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  International Phone Service

This topic covers phone calls to and from the United States and worldwide cellular phone service.  We have information for tourists and travelers about making calls back to the United States when in a foreign country and options for taking your cell phone along, or renting a cellphone, that works in other countries. We also have links to websites that have excellent information on these subjects.
 Remember, you're on the planet Earth and, therefore, at our primitive stage in evolution, there is no international standard that allows any cellphone to be used anywhere in the world.  Come back in a 100 years for that miracle to happen!

Anyone overseas who needs to call back to their home country or from one foreign country to another is in for a big surprise.  Such calls are typically outrageously priced because the government of the country you are in owns or has an interest in the phone company. The United States and a few other countries are the exception.  Check with your long-distance company before you leave home to see about their international service plan.  Your cellphone may not work in other countries depending on its make and model and your cell phone company. Also, even if it does work,
you may be shocked at your resulting phone bill.  Be absolutely sure you know how much it is going to cost you per minute wherever you are calling from overseas back to the United States or between countries before you leave home.

If you plan to take your laptop overseas, see our Computer topic. For an overview of cell phones and their history, see the Wikipedia Mobile Phone article. If you want to find out what a term related to phone service means (e.g., "callback"), check out the Telecomm Definitions website.

General Information

Country, city and area codes

Wikipedia-Area Codes  Everything you want to know about dialing internationally and about worldwide country codes and area codes.

Wikipedia - United States, Canada, Caribbean and Bermuda area codes

Wikipedia - World Country Codes in Numeric Order.  To find the country code by the country name, use your Find On This Page option usually under the Edit menu of your browser.
Wikipedia - World Telephone Codes.  Includes country and city codes and emergency numbers.

World Telephone Numbering Guide.  Easy-to-use interface that lets you search for a country code by country name or by country name to find the associated area codes.

Country Calling Codes   A list of worldwide country codes plus information on other international phone services.

AT&T World Traveler.  They have many products and services to choose from when calling to and from the United States.

How To call Between Countries

Calling Between Nations.  EscapeArtist.com has a unique telephone search engine.
It gives you the calling code instructions for dialing between any two nations.  In addition, you can search every on-line telephone directory in the world (over 700 of them).  Plus you have an instant access to all of the embassies of the nation you are calling, the lowest international rates for your call, and a link to that country's voltage.

Worldwide Cell Phone Systems Overview

In the U.S. you pay for both incoming and outgoing calls from your cell phone.  In many countries, including those in Europe, you only pay for outgoing calls.  Most other countries use GSM cellphones that operate on a different frequency that U.S. cellphones.  You can also insert very small SIM cards into the cellphone  that contain pre-paid minutes.  These are bought at service stations, kiosks, pharmacies, and other popular shops.

WirelessAdvisor.com This is an excellent, free website to help consumers cut through the confusion and complexity in selecting a cell phone company and buying and using a cellphone.  They provide unbiased, comprehensive, up-to-date information and do not sell any cell phone products.

The Wild World of U.S. Cellular Networks. This article was originally written in 2006 but it is still an excellent overview of the different cellphone systems in the world and a good primer on understanding the problems you will have traveling to other countries with your cellphone. It is written in a People have posted replies to this article as recently as the summer of 2007 (the last time we checked) so there are some updates on what is happening in the cellphone world. 

International Calling from the United States
Calling from the United States to other countries.

e-Wisdom - U.S. Long Distance Phone Companies.  They have an extensive list of U.S. long-distance companies. All long-distance companies offer international calling plans. We list some of the more well-known ones below.
Regular Phones - International Calling Plans.  We take you to their international page although all offer long distance within the U.S. as well.
Pre-Paid Phone Cards
Web-Based and VoIP Phones   using your PC to place a phone call or using your high speed internet connection plus adapter to place a call.
Cellphones - International Calling Plans. (AT&T owns Cingular, Sprint owns Nextel, MCI and Verizon are together.)

