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International Cell Phones

Posted By: R.P. McMurphy

International Cell Phones - 10/12/09 06:01 PM

I will be returning to San Pedro to stay for the winter. Can anyone recommend a good phone for international use? Also can anybody tell me what the real rates are to call the States? I'm currently looking at Sprint. They have a couple of models that will work on the island. I just can't get a straight answer from the employees, and also have little faith in what I am being told based upon previous accounts I have had, and the inaccuracies in pricing, terms etc.

Do I need to purchase the second SIM card in San Pedro also. And if so, are any available?? Last two times I was there in the past year I could not find one.

Any help is appreciated!
Posted By: Peter Jones

Re: International Cell Phones - 10/12/09 06:34 PM

Any GSM phone that operates on the correct frequencies and is unlocked will work. In practice that means tri- or quad-band. Make sure that the specific phone you buy is configured correctly - I had a phone I bought in England that was tri-band and worked everywhere I go, but it was damaged by water so when I was back in England I bought an identical phone. Only when I got back to Belize did I discover that although it looked identical and had the same model number, this one was dual-band and won't work here.

You can buy a local Digicell SIM card at a number of places. Perhaps the most obvious is the BTL office just north of town.

On choice of phone - there are some models which take two SIM cards at the same time, although they don't all work the same way. You might find this convenient - I didn't bother.
Posted By: R.P. McMurphy

Re: International Cell Phones - 10/12/09 07:44 PM

Thanks for the info, appreciate the quick response.
Posted By: catdance62

Re: International Cell Phones - 10/12/09 07:48 PM

I bought an unlocked GSM phone on Ebay for cheap and just got a Digicell SIM card to use there. YOu can put minutes on it as you go.
Posted By: Juan Grande

Re: International Cell Phones - 10/12/09 09:32 PM

I have purchased unlocked GSM phones from two good web sources: www.cellhut.com and www.celluloco.com. (Disclaimer: I have no interest or relationship to either site.) Prices are very reasonable on most models and you can choose from hundreds of unlocked phones. As Peter mentioned make sure you choose tri- or quad-band, and both sites let you put in parameters such as those when choosing your phone model.
Posted By: ron

Re: International Cell Phones - 10/12/09 10:18 PM

I have an AT&T phone and it works fine in Belize. Unfortunately, even with their international roaming the cost is $2.49us a minute. Its much cheaper to buy an unlocked phone as others have suggested ( goggle unlocked phones). I've bought 6 from J&R Music over the past few years. The last one I just bought and I got it in 2 days via UPS ground. Prices for phones vary depending on style. Buy a SIM card in Belize and your good to go. It is much cheaper to call the States with that phone than your regular phone, I think its $.25us per minute. The only time I use the US phone is to see if I have messages otherwise I just keep it turned off.I retrieve messages with the Belize phone. I know Verizon doesn't work in Belize and I don't think Sprinit does either, I'm pretty sure that T-Mobile does. The phone needs to be using the GSM system same as that used in Europe.
Posted By: Peter Jones

Re: International Cell Phones - 10/12/09 10:29 PM

To reinforce the point - DON'T confuse locked/unlocked with the operating frequency band. They are completely separate considerations and you must meet BOTH of them.
Posted By: CaptOneIron

Re: International Cell Phones - 10/12/09 10:35 PM

T Mobile does work through BTL/
Posted By: klcman

Re: International Cell Phones - 10/12/09 10:39 PM

Verizon also works(I've used it since 4/08), but you might need to advise your local office first, if your domestic acct is not set up properly.
Posted By: Niklauryn

Re: International Cell Phones - 10/13/09 01:55 AM

Just returned from AC in September...AT&T charged 50 per call, 1.30 roaming.we kept checking our phone for bill amt...kept saying -$10.00 coverage doesn't show up for about 3 weeks....bill when we got home $1,174.36...you can purchase international coverage for something like $5.00 per month from AT&T, if that is your provider...
Posted By: sweetjane

Re: International Cell Phones - 10/13/09 02:09 AM

NO NO NO - just so no one gets burned...AT&T does NOT charge .50 a call - the other poster is correct - its closer to $2.80 a minute. the 0.50 is per TXT. both those prices are WITH the $5.99 /mo international service, or it would be even more. we use AT&T and believe have the highest int'l rates.

the original poster appeared to want the phone for intra-bz use, and was answered well. for us visitors calling home, there are other options available out there, such as renting a BTL phone while visiting (about $1 less per minute), or skype (with conditions, of course).
Posted By: hazzyy

