Going Local
World phone rates vary widely - a call home to the U.S. from Europe can cost as little as $.99 per minute or as much as $2.49. Of course, paying $1 to $2 a minute is fine if you're making less than an hour's worth of overseas calls, but if you intend to log in some serious phone time, consider going local by changing the phone's SIM (Subscriber Information Module) chip, which slips in under the battery and contains the phone's number and service plan. A prepaid SIM chip from an in-country service provider instantly creates a local phone number and hence much lower calling rates, as long as you stay in that country. Local calls in Spain on one local chip we tested, for instance, were only 21 cents a minute, though there was an initial deposit of between $10 and $20 for the chip.

SIM chips are available at stores run by mobile-phone operators, and some newspaper kiosks and tobacco stores. Finding these stores and negotiating with salespeople across language barriers can be a challenge, though, so we suggest asking your hotel concierge to find a store selling "prepaid SIM" chips.

Phones bought at discount prices from wireless carriers must be "unlocked" to accept foreign chips. Although T-Mobile and Cingular don't officially allow unlocking, we've heard reports of some customers getting their phones unlocked by dialing 611 while in the U.S. and asking for the "subsidy lock" to be removed from their handset. Other travelers planning to switch SIMs should buy their phones from an independent cell-phone shop abroad and specifically ask for an unlocked phone.
Profile: Tourist
Takes brief trips abroad and wants a phone for safety reasons, or to check up on the kids, Mom, or the family cat.