Advantage: You can basically reach out and touch someone from any far-flung location. . . . The U.S. number saves friends and family the aggravation and expense of making an international call. . . . Depending upon the supplier, you can purchase more time from your phone rather than having to go online. The plan may also feature extras (i.e., friends can send you a text message via computer) and generous expiration policies (one phone call extends the card’s life by two years).
Disadvantage: Slightly higher rates than the local card.
Experience: I purchased my chip from OneSimCard (www.onesimcard.com), a Boston-area company that sells a variety of plans starting at $29.95. I chose the $39.95 card with $10 airtime credit. For $10 more (set-up fee and one-month charge), I added to the Estonian number they provided a Washington phone number for my friends and family back home to use. (For the second number, I could have picked other cities such as Seattle, Boston or New York; an 800 number; or another country, such as Canada, France or Australia.)
The cost of incoming/outgoing calls and texts depends on the country. For China, I paid 75 cents per minute to call within the country and to the States; incoming calls on the Estonian line were free, and 20 cents via the Washington number. Receiving texts was gratis; sending one cost 40 cents. To add more time (a minimum of $25), I could go online; dial 098 and the last four digits of my credit card; or set up auto-recharge, so that time is automatically added whenever the credit drops to a prechosen level. If I needed assistance, I could directly access the help line, complimentary for the first three minutes. (And it really worked: I got Stan on the line from my hotel room in the Mongolian capital.) In addition, I could forward calls from my other phones (work, home, etc.), so that they would ring on my international model. This way, I could pretend to be at my desk or on my couch.
I made and accepted numerous calls on the international SIM card, using the phone with the casualness of sitting at Starbucks on Connecticut Avenue. (I just had to remember to type in the 001 international code.) And I received one of the biggest surprises of my trip when my phone unexpectedly rang in Mongolia. I answered it and heard an earful about the day’s events at home.
Bottom Line: Order the international SIM card if you plan to hop from country to country. It’s also ideal for travelers who prefer to make their communications arrangements before they jet off, and/or worry that family members won’t understand how to reach them in “Estonia.”