Consumers planning a trip abroad this winter who want to continue to be accessible by cell phone should take care when planning their communications options for the trip. Due to the differences in network standards used by the various U.S. carriers, a U.S. cell phone may or may not work abroad.
For example, since Cingular and T-Mobile's services both operate on the GSM standard, they will likely function in most European and Asian countries. Verizon Wireless and Sprint-Nextel which operate on the CDMA and PCS/iDEN standards, respectively, may not depending on the type of handset used. Depending on the country of travel, the international per minute charges for calls to or from a U.S.-based handset can be very expensive -- from 99¢ to well over $2.50 per minute. Many U.S. wireless carriers have international service options available (for a monthly fee) which discount international rates somewhat. While the overseas calls are never cheap, these plans can help offset high overseas roaming charges if you are planning on being away for more than a few days at a time and expect to be calling the United States frequently.
If you are in a foreign country, and have brought your cell phone but do not plan on using it very often and do not anticipate receiving phone calls of importance, be sure to turn off your phone. By doing this, calls will go directly to voicemail service rather than ringing you phone. If you decide to leave the phone on and do not answer your calls, the phone will most likely automatically forward the call to the voicemail, but may still charge you for the overseas call. Another option is to rent a phone upon arrival in your destination country. You will get a phone number associated with that country and the service will be with a foreign carrier. While there may be a significant up-front cost for the rental of the phone, chances are that the airtime charges will be much cheaper than cost of using your U.S. cell phone on a foreign network.
Source: Telecommunications Research and Action Center. http://www.trac.org