An intro to communication and using a cell phone while studying abroad
Communication is a pretty important aspect of study abroad that usually gets overlooked. Don’t wait until you’re sitting in your room with no way to call your parents back home, and no way to get in touch with those kids you just met in class to finally start looking at ways to keep in contact. Do yourself a favor and look into cell phones/ Skype/ instant message/ etc. well in advance because once you leave the States (or where ever you’re from) there is a very good possibility your phone won’t work where you’re going.
(Since mobile plans change from country to country, not all of this information will be relevant as I will be referring specifically to the UK. If you are not going to school in the UK keep reading! You never know, you may find some part of this useful anyways)
First things first: check with your phone company in the US. Many smartphones now have international capabilities, and your home service provider can unlock your phone for use in your country of study (Check out this post, “The Study Abroad Student’s Guide To Using The iPhone Abroad“).
If not, look to see if your phone uses a SIM card – just about every network except for Verizon uses them. Good news! You can probably buy a new SIM card when you arrive and replace your existing card, allowing you to keep your old phone. If you’re one of those unlucky people that will need to purchase both a new phone and service plan, then this next part is for you.
One of the first things you should do is head to a store specializing in cell phones. Stores in the UK include The CarphoneWarehouse and Phones4U. My advice, go for the cheapest phone you can find. Honestly, you will probably only need it for a semester (or longer if you’re lucky), so as long as you can call and text it will be fine. I found one for 10 pounds, or about $17, and it hasn’t given me any problems yet.
Next, you’ll need a network. The most popular UK networks are O2, Orange, T-Mobile, Virgin Mobile, and Vodafone. Just like in the US, you can either have a pay-as-you-go plan, or a monthly plan. Be sure to weigh out the cost both ways, and remember that if you want to have a monthly plan, you will more than likely need a UK bank account.
(Tip: REALLY look at the different aspects of each plan. My friends and I that came from the same university here in the States all got a network – Lebara – that allowed us to make free calls and texts to each other – really convenient since we communicate with each other the most. Not to mention international calls are only about 6 cents a minute.)
Don’t be afraid to buy your phone online BEFORE you head over. Stores always run out of phones during the first few weeks of class, so if you have a phone you’ll just need to work on getting a plan when you’re over there.
If you haven’t heard about it, take a look at Skype. The great thing about Skype is that you can instant message, video chat, and call landlines all with one program, making it one of the most efficient means of communication while abroad.
Its easy to set up and use, just sign up – give your email address, age, etc. – create a username, plug in a web cam, add friends and your of and running. Web cams can cost anywhere from $20 on up, but even the cheaper ones will work just fine. Here’s the one I use, the Logitech C910. Actually, many laptops now come with built in cameras. Skype also allows you to make calls to landlines for a much cheaper rate than most cell phone networks, just make sure to put money in your Skype account.
One final note: If you are living in a dorm, and your university provides you with a phone in your room, check and see if you can use it to call other rooms. Sometimes room phones will have an extension, and to call other rooms, all you have to do is dial that extension.
If you have any other questions or comments please feel free to leave them below and I’ll get back to you!