As a business owner, from time to time, you may be required to travel overseas to meet with clients, or to prospect for suppliers. Using your smartphone (or any mobile phone) when outside of your country can be prohibitively expensive. Even more costly is the use of your data plan when traveling. Most cellular providers have a “roaming” or “out of country” package that you can purchase, but they are usually quite limited. In this post I will show you how to unlock your phone so that you can save a ton of money while traveling.
What is Roaming?
Most cellphone providers such as Canada’s Rogers, Bell, and Telus have pre-defined regions where you can use your phone without extra charges. Usually these regions, referred to as your local region, are limited to the city in which you live and may include the greater area as well. Once you leave your local region, roaming charges apply. Just as you may incur charges when you make a long distance call, roaming charges apply when you answer a call outside your local region. For example, if your local region is Edmonton, making calls to, and receiving calls from Edmonton do not incur any additional charges while in Edmonton. However, if you were to travel to Vancouver and answer a call, you’d incur roaming charges. However, even if your local region is Edmonton, calling Vancouver from Vancouver would not be considered roaming since you’re calling a local number to where you’re located. Confusing, I know.
This all changes when you leave your country. When traveling overseas, your cell phone is no longer connected to your provider’s network. Instead you are now connecting to an entirely foreign cellphone network such as Vodafone in the England. Any calls made or received (including any data used) will cost significantly more than if you are back in your home country. For instance, calls made while abroad can cost as much as $1.75 per minute. Data charges increase to as much as $15/MB while roaming compared to $0.015/MB locally. Wow!
What is a SIM Card?
To identify you on the network, most cell phones now use a SIM (Subscriber Identification Module) card. This tiny little chip is inserted into your phone to allow calls to be routed to and from your handset and allows the network to know which carrier you belong to. When traveling abroad, it is this SIM card that talks to the foreign network and establishes you as a roaming user. Since SIM cards are interchangeable, it would make sense that you could simply remove your local (eg. Rogers) SIM card, and insert a foreign (eg. Vodafone) SIM card, thus allowing you to take advantage of local rates. However, most cellphones are “locked” to their original carrier. Without “unlocking” your phone, inserting a foreign SIM card will only result with an error, and will not enable you to make or receive calls.
How to Unlock your Phone.
Unlocking your phone is a very simple process. In the past, unlocking your phone meant that you had to pay someone else upwards of $100 and meet them in a back alley. Now, you can take your phone into your local carriers store and have them do it for you for a fee, or you can do it yourself from the comfort of own computer.
To unlock your phone, you first need to find the IMEI number of your phone. This can be done by typing *#06# on your dial pad. You can also browse through your phone’s settings or remove the battery and find it on the label underneath.
Once you have the IMEI number, you can go to any one of a number of sites on the internet. My favorite is www.mobileincanada.com and follow the instructions on the screen. Depending on your phone, the cost will vary, but in general, it will cost you about $20 to have the unlock code emailed to you – the email usually arrives in a few hours. Follow the steps in the email and you’ll soon have an unlocked phone with which you can use any SIM card globally.
Unlocking your phone is an inexpensive way to use your cellphone overseas. With a SIM card local to the region in which you’re traveling, you’ll be paying local rates and will even have a local number. Once you get back to your home country, simply put in your old SIM card and you’ll be back to normal.
Also worth mentioning is that unlocking you phone doesn’t harm your phone at all. There are no software changes and it does not void your warranty, it only unlocks you from your original carrier. If you plan to sell your phone in the future, having it unlocked will also be advantageous since the phone is no longer tied to any one carrier.
Is your phone currently unlocked? What is the most exotic destination you’ve traveled to with your phone? Let me know in the comments.