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There is no one solution that fits all, or one pre-paid service that meets the needs of a person traveling internationally. There was a time, you could on landing at LHR, go to a vending machine and get a 5GBP SIM from any of the many providers. No more. Here are few options, a combination of one or more should solve your short term travel needs.
1. Carry a Mifi device (an unlocked one.)
2. Carry an unlocked phone that supports a wifi connection
3. On your laptop install a soft phone
If you go the Mifi route make sure your device (Novatel, or other) is a) unlocked b) it supports the countries you are going in terms of GSM frequencies. When you go looking for pre-paid SIM check the data rates, and the service and quality issues. It is good to check some of the online forums for pros and cons of various services in the countries you plan to visit.
There are many phones that support wifi connection too. If so, check if your handset will work without a SIM present in the handset; some do some dont. If your handset supports wifi only mode, immediately disable the SIM/roaming as soon as you land at the foreign airport.
On my mac, I have skype and reliance icall. Reliance icall is based on VoIP and is agnostic to roaming, however it depends on a wifi connection. This works great if you manage to get free wifi in many cafes in major European destinations. Skype auto detects your location and adjusts skype-to-handset charges :( There are many other softphones for various OSs, please check their configuration(s) and ease of use. Here are the reliance Icall rates , rates for skype vary from country to country - Here are the Skype's rates from the US. Do read the terms and conditions of all the softphones, services and other pay-as-you go services.
There many possibilities, and many solutions. Enjoy ulcer free travels.
thanks for the tips, unfortunately i cannot get skype to work at all in france this time. not sure why. i paid my bill and have all the machines,,,go figger.
luckily i have an unlocked iphone and a laptop with magjic jack...so i am managing but would love to have an afforable and easy to carry phone to use to call back to the states.
how much does it cost and how far in advance do you need to do it?
If you have verizon telephone, i think you just call the Verizon customer service and they will do it for you at no charge. I went to Italy and thought it would be automatic but it wasnt . I was without a phone or email support and called to complain and was told I should have called the corporate office to set it up. You give them the time frame you are going to be in the country and then when you return you switch back to your original country. Have fun?
You asked how far in advance... Let them know the specific days you will be in the other country and when you are returning. It will be automatic.