Having a phone that works internationally is great in case of an emergency. The problem is that when you’re in another country calls are $2.29 to and from the United States, even if you don’t answer the phone, you’re billed for as long as it rings. I found this out a few trips ago, I only avoided the charges when I could show my chat transcript that indicated I was trying to disable everything and not pay anything.
Disclaimer: The tips below are not for someone who wants to make a lot of calls and be reachable at all times, they’re for the person who can wait until later to return the calls. Also, I do not work for AT&T, this is how I do it and it appears to work for me, billing terms may change. You are responsible for verifying that everything works this way for your account! None of this requires any hacking or jail breaking to do these things, I have a free Google Voice account set up (it’s sort of like Skype) and it’s set to forward my phone calls to my cell number.
Texting – On AT&T I receive texts internationally for free, I can send back to the United States for 50 cents (I’ve never tried to send from another country to the country I’m in, I’ll check that next trip). If I want to reply to a text it’s 50 cents but if I want to send a photo with the text, I believe it starts to use data and you’ll be billed for it (probably the same applies if someone sends you a photo). If I need to text someone in the US, I pay the 50 cents or I find WiFi location and use Google Voice to send and receive texts (it’s like a chat at this point), I can use the iPhone App or the Google web site. If I miss a sent Google Voice text message, it forwards it to my e-mail (so I always tell people to initiate a chat via my actual cell phone number).
Phone calls – Before I even leave the US, I turn off my 3g data and forward my AT&T calls to Google Voice (I do this from the iPhone settings), so my calls never even get sent out of the country. Google Voice is smart enough to not forward it back to my cell if someone calls, it just dumps them into GV voice mail. This way I can carry a working phone with me and if I have an emergency I can make a call.
If someone calls, GV will e-mail and text me the message (with text recognition transcription) so I know they called and if it’s a good transcription, I even know the topic. Then I can decide if I need to work my way to somewhere with WiFi or make a $2.29 a minute call on my phone. Otherwise, I just check the voicemail the next time I’m on the computer or have Wifi on my iPhone or computer (with Skype or GV). From outside the country to call the United States or Canada, GV charges 2 cents plus a penny a minute (I pay Skype $3 a month for unlimited calling to the US from anywhere).
Data – AT&T significantly dropped their international roaming data plan charges this past summer, I might give a small package a try on my next trip. Don’t forget Onavo can save you money on your data plan.