International Cell Phone Rental

Category: Mobile

When you travel abroad you may find that your trusty cell phone does not work in foreign countries, or extremely remote locations if you're that adventurous. Savvy travelers take advantage of international cell phone rentals to temporarily serve their needs in different countries. There are even satellite phone rentals that can keep you connected in the Sahara desert or the Amazon River basin. Read on...

Cell and Satellite Phone Rentals

There are two main reasons why cell phones may not work abroad. First, cell phone companies cover finite geographic regions. Your Verizon phone stops working where Verizon's coverage ends. That problem is solved partially by international roaming agreements between different carriers. When you pass out of a U.S. cell company's coverage area, a foreign carrier may pick up your service for you -- for a pretty steep roaming price. But it may be technologically impossible to roam due to incompatible cellular transmission technologies.

All of Europe and most of Asia use the GSM cellular standard. But United States carriers are split between GSM and CDMA; the latter won't work in GSM countries. Verizon uses CDMA, while AT&T and T-mobile use GSM.

If your phone is incompatible with GSM or you don't want to pay for international roaming, then you can rent a phone that works in the area you'll be visiting. Rental fees vary but in Europe they are in the $50 to $100 per week range. There are lots of Web sites where you can arrange an international cell phone rental prior to your trip.
Cell Phone Rentals

Phones 4 U is a very popular online store located in the United Kingdom where you can rent a phone by the month or purchase an inexpensive "disposable" prepaid phone.

National Geographic (yes, the magazine publisher) has an international cell phone rental site called It rents phones with free incoming calling from over 70 countries. If you have a GSM-based phone, you can also buy just the SIM card for a specific country or one that works throughout a region. Cellular phone rentals for specific countries start as low as $18 a week (for a small country).

Mobal is a US-based company that offers international cell phone rentals. Just tell them where you're going and it will recommend a phone and rental plan to you. The bigger the area you'll be traveling the higher the rental fee will be.

Satellite Phone Rentals

Satellite phones, or "sat phones", have virtually no geographical limitations and work where there is no cellular phone coverage. Satellite phone connect to orbiting satellites instead of terrestrial cellular towers. A single satellite may cover half of the Earth while a network of cellular towers covers only heavily populated and traveled segments of a single country. A satellite phone is what you need if you plan a backpacking vacation or want to call home from your sailboat in the middle of the ocean.

The Iridium and Inmarsat companies dominate the satellite phone market, although there are smaller satellite phone operators that provide service to specific countries from a single satellite, e.g., Thuraya (United Arab Emirates) and ACeS (East Asia). Satellite phone rentals start as low as $32 a week including the phone.

If you plan to travel, I recommend that you start by calling your mobile phone service provider to see what they recommend, what it will cost, and the specific geographic location(s) where you will be able to use your phone. This might be the easiest solution, and might enble you to use your existing phone number globally, but will probably not be the most cost effective. So check out the rental options above and compare with the offerings from your current provider.

Have you rented a cell phone or satellite phone for travel? Tell us about your experience, or post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "International Cell Phone Rental"

Posted by:

10 Dec 2010

I wonder if there's a way to get internet in remote areas.

Posted by:

11 Dec 2010

Why not buy an inexpensive cell phone and use prepaid cards?

Posted by:

howard rutiezer
11 Dec 2010

I don't care if comments are posted.

You talk only about Europe and Asia.
I am interested in Central and South America.
Guatemala in particular to start.

Tried calling my local cell provider,Verizon, as you suggest. Rates are quoted in cost/minute but let me put that as cost/hour which is a few cents short of $120/hour. When I look online at websites like lonelyplanet for travel in Guatemala, they suggest buying a phone there.

Posted by:

15 Dec 2010

Hello Bob,

Thank you for taking the time to help so many people. I appreciate your work and the time it must take you. Your mission to educate and to help people save money is a good thing. Again, my thanks.

Posted by:

28 Jul 2011

I used mobalphone - a company that rents phones, & sells international sim cards. The rates are high, a few dollars/min. The text rates are better .80 to send, free incoming. I used their sim to text on my last trip in Israel, UK & Holland & that went well.

I then also buy an unlocked gsm quad frequency phone off ebay & bought a sim in my main country of travel, Israel, for inexpensive calling, maybe .22/min. Turned out my phone was older so their new sim didn't work & they had to dig an older type out of their back storage room. Then it worked well, came with around 1 hrs worth of pre-paid dollars. (Israel is where key cell phone elements were invented & they tend to be ahead of the curve in their cell technology.)

It was completely worth having a phone, from calling museums and resturants for hours & location, to coordinating with fellow travelers. Getting a sim was much easier in UK (from vending machines at the airport & train stations) than in Israel (find the right counter at airport or in a mall). So phone rental would have been much easier for shorter trips. Each country offers internal-only rentals, which are much cheaper than international use phones (such as mobalphone).

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