The sharper edge to traveling in Asia

How to avoid excessive phone charges when traveling in Asia

Written By: herbrunbridge - Apr• 08•12

Phone top-off cards are available everywhere in Asia

Western travelers to Asia have been given an unwelcome shock upon returning home and opening their phone bills. They’ve been billed hundreds, if not thousands of dollars and euros for roaming charges associated with using their phones to call internationally. Our recommendation is to buy an inexpensive mobile phone like the Nokia 1280 (which costs approximately $23 USD in Asian countries), buy an inexpensive SIM card at the same shop, and buy minutes as you wish, using top-off cards. When we call home from Thailand, for example, we pay 7 cents USD per minute. In Sri Lanka, it’s even cheaper. 

You can buy inexpensive new mobile phones and SIM cards on virtually every street corner in Asia, and most small stores and convenience shops sell top-off cards, where you buy minutes, dial a number, and top off your phone. An added plus to buying an inexpensive phone for Asia-only use (the dual-band phone you buy in Asia operates at both the 900 MHz and 1800 MHz spectrum, which means it will not work in the Americas) is that it’s not as vulnerable to thieves as more expensive phones. 

If you prefer to use the phone you bought from home, you might want to turn off your data service or data roaming feature to avoid excessive charges. If it’s activated, you may be charged even if you don’t actually use it. One recent incident involved a traveler being charged $1800 USD (yes, $1800!) for three days of roaming charges, and he never used the service. After complaining to his provider, it “generously” cut the bill in half. That’s $900 for three days of something he never used. 

Overall, we here at WoWasis prefer to make our lives simpler in Asia by using an inexpensive Asian mobile phone. When we want to access the internet, we go to an internet shop. They’re everywhere in Asia. In over a decade, we’ve saved a heck of a lot of money by doing it this way, and we’ve got better ways to spend our money than by giving it to our phone service provider at home. Essentially, we have a phone we use in Asia, and another we use at home. In every Asian country, we buy a new SIM, get a new number, and enjoy the convenience and cost savings. When we return home, we just pack our Asian phone away for the next trip.

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One Comment

  1. Steven says:

    I prefer an inexpensive, unlocked, Android phone. I bought a prepaid quad-band AT&T Avail (ZTE990) for $100 and unlocked it (free). I synced my Google contact list before I left home, loaded music, loaded travel information, and loaded foreign maps. In Asia I buy a prepaid SIM card. The Wi-Fi on a smart phone is very useful.

    I also forward my landline and cellular numbers to my Google Voice number which in turn I forward to whatever new phone number I get in Asia. Google Voice charges very little for international calling, so it doesn’t cost much, only a few cents per minute. The only problem is getting calls at odd times.

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