Global Cellular Customs

by Colin Berkshire

I am always amazed at the reaction of people when I tell them how you buy cell service in other countries. Likewise, people in other countries never believe me when i tell them how we American’s by cell service.

In other countries you walk into a 7-11, ask where the SIM cards are, take your choice of SIM off the shelf, and put it in your phone. The typical cost is about $3 to $5. Now, you have a phone number (it’s printed right on the outside of the package.)

The SIM probably comes with 1~3 months of service and a credit enough for about 30 minutes of calls.

You probably want to add time o the SIM, so you go to the 7-11 cashier and ask to “Top Up” the SIM. Hand them any amount of money (about $3 is usually enough) and you are good to go. Every time you top-up any amount you typically get one additional month or service. So asking $1 to your SIM will get you a month, and adding $100 will also get you a month.

You are in business with a phone and a number at this point.

In Hong Kong, if you chose an IDDD SIM, you would pay HK$100 (About $15) and get six months of service and about 200 minutes. Your local calling area is 31 countries, including all of China and the United States.

Additional minutes will generally cost around 3-cents each, no matter what country you are in. (Yes, this means you can call the US for about 3-cents a minute on a Hong Kong IDDD SIM.) And, in most countries, receiving phone calls is free, so only the caller pays.

Now, perhaps you want to add a data plan? Simple. Typically there is some code you dial. There is a menu of data plans and each has a different code. Buying a data plan for one month is between $10 and $24 in Thailand, depending upon how you buy. Adding 4GB of data to any plan is about $3 for 4 GB of data.

Oh, and in most countries you can buy the SIM right at a kiosk in the airport.

Buying cell phone service in America on the other hand requires locating and getting to an authorized dealer, credit checks, activation fees of $35, and 450 monthly plans to consider. You can’t get set up at any US airport that I know of. And, if you want to add data to your plan you need to wait a month. Not only is it complicated to sign up, but it is frightfully expensive.

And, then the next question I’m asked by visiting business people is: I’m having troubles getting coverage. Or, why is the audio broken up or distorted? All I can say is that coverage sucks in America and that the cell phone companies sold off their towers and don’t own them. After saying that I get a blank stare along the lines of: “You Americans are nuts.”