Discussing appropriate phone usage is an important aspect of the home orientation. Always remember to speak in a conversational tone, especially when the children are asleep. Consider discussing the following:
- Is there a specific way your host family would like you to answer the home phone? How do you handle telemarketers?
- Where should you write down messages?
- What are acceptable hours to receive phone calls from your friends and family on your home phone?
- Does the phone have call waiting and/or other extra services? How do these work?
- Ask how you should make international phone calls with a calling card or by using Skype. We want to stress that it can be expensive making international calls from a regular landline without a calling card and/or budget, so remember to discuss your options with your host family.
- What is the long-distance calling policy in the house?
Cell phones work very differently in other countries than they do in the United States. You will most likely be using a new phone for the first time. You will want to ask your host family to help show you how to use your new cell phone and how to understand data, talk, text, and more.
- Is there a family plan? Is it possible for you to join?
- What is your host family’s policy on using cell phone when you are on duty?
- Are there limits to cell phone usage when you are off duty?
Here we discuss a few options involving the use of a local plan (and perhaps a new phone) or sticking with your existing device and phone number.
A note on roaming charges: Unless you have a good international roaming plan set up with your existing service provider, you may want to turn off data roaming on your phone before you land to avoid heavy data roaming charges. Once you arrive there are many options for staying connected:
Purchase a SIM card under a local plan to use with your current phone. Local plans mean local rates. Getting yourself a local phone number can be a good way to save money and might be most convenient if you are abroad for more than a few weeks. Before traveling, you’ll need to confirm whether your phone is already unlocked or if your service provider can unlock it for use with a foreign SIM card. Ask your provider about putting your current plan on hold (or at least reduce your service to a minimum) so you don’t keep incurring the full monthly charges while you travel. If your phone is unlocked, you should be able to switch out your current SIM card for a local one wherever you travel. Speak with phone service providers or support staff for your working abroad program regarding local plans and rates (e.g. pay-as-you-go or monthly plans).
Purchase a local SIM card AND a cheap phone. In most places you can still find some relatively cheap devices - not the flashiest, but something that you can use with a local SIM card just while you travel. This might be a good option if you can’t unlock your current device for use with foreign SIM cards. In many cases you will be able to find a cheap phone and sign up for a local plan at the same store while abroad. An alternative may be to buy or rent a cheaper unlocked phone before you travel.
Add international features to your existing phone service. Depending on your service provider, this option may be expensive or inexpensive. Upgrading may happen in increments of $10 or $20 per month for each add-on. With some companies, about $10 may get you texting and data in many countries abroad, but with other providers, it could add up to more. Call your current provider to inquire about their options for international roaming. Your phone will operate off of a local network when you travel, so the quality of service can vary, but the convenience of keeping the same phone and SIM is worth it for many people.
Use your current device for Wi-Fi only. If you aren’t concerned with being connected all of the time, you might consider using your existing smart phone to only connect to Wi-Fi when it’s available. Apps like FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Skype, Whatsapp, WeChat (for those in China especially), Facebook Messenger and many more make it possible to text or speak for free with a Wi-Fi connection.
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