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Technology

Stay Connected Abroad

Know your communications options when you travel.

A cell phone or smartphone has become as essential to a business trip as a briefcase. But what should you do if you're traveling internationally?

Unless your phone is third-generation (a UMTS or a GSM device with multiband capabilities), it may not work outside the U.S., even with a SIM card. Instead, you can use your provider's international roaming service or sign up with a local provider at your destination.

Be aware, however, that roaming charges can be steep. For calls, figure on $1.69 to $2.29 a minute. For data transfers (maps, Google searches, e-mail attachments, and so on), the standard rate is 2 cents per kilobyte, which sounds reasonable until you get slammed with a huge fee for downloading a few large graphics files or using Google hourly.

If you're going to spend more than a few hundred dollars for telecommunications on a single business trip abroad, it may make more sense to buy a new phone at your destination and sign up with a local service provider for phone calls and data transfers.

Another option: Sign up for your domestic provider's data package. AT&T, for example, offers a flat rate of $59.99 per month for 50MB, which would cost more than $1,000 if paid for by the kilobyte.

If you need your phone mostly for calls and texting, consider renting, and use internet cafes or your hotel business center for downloads and e-mail. One provider, Mobal, works in 150 countries (but not in the U.S.). You're given a phone number for life, with no minimum usage. The phone costs $49 and comes with a SIM card.

This story appears in the February 2009 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

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