International Calling to the United States
Calling to the United States from another country by Americans traveling overseas.
International Calling Cards
Pre-Paid Phone Cards
International Callback Companies
First you call back to the United States to a special phone number or enter the phone number on a web page form.  If you initiated the call from a phone, you hang up after the first ring. The callback system then automatically calls you back and allows you to dial a number in the United States. The international phone system treats this as a call from the United States to you which, of course, is a much cheaper rate for the call. This can also work for a GSM cell phone taken overseas provided it allows international calls and free incoming calls. Otherwise, it will not save you money. Cell phone savings are roughly 20-30%. There are two methods - regular or cellphone initiated callback and web initiated callback. 
The International Callback Book
How Callback Works in More Detail

Wikipedia - Callback. A good overview of how international phone callback works.

A3.com  Extensive list of callback companies. For both people living in the U.S. and in other countries of the world. (website is available in English, German and Portuguese versions)

Callback Companies

EscapeArtist.com - International Callback Companies. One of the best list of callback companies we have found. Includes both regular, cellphone and web callback companies.
Business.com -International Call Back Companies.  Another good list of callback companies. 
 Cellphones   (AT&T owns Cingular, Sprint owns Nextel, MCI and Verizon are together.)
See Taking Your Cellphone Abroad, Renting or Buying an International Cellphone and Using a Cellphone Abroad below.

Here are links to major U.S. cell phone company web pages that describe their options. (AT&T owns Cingular, Sprint owns Nextel, MCI and Verizon are together and Voicestream merged with T-Mobile.)  Also see our Using a Cell Phone Abroad topic below.
2 below indicates a second link on their website that also covers international cell phone usage.


Taking Your Cell Phone Abroad
Your cell phone may already be capable of making calls from other countries, or can be modified to do so. Also, all U.S. cell phone companies offer cell phone you can buy that do allow calls from other countries and also offer international cell phone rental plans.   Always talk to a cell phone representative before signing up for anything to make sure you understand the terms and they have answered all your questions.  

Taking your iPhone overseas?  Be warned! Here are a few articles: iphoneatlas.com  iphonetopic.com
Renting or Buying an International Cell Phone
Here are some companies, other than your cell phone company, that specialize in renting or selling cell phones that can be used internationally.  Check with your own cell phone company first to see if your phone can be used in the countries you are visiting or can be modified to do so. Also they may have cell phones for rent to take on your trip.  Always comparison shop as rates and features vary widely.
Google -Renting an international cell phone.  Listed below are some of the top companies from their search results.
 Most of these companies sell, as well as, rent international cell phones.
Telestial.  We especially like this website. They have a good explanation of international GSM phones and SIM cards and offer both for sale. (We are not an affiliate of them. It is just a beautiful, uncluttered website with easy-to-understand information.)

Planet Omni.com

Mobalrental Cellhire Action Cellular Rent-A-Phone Range Roamer Cellular International
cellular Aboard RentCell Cellular Express Phone Rentals TravelComm PlanetFone

Using a Cell Phone Abroad
Depending on your cell phone model and your cell phone company, you may or may not be able to make calls from other countries outside the United States. Otherwise your choices are to possibly have your cell phone modified, or buying or renting a cell phone that can be used in other countries or use an international "call back to the U.S." calling card from your phone company or some other company that offers that option.   
The Travel Insider - International Cell Phone Service  This is the best and most comprehensive information we have found on international cell phone service.  It was originally published in 2002 but updated in January 2007 the last time we checked. It may have been updated again by now.  Also see their companion article on GSM Cell Phone Unlocking FAQ and Unlock your GSM Cell Phone.
ConsumerSearch.com - Cell Phone Plans. Use your browser Find on this page feature and enter the words-  international compatibility.  This will take you to their excellent discussion of GSM versus CDMA systems.
Mobalrental - The Six Most Popular Ways to Call Home When Traveling.  They will send you this free guide via email. It tells you all about using your cell phone when abroad.
Consumer Reports - Getting Cellphone Service Abroad.  Use your browser Edit on this page option and enter digital network.  This will take you to a good description about the competing worldwide networks and what it means to you as a traveler.
USA Today - Travelers Can Find Far-Reaching Cell Phones. May 2005  A good article and, except for the pricing, it is generally current information.
Using Your Cell Phone Overseas. Some additional insights into using your cell phone overseas and the use of SIM cards and unlocking them.
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