Re: International Cell Phones - 10/13/09 02:12 AM

Get an iphone and then call me when you get here. We'll get you unlocked and setup. No problem.
Posted By: sweetjane

Re: International Cell Phones - 10/13/09 02:25 AM

oh, and ron mentioned messages. if you use an AT&T phone, you get charged the per minute rate for any message left, and then the same amount AGAIN if you retrieve and listen to it. bruce must use his phone for work, but i have my voicemail turned OFF when i travel. just passing on info - hope it helps someone.
Posted By: JeanH

Re: International Cell Phones - 10/13/09 12:50 PM

I just stopped at the Verizon store a couple days ago. They told me $1.29 a minute to call the US from Belize. Out going text messages were $.50 each and incoming texts were $.05.
Posted By: seashell

Re: International Cell Phones - 10/13/09 05:25 PM

As far as I know, I don't get charged for retrieving messages, if I do it from an unrelated landline.
Posted By: ron

Re: International Cell Phones - 10/13/09 06:10 PM

That's the same for me. I only get charged when I retrieve messages with the US phone. I don't get charged for messages left on the phone as long as my phone isn't contacted in Belize, that's why I leave it off except when retrieving messages.
Posted By: tcoats

Re: International Cell Phones - 10/14/09 12:30 AM

Originally Posted by Niklauryn
Just returned from AC in September...AT&T charged 50 per call, 1.30 roaming.we kept checking our phone for bill amt...kept saying -$10.00 coverage doesn't show up for about 3 weeks....bill when we got home $1,174.36...you can purchase international coverage for something like $5.00 per month from AT&T, if that is your provider...



Ouch! This is probably because you didn't turn off data roaming on your phone before you got to Belize.

The AT&T customer service rep. gave me some valuable information before I left the states. He said to go into the phone menu and turn off data roaming (I have an IPhone; not sure about other phones) or I would get a whopping bill. The first time I turned on my phone in Belize, AT&T sent me a text message stating that the "international data rate of $19.97/MB applies. The unlimited domestic data rate plan does NOT apply in this location. Detail: att.com/global"

Of course I didn't have to worry because I had already turned it off. My phone menu actually reads "turn data roaming off when abroad to avoid substantial roaming charges when using email, web browsing, and other data services."
Posted By: tcoats

Re: International Cell Phones - 10/14/09 12:54 AM

Originally Posted by sweetjane
NO NO NO - just so no one gets burned...AT&T does NOT charge .50 a call - the other poster is correct - its closer to $2.80 a minute. the 0.50 is per TXT. both those prices are WITH the $5.99 /mo international service, or it would be even more. we use AT&T and believe have the highest int'l rates.

the original poster appeared to want the phone for intra-bz use, and was answered well. for us visitors calling home, there are other options available out there, such as renting a BTL phone while visiting (about $1 less per minute), or skype (with conditions, of course).



This is true. With AT&T, any texts you RECEIVE from the states are FREE. Any texts you SEND are $0.50 per text. That is without any type of international plan.

The AT&T international plan is about $5.99 a month, but the calls are still around $3.99 or so per minute, so it is not worth it to me.

Here is what I did: I bought a local phone there at C's, across from Milo's. The cheapest they had. I then bought minutes for it at Milo's. Same thing as buying a calling card, but now they don't give you a slip of paper with a long number on it that you have to dial every time. Now they actually put the money on your phone. You can press *122 to check your balance periodically.

It has a local number, so now I can call and receive local calls there in Belize for a small amount per minute. Also, I can MAKE calls from that phone to the states for about $0.25 to $0.50 a minute (can't remember which). But it is certainly a lot less that an international plan from the states.

When someone from the states needs to contact me, they text me for free to my US phone and tell me to call them. I then call them on my Belize phone for a small amount per minute.

Some may have found a better way, but this is the best way that I have discovered to handle it.

Hope this helps.

(By the way, I tried this route first: I took three extra unused, but still working phones with me that had SIM cards in them (three different brands to try). I was told I could get one unlocked there and could then purchase a local SIM card. The same scenerio listed above would then work and I wouldn't have to purchase a local phone. However, none of the three phones could be unlocked. Apparently each type of make/model of phone requires different software to unlock it and they didn't have it. I tried at a couple of different places. So instead of unlocking my existing phone and buying a $55 BZE SIM card, I ended up having to buy a local phone for $100 or so BZE. But now I have it for all future trips there.)
Posted By: DJH

Re: International Cell Phones - 10/14/09 02:50 PM

So if you own a t-mobile phone it is unlocked already? I was thinking of buying a phone in SP for the 3 months we will be there but if anyone knows if the t-mobile will work and by this I mean I only want it to work on the island by buying minute cards for it.

