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Family Tech: Here’s some advice for using cell phones overseas - April 15, 2016

Before my wife left for Israel, and my son and I visited her, I had to figure out how we could use our cell phones outside the United States.

There are two kinds of cell phone technologies in the world. Here in the U.S., AT&T and T-Mobile use the GSM system while Verizon and Sprint use CDMA. Most of the world outside the U.S. uses the GSM system – think Beta and VHS or AM and FM. They are similar systems, but different.

I checked the specs to our phones by googling the models online. Because my wife bought her iPhone at an Apple store, it was set up to work with both the CDMA and GSM systems. The Android phones my son and I have worked with both systems. Ask your cell company if your phone can work on GSM systems if you cannot find the information online.

Next, check with your provider for advice. Sprint told me it had an international roaming plan I could put on our phones for free. In Sprint’s case, it allowed for unlimited data roaming but at speeds from 10 years ago, 2G technology speeds. That’s pretty slow. It also allowed for phone calls at 20 cents a minute. I asked it to activate its international roaming for our phones so we at least have this capability when we first arrived in Israel.

I also asked it to unlock our phones. When you buy a phone from a provider like Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile or AT&T, the phones come locked to its system. Phone companies are fearful people might subscribe to a two-year contract, receive a free phone, and then stop paying their bills and sell their phone on eBay. Phones cost well over $500 in most cases, with some close to $1,000. Phone companies subsidize the phone’s cost and we pay for them as part of our monthly charge over the life of our cell phone contracts, often two years.

While the phone is locked, you cannot use it on another carrier’s system.

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