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Tips for using cell phones overseas

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  • VoIP technology allows you to avoid costly phone frequencies
  • A new phone from Cubic Telecom works in 160 countries
  • Roaming can be as expensive as $4.99 per minute abroad
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By Andrea Bennett
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Travel + Leisure

(Travel + Leisure) -- If you're among those frequent travelers whose growing gadgetry collections occasionally make you suspect that technology does not, in fact, simplify your life, you're not alone. Take recent reports by new AT&T iPhone customers of roaming charges in the thousands of dollars and novel-length bills in the mail (customer Justine Ezarik posted a YouTube video of herself opening a 300-page bill that AT&T sent to her in a box).

What's the problem? It turns out that the iPhone automatically checks e-mail and performs other Internet data updates, even when the phone function is off. Not a problem in the U.S., where the AT&T Wireless plan for the iPhone includes unlimited call time and data transfers. But that's not true abroad -- and roaming rates add up quickly.

Verizon charges from $1.49 per minute in many countries to $2.49 on cruise ships. T-Mobile international rates vary, and roaming can be as expensive as $4.99 per minute. Make a 20-minute call from Russia on AT&T, and you're looking at a $100 charge.

Fortunately, staying connected on the road internationally can be easier -- and less expensive -- than your provider might have you believe. One solution to that problem is voicemail, available with an upgraded Skype account. Skype, of course, launched back in 2003 and picked up speed and market share after its purchase by eBay. Its Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology allows you to avoid costly phone frequencies; just log on to the Net and you can make calls for a few cents a minute -- and add voicemail for $20 per year.

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Or, you can find a hotel that's using VoIP: JW Marriott's Wired for Business program in the U.S. and Canada lets you make all the domestic calls you want and get online for $9.95 a day. Select international JW Marriotts have it, too, though it's not a brand-wide initiative.

Of course, the competition for international wireless callers is heated, and that means innovation can't be far behind. One option is the new phone from Cubic Telecom, a phone that, unlike most phones from Verizon or Sprint, works in 160 countries, and whose service plan, MaxRoam.com, cuts costs up to 75 percent of many carriers by letting you set up local phone numbers in several different countries. You pay varying but lower costs between countries, though the service benefits those who want to call you from the U.S. more than it benefits you while traveling abroad.

Need some more solutions? Click here for nine tips from Travel + Leisure for cutting communication costs while traveling abroad. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

Planning a beach getaway? Don't miss Travel + Leisure's guide to Affordable Beach Resorts.

Copyright 2009 American Express Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.

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