two blocks up the street), paid nine euros each, and walked out with Nexus-turned-Spanish phones in our pockets.
The nine euros bought a SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card with five euros worth of talk time. Louise, always the charmer, even talked the (handsome, young) salesman into installing the card for her. (I, on the other hand, a brother of Frankenstein, was handed my card and hustled out of the store like a beggar.)
When our cards run low, we go online, or visit a tobacco shop, or fiddle with an ATM machine, and charge them back up. We determine the amount. There is no monthly charge. We prepay for our talk time based on our anticipation of need.
(An aside: we opted out of Internet service from Orange. We only use Orange for talk and text. Our phones connect to the Internet via wi-fi, wherever wi-fi is available. We have wi-fi in our apartment and wi-fi is available in pubs and coffee shops all over town.)
In a month, when we arrive in Greece, we plan to again visit a cell-phone shop, again pay a few euros, and again walk out, this time with Greek SIM cards and Greek phone numbers.
Doesn’t that all make sense? It’s so simple: We own our phones, we pay only for the talk time we use, we can refill our accounts in scores of places, and if we want to change carriers — if we move out of the country, for example — all we have to do is get new SIM cards. There is no cancellation fee. This is the way cell phones should be.
That’s my SIM card pictured at the top of this post, with my Spanish phone number printed on it. As Carly Rae says, “Call me, maybe.” I still have eight euros credit on my card, Orange talk time is about three cents a minute, and I’m leaving the country in a month….
Wow ! this is very useful to know , Thank you Thomas.
Len Quaranto said:
This just isn’t the way it is done in Europe, it is the way it is done all over the world, except of course in the US. In Africa they do banking over their cell phones because most people don’t have a bank account. In the developing world including Eastern Europe before the Wall came down, everyone uses cell phones because there are no reliable land lines. In the Middle East, ditto. Americans think everyone had an ATT or Bell. Now all we have to do is introduce the US to A4 paper. Who thought that 8 1/2 X 11 made sense!?
I found all kinds of “advice” on Internet forums. None of it was this simple or to the point. Thanks for the compliment, Mapi, and thanks for the clarification, Len. Today we’ll straighten out cell phones in the US. Tomorrow, A4 paper!
Any suggestions for data?
No, Lara. No suggestions. I see posters in the Orange store for data packages in the 30 – 40 euro range, but that’s all I know. I don’t even know how much data that includes or how the monthly payment is made. Looks like a research opportunity!
Good info Tom. Before our last RTW, we considered all sorts of options for communication, and ultimately, for phone calls we decided on Skype. Our reasoning was that we were already carrying an iPad, and frequent country moves made the phone option a bit more of a hassle. With the blog and Skype, our family and friends always knew exactly where we were and what was going on. The takeaway here is that international communications have taken a quantum leap forward, and it is soooo much easier than it was just a few years ago, no matter what option you choose. ~James
We use Skype as well, James, and second your strategy. We wanted local phones to text each other, primarily, for those times when we’re both out and about and want to determine where the other is. Yesterday (Sunday), in fact, was our Skype day. Talked to two of three children via Skype video. One of them is letting his hair grow a little too long….
We’re big fans of Skype, and in fact, we use is quite a lot in the US. We don’t have landline phones at home, and only have cell phones, so Skype makes it easy and fun to talk to family here.
iphone 4gb said:
Magnificent site. A lot of useful info here. I’m sending it to a few buddies ans also sharing in delicious.
And obviously, thanks in your effort!
Thank you so much! In fact, or cell-phone experience went downhill from there, until now, when we find ourselves in Mexico and yet another opportunity to wrestle with the cell-phone beast. We’re optimistic however. Never give up.
international courier bsnl broadband service in pune said:
I do not even know howw I stopped up here, but I assumed this publish used to be good.
I don’t recognize who you are however certainly you
are going to a well-known blogger should you aren’t already.