Are you are a global traveler from the US who wants to be reached via your US mobile number while you are in a foreign country and do not want to pay roaming charges of US$2.50 per minute? Here are three simple steps to avoid paying excessive roaming fees to the likes of AT&T, Verizon and Sprint:
1. Sign up to a call forwarding service provider like: One Suite for a monthly fee ($2.95). The call forwarding service provider (One Suite) will assign you a US number that can be routed to any number in the world for a very low fee (i.e., no more than US$0.05 per minute).
2. Forward your US mobile number to the routing service provider.
There are two types of call forwarding services in the US: unconditional (*72) and conditional (*68 or *28). Unconditional call forwarding means all calls will go to the forwarded number and may carry extra charges by your mobile carrier (I know Sprint charges $0.20 per minute). I recommend conditioning call forwarding (when there’s no answer or a busy signal) which is free and works just as well to avoid extra charges.
To forward your call using conditional forwarding, enter *68[415-867-5309] where 415-867-5309 is the number you received from your call forwarding service provider. This will tell your current mobile carrier to forward all your calls to 415-867-5309 when there’s a busy signal or no answer. Your phone will be considered “off” by your mobile carrier which means all your calls will be forwarded to the call forwarding number. If you are on the Sprint or Nextel network, you will need to use: *28 instead of 68. If you’re on Verizon, you may have to use *71.
Click on this link for more information on call forwarding codes.
NOTE: Execute this step before you leave the US so you are not incurring voice roaming charges while abroad.
3. When you’re abroad, purchase a pre-paid SIM card from a local carrier. Login to your call forwarding service provider’s website and forward the assigned number [415-867-5309] to the pre-paid SIM card [+52-55-9876-5432] you have just purchased.
Below is a diagram to illustrate the three simple steps.
This process may seem a bit complicated compared to a service like Skype. However it is reliable and you don’t need to give out another US number to your current contacts. The rates are also very affordable and it’s the easiest way to keep your US number while you’re traveling abroad.
When you’ve returned from your trip, simply go on your phone and hit *81 or *38 (for Sprint) to deactivate unconditional forwarding mode.
If you are upgrading to a new iPhone, don’t forget to unlock your old one for an easier and higher resell of your old iPhone.
I’m on AT&T and totally forgot about this. I ordered the new iPhone 5 to replace my AT&T iPhone 4. AT&T actually has a page spelling out the eligibility of unlocking your iphone here. I put my request in a few days before I got my iPhone 5. However, I received and activated my iphone 5 before AT&T replied back to my unlock inquiry.
The sad news from AT&T, they only unlock your eligible iPhone ONLY if it’s still active. After calling and trying at local AT&T stores, AT&T refused to unlock my old iPhone 4 because it is no longer “active” on the AT&T network.
Reminder, unlock your old iPhone 4 or 4S first before activating your new iPhone 5!
Luckily, you can go to eBay and buy an iPhone unlock service as low as $15! All you need is to give them your IMEI number, and they set you up. You restore your phone on itunes and there it is unlocked. Feel free to use your phone internationally, sell it for $50-$100 more, or give it to friend or family to use on any carrier.
Furthering my previous post on “How to get prepaid mobile data in Hong Kong and China,” here are some additional benefits and “gotchas” from China Mobile Hong Kong’s (also known as People’s in Hong Kong or CMHK) prepaid plans:
1. First the benefit: If you’ve signed up for one of CMHK’s prepaid mobile data plans (one day, seven days or a month), you can access China Mobile’s WiFi Hotspots throughout Hong Kong and Kowloon. “CMHK” is the China Mobile hotspot. This is a valuable free add-on as there aren’t many free WiFi hotspots in Hong Kong. Starbucks and other coffee shops in Hong Kong only provide 30 minutes of free WiFi access with your purchase.
To use the China Mobile prepaid mobile WiFi add-on, you will need to setup a password on your prepaid mobile phone card. To setup a password, press “*124*<6 digit number of your preferred password>” on your handset.
For example, *124*123456 where 123456 is your password. To use the CMHK Hotspot, you will login using your prepaid mobile number and password. The WiFi network is pretty fast.
2. Now the “gotcha”: If you’ve signed up for a daily, weekly or monthly plan and you don’t want to renew the mobile data plan, you must make sure you have deactivated mobile data from your prepaid account. No one will tell you that you will need to disable mobile data from the prepaid plan as I have found out the hard way - watching my HK$50 credit drained to HK$0.15 in less than one day. If you do not deactivated mobile data on your prepaid card, China Mobile will charge you on their regular data rate which is highway robbery. Most smartphones have applications that uses mobile data in the background which will drain your prepaid mobile account at HK$0.15 per KB.
So if you do not want to use CMHK’s a la carte mobile data plan, you must deactivate your mobile phone from using CMHK’s data network. To deactivate from CMHK’s data network, you will need to send the following code using your mobile phone: ”*106*02#”. To re-activate mobile data service, just send: ”*106*01#” from your mobile phone. You can also use “disable mobile data” feature from your mobile phone if it has such a feature. I know that most Blackberries have it.
3. Another “gotcha” is: your CMHK prepaid card must have a dollar value in order for you to continue to use your mobile data plan. For example, you purchased a one week prepaid mobile data plan for HK$38 and have HK$10 left on your prepaid account. Once your prepaid mobile account cannot fall to HK$0, you will not be able to use your prepaid mobile data plan even thought you have already subscribed for the service.