Smartphone Tips for Expats

Traveling with a smart phone is glorious. However, bringing a locked smart phone from Canada was a terrible decision. I thought I could easily get it unlocked but what happened was the opposite. I had no idea the amount of red tape and rules I would uncover. Nonetheless, my smart phone had become a luxury I didn’t want give up.

Smart phones bought in North America are cheaper because they have a carrier-lock, a pesky nuisance that keeps your phone on the providers network. While abroad, your phone will be roaming, increasing your phone bill to atrocious amounts. To prevent this, many will “jailbreak” their iPhone in order to have the ability to completely customize their phone, find free apps, and install a carrier unlock so their phone will work with other SIM cards. A word of warning, unlocking a phone under contract will make your warranty invalid.

A jailbreak is not so difficult, but updates of your phone can prevent it from working and then it will need to be installed again. The iPhone can be unlocked with relative ease, as long as its modem firmware (or baseband) is compatible. A list can be found with a quick Google search. iPhones with a modem firmware of either 4.12.01 or 4.11.08 are locked with no solution.

If you have a modem firmware that can’t be unlocked yourself, you can call your service provider to ask about unlocking the phone. This is to gain access to the IMEI code. For me, the outcome wasn’t good; I was told I could buy out the rest of my contract for a price of $400 with the option to keep my phone number for an additional $30 a month. I didn’t go with this option because it is ridiculous compared to other mobile providers around the world.

My advice is to do your self a favor and invest in an unlocked smart phone. It’s more expensive but the mobility it provides is invaluable to the avid traveler. Mobile phones in most European countries are all sold unlocked and priced between €250 to €800. Afterwards, it is easy to find a cheap mobile provider to get a SIM card for a number and an affordable data plan. For example, in Belgium, the average 2 GB data + voice + sms package has an average price of €15/month.

There are a few smart phones that are known to be “travel-friendly” such as Blackberry and Nokia, which are typically used for business. If you prefer the higher-end web browsing and camera capabilities of an iPhone, but with more flexibility and a better price, consider buying an Android. Two great choices are Samsung and HTC; both are high-powered devices that are customizable with limitless free apps and more affordable than the iPhone.

Mobile freedom can be yours with some research and investment; believe me, the juice is worth the squeeze!