Roam without those big phone bills

My wife and I are planning a six-month trip next year. We will visit the US, Europe, Scandinavia, North and South Africa and south-east Asia. I'd like to take a mobile phone and have been looking into international roaming charges, which all seem to be extremely high. Can one avoid such high costs? Do providers cover the required regions and charge reasonable rates?

- M. Seaward, Sydney

TravelSIM ( is a prepaid service that provides you with a new SIM card which allows you to make and receive calls at a discount rate from your mobile phone in more than 160 countries.

From France, the cost to call a number in Australia is 60 cents a minute, from Sweden 39 cents, 61 cents from South Africa, from the US it's $2.92 and from Thailand the cost is 86 cents. Callers can contact you on your TravelSIM number in different ways. TravelSIM recommends using their FreeCall number, in which case you pay the incoming call cost, which is at least 37 cents a minute.

I've been a TravelSIM customer for about a year now and it's reliable and cost-effective. BackChat Mobile ( offers a similar product.

Since you'll be replacing the SIM card you normally use in Australia, you need to make sure that your phone is unlocked; your service provider may charge a fee for this.

One of the cheapest ways to stay in touch on the road is with Skype ( This is a godsend for the thrifty traveller and I'm an ardent fan since it allows me to make calls anywhere I can find an internet connection. Skype software is free to download and if you travel with a laptop or a new-generation phone on which you can install Skype, all you need is an internet connection and you can talk to anyone else with Skype software installed on their computer - free of charge.

If you're not travelling with a laptop or a fancy phone, many internet cafes in the cities you're travelling to have Skype installed on their computers, usually with headphones for customer use. Smarter still is to set up a prepaid account with Skype so that you can make calls to any landline or mobile phone for a few cents a minute. The downside is that you need an internet connection to make Skype work.

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