Thanks
Denise
Posted By: CaptOneIron

Re: International Cell Phones - 10/14/09 03:11 PM

TMobile will work but it works on their international plan and of course you get charged international rates. TMobile is not as expensive as some but every international phone plan is expensive in Belize. I am on the island from time to time from a few days to a few weeks. I decided that the best thing was to buy a phone locally and get a local phone number and that is what I do even though my iPhone is unlocked and I could just put the local (in my case BTL) sim card. I don't do that though and just turn off my iPhone (TMobile) while I am there and change my voice mail to tell people to call me on my local number. You should be aware though that BTL will deactivate your account and you will lose any prepaid time if you don't use the phone at least once every couple of months.
Posted By: Peter Jones

Re: International Cell Phones - 10/14/09 05:47 PM

Originally Posted by magoo
So if you own a t-mobile phone it is unlocked already? I was thinking of buying a phone in SP for the 3 months we will be there but if anyone knows if the t-mobile will work and by this I mean I only want it to work on the island by buying minute cards for it.

Thanks
Denise


I don't think you understand what "locked" means. I don't blame you, as it's not explained anywhere and it took me ages to get my own possibly incomplete understanding.

If the phone is "locked", and most new phones sold to work with particular service providers are, then it will work ONLY with a SIM card from that provider. Even while still back home, if you insert a card from another provider it will NOT work.

SO, even if your phone is locked it will still work in another country so long as the original SIM (or another from the same provider) is in it. And provided the phone can physically access the network, which brings us back to operating frequency. Your connection will only be to your SIM's provider, and if that is by then in another country (eg. you have a US-based phone holding a US SIM but you are in Belize) then you WILL pay international rates. As we've seen, these vary drastically from provider to provider.

If your phone is unlocked then you can put another provider's SIM card in and it will work, regardless of where or in what country you are (again subject to the operating frequency limitations). Wherever and in whatever country you are, the charges you pay will be according to the tariff of your SIM's provider. You may well find that it is cheaper to call your home country with a local provider's SIM card (in Belize that would be Digicell) than with your own SIM card, even though that may work as well. Remember that your "phone number" is actually your "SIM's number", so when you change the SIM card you change the number of your phone.

When you are abroad (in a country different from that of your SIM's provider) there may be additional charges raised by the local service provider which will be added to the base charges your provider imposes. Because the only way your phone can access the outside world is via the local service provider (BTL's Digicell in the case of Belize) and they want a cut of the action!

Beware that many services are initiated by your service provider and not by yourself. The base one of knowing where your phone is so the network can contact it is one of these, but there are many others relating to internet and more. The cost of these is always charged to you, but when you're at home these costs may be so low you ignore them. Once you're abroad, however, the cost of some of these services increases dramatically (see examples people have cited above) and you will be charged these as well. The only way to be sure you WON'T be stung for huge amounts is to find out what these services are (not always obvious, but persist) and turn them off WHILE YOU'RE STILL AT HOME. You will find that some services can't be turned off once you're abroad, as I learned once to my great cost.

The last point I can think of for this treatise is that in the US it seems common to pay both to make and to receive a mobile phone call. That also seems to apply to text messages, though to a lesser extent. In many other countries this is NOT so - in the UK for example, and Belize, you pay to make a call but it costs nothing to receive one. When comparing call rates it's useful to remember this.

In the previous paragraph I've fallen into a common trap. When I say "In the UK" or "In Belize" I mean when you are using a domestic provider from one of those countries. If I use my UK SIM card while I'm in Belize the charges I pay will be determined by that UK service provider, not by anyone in Belize. The charges added by the Belize carrier will be added into the UK charges, not charged separately.

This has been an attempt to explain some of the very commonly misunderstood aspects of mobile phones. The few people who do understand all this stuff often assume wrongly that everyone shares their level of understanding - I know that's not so. But if anyone has corrections or useful amplifications to what I've said please feel free to add them.
Posted By: JeanH

Re: International Cell Phones - 10/14/09 07:21 PM

Another thing to remember if you're a person who travels to Belize fairly regularly and you want to purchase a phone to have while there is the sim cards only stay active for 90 days if they aren't used. So, if you only come once or twice a year, you need to find someone to make calls on your phone for you, or buy a new SIM card. With the new SIM card, comes a new phone number.

It also seems that, at times, there aren't any SIM cards available on the island.
Posted By: Peter Jones

Re: International Cell Phones - 10/14/09 07:50 PM

90 days if the last credit you made was for at least Bz$50. Less for lower amounts. They send a text message when your credit is made and I STRONGLY advise you to keep that message on your phone. Save it to your SIM card if you can, in case your phone dies in the meantime. And if you get a paper receipt, KEEP IT somewhere safe.

I recently added Bz$100 to the existing Bz$100-odd the day before I left for an overseas trip, specifically so my credit would remain good (the entire credit expires on the expiry date of your last credit, so you can effectively extend the lifespan of older credit by adding to it). But when I returned, less than two months later, I found my phone wiped of credit. BTL insist I hadn't made a credit for more than three months, and without that message I was unable to prove otherwise. Another reason, I suspect, that they now do everything electronically - few people will trouble themselves to retain evidence of a credit so BTL can cancel "good" credit at will. It's the second time they've done it to me.
Posted By: R.P. McMurphy

Re: International Cell Phones - 10/14/09 07:54 PM

Peter, I do have a phone I purchased in Belize, locally in San Pedro. On my last visit, which was six months after originally buying the phone, it would not work. I can't remember the problem, however it seemed my sim card did expire. I can't recal what the rep said at the phone store. I ended up using a friends.

So.. to make a long story short, can I have that old sim card reactivated? It has been about a year now. It is a nice phone, and it did work on the island since I purchased it in SP. I guess it is cheapest to just use this to call the States and not have an international phone. This way I can use my other cell when I am in the States. It is a cheap Net 10 phone. Having two phones is not a problem. I just need to know if I can get my SP purchased phone reactivated without buying a new sim card. Last two times I was there there were no cards available.

Thanks!
Posted By: Peter Jones

Re: International Cell Phones - 10/14/09 08:30 PM

Assuming you're talking about Digicell, which does use SIM cards, and not Smart which doesn't, the answer is still probably that you've left it too long and you'll have to buy another SIM card (and of course get a new number).

After a maximum of three months they expire your credit and your phone will only work to receive calls. After a further indeterminate period (I haven't been able to get a clear answer from BTL) they cancel your SIM card altogether. From that point that card will never again work. I suspect you've reached that point, though you can check by putting your card into your functioning and charged phone and see if someone else can phone it. If they can't it's probably dead, though I would take the card to a Digicell office when you're next here and get them to confirm that.

You shouldn't have a problem buying a new SIM card, though they do run out from time to time. Try BTL first, then all the cellphone shops. Alternatively, see if you can buy one at the international airport on your way in - I have seen them for sale there.

I don't know whether they re-use the phone number from a deceased SIM card. If they don't I don't see any reason to kill it, but no doubt there's some commercial reason.

If you're happy to buy and use another phone then you might consider SMART anyway. Most people who have made the change say they prefer it.
Posted By: R.P. McMurphy

Re: International Cell Phones - 10/14/09 08:34 PM

Thanks for the info. We'll be arriving in aa couple weeks. Can't wait to be back!
Posted By: GBZ39

Re: International Cell Phones - 10/14/09 10:25 PM

I have an unlocked T-Mobile phone. I have been able to keep my BTL number for years and sometimes have had the number cancelled. Fortunately I have been able to recoup the old number.

Everything is exciting in SP. MAYBE I'll have the same number in January????
Posted By: hazzyy

Re: International Cell Phones - 10/15/09 03:51 AM

Here's the easiest solution:

If you are traveling to Belize from the States and have a GSM Tri/Quad Band phone (Just see if it has a SIM card), then call your service provider (ATT, T-Moblie, etc...) and tell them you are going to be out of the country for some time and that you need the unlock code for your phone. Most phones (minus the really high tech/smart phones) will ask you for a SIM unlock code when an unrecognized SIM is put in. So just call your provider, insist that you need the unlock code and save the info. When you come to Belize go to BTL across the street from Harmouch's Hardware Center, purchase a SIM for $50, put it in your phone, power it on, and put in the afore mentioned unlock code given by your service provider.

Note: Most service providers will tell you they can't do this, but just be persistent, you own the phone, they own the contract and the U.S. phone number....it's the phone you want to take with you so be persistent and they should give it to you. What they want is for you to travel using your existing U.S. cell plan so they can rip you a new one when you receive your bill. Also, if you do get a Digicell SIM instead of a Smart phone here in San Pedro, you can call the States cheaper by dialing 10-10-199-1-(U.S. area code)-phone number, (example 10-10-199-1-504-555-1234). This is a cheaper way to call the States.

Hope this helps,
Posted By: DJH

Re: International Cell Phones - 10/15/09 11:07 AM

so why is it a smart card might be better. I want a phone that will work