Traveling abroad always means laying out some serious cash, especially if you want to have a cell phone with you. Many folks take the “easy” route of simply turning on international roaming on their cell phone so that they are using their U.S. phone while being abroad. This ends up being a super costly way to travel with your cell phone, one that is likely to send you into a panic attack when you arrive home and see the bill. International roaming charges with a U.S. carrier are downright absurd, with calls costing an average of atleast $2 per minute. And data is a whole the nightmare as well. The prices for date use while roaming internationally might just leave you broke altogether if you leave your smartphone on to consume data while you’re traveling.
Of-course there are alternatives to using your U.S. cell phone when traveling abroad. For one thing, you could rent a cell phone that is designed for international use. However, those tend to be costly as well. Alternatively you could buy a local prepaid sim card in the country you are traveling in and simply pop that sim card into an unlocked GSM phone. This can be a pretty affordable way have cellular service while you’re abroad, but it’s not the most convenient way either. For one thing, if you’re traveling to multiple countries you’ll have to invest in picking up a different sim card in each country. Also, you’ll be forced to us multiple phone numbers. Ultimately this isn’t a bad route to take if you’re visiting just a single country, or if you’re just an occasional travel.
That said, if you’re someone who travels abroad often, Truphone’s solution is really ideal. Truphone offers sim cards that will work internationally – with reduced rates. Plus, they also offer data with their sim cards. Recently, Truphone lent us a BlackBerry and one of their Tru sim cards to use while in Spain. I can’t express what a life saver it was to have the Tru sim with me. I had initially purchased a prepaid Sim from a local Spanish wireless provider. But after just a day the data and calls stopped working and it was impossible to get through to their support for help, needless to say I was super frustrated.
Fortunately, the Tru Sim came to my rescue. Not only was I able too make calls to the U.S. and around Spain, but my colleagues and family in the U.S. were able to call me without incurring any long distance charges. That is because Tru can provide users with a dedicated U.S. or U.K. phone number. This is ideal for customers who are from the U.K. or U.S., or who often travel to the U.K. and U.S.
So for 6 days I used the Tru Sim card to make phone calls to the U.S., to places around Spain, and even to family over in Israel. I also used it to check my email on a BlackBerry Bold and to browse the web on the go. While we’re on the subject, I have to say that I really can’t imagine traveling without data. That is because, besides for not wanting to be without email access, it’s so important to have a web browser to look up restaurants and tourists-traps while you’re out and about. I’ve been on trips where I didn’t have data on my smartphone and it was a really frustrating experience navigating a new city without it.
A basic Tru Sim costs just $29.99 for U.S. customers and comes with $15 of credit. For an additional $8 a month you can add a U.S. number to your sim – you can even transfer over your own number too. Or you can attach a Tru Country number to that sim. Currently Tru countries include the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia. But Tru is working on expanding to other countries like Spain, Hong Kong, Germany, France, Italy and more. Tru also offers an optional Tru membership plan for $15 a month that offers you true local rates in Tru countries. For example, you can travel in the U.K. and it will only cost you $0.10 to call a landline. Without the membership plan it will cost you $0.51. Regardless, that $0.51 is a lot less than what it would cost you per minute if you were using your AT&T phone to make calls. All in all, buying a Tru Sim is a quick and easy way for the average consumer, or infrequent traveler to get started with Tru and the rates are pretty good, but still not as cheap as going with a local prepaid sim card.
For businesses, Tru offers special business packages that offer especially competitive rates. We took advantage of the Tru Elite 450 which includes 450 minutes, 40MBs of data and 250 texts for use across Tru countries (U.S., U.K. and Australia, with Spain coming soon) as well as 100 European minutes. Their Tru Elite 1500 plan is also worth noting. That plan costs $210 and includes 1500 minutes, 500MBs of data and 750 Texts for use in Tru countries, as well as 500 European minutes. Based on my usage while in Spain, had I been using my current AT&T plan, I would have accrued an AT&T bill for $950. Instead my Truphone costs were a total of $303.80. That is a savings of nearly 69%!
In total, by using Truphone, I managed a savings of 69% over what I would have spent if I had used my AT&T wireless sim card while I was traveling in Spain. However, Tru still isn’t exactly cheap since their rates outside of Tru countries are more expensive than local prepaid rim card rates. Yet at the same time they’re also much more reasonably priced than using your U.S. sim while roaming – especially if you get one of their Business plans.
Furthermore, there are competitors like Tru out there that offer international sim cards, but most don’t offer data, nor do they offer such competitive business plan packages. Tru’s marketing slogan is “The Fall of the Roaming Empire”, and it couldn’t be more appropriate. While we’re not sure that Truphone is the ultimate solution for the occasional traveler traveling outside of Tru countries, any business that has personnel frequently traveling abroad to multiple countries, would be a fool not to save lots of money and take advantage of Tru’s business plans. We also recommend checking out GearDiary’s review of Tru.
The Good: Say goodbye to expensive roaming charges while traveling abroad, data plans available, Business plans offer tons of value, get a dedicated U.S., U.K. or Australian number to use internationally, no contract.
The Bad: Calling rates without a membership plan or without a business package are not as competitive.
Update 04/26/11: The folks over at Tru contacted us and made some good points, and that is that it’s important for them to distinguish themselves from other travel SIM providers like Maxroam. which provide cheap rates but work as a call back solution (ie, you dial, then it disconnects and they ring you back some time later), and which don’t have the convenience of the local numbers either. This is a very good point, since these other services are indeed a pain to use in practice with their call back model. I can verify that since I have tried out a few of these travel SIM card services in the past and was very frustrated with the call back system. On the other hand, Tru can optionally be used as a sole wireless provider, some businesses have even chosen to port their numbers to Tru.