Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Using Verizon in China

One of the quandaries when traveling over to China is what to do about a Cell Phone while in country. At my last job we had an AT&T International rate plan and our Palm phones worked most places and we had data, etc... Now that I am independently owned and operated that kind of plush plan seems a little spendy.

Here in Wyoming we are fairly limited our choice of cell providers. Verizon is the big dog in the game, Union is the "local" option, and AT&T is sketchy at best. No other carrier is even present.

The end result of all this is that because we spend 48+ weeks of our year in the good ole USA we pick our provider based on Domestic capabilities, vs. International. This does create the potential for HUGE charges when traveling in China. Below are some key suggestions for avoiding some of the bigger pitfalls.

1. TURN OFF ALL DATA. I mean ALL. Background, browsing, hotspot, you name it. A data plan for 25MB is about $40, with a $1 per MB charge for all over. No plan at all? It is $20 per MB! Imagine, downloading 1 picture from a friend, $30. Call your Help Line to find out the best way to make sure all data is off.
2. Enable roaming. For most Verizon phones this means calling in to your phones Setup and activating. It adds about $4 a month, but your phone is a brick without it.
3. Minimize calls - Even with all the roaming set up correctly it is still $2 per minute to talk to US. That adds up quick.

OK, ways to stay in communication without racking up a huge phone bill.

1. SKYPE - assuming your hotel has internet (which most do) and you have a device that can access it (Laptop, tablet, etc...) using SKYPE to chat and call is the most cost effective way to talk. Chat/video chat? Free, PC to phone? $.02 per minute (compare to $2 from Verizon, which is 100X more expensive)
2. Get the people you are visiting to help you get a "Chinese" cell phone (or a SIM card for your phone, if it can take one). This is especially useful for in-country calls, given that many Chinese phones cannot call International, rendering your US phone number useless.
3. TXT Messages - at .50 outbound and .05 inbound these are great on the fly ways to communicate with people both in and out of China.

Talk to your provider about the best options for your destination country, the phones you have, and what your needs are. I have also used some of the International Rental Phones available in the US market and I say skip it. Using the above techniques and some common sense you'll be OK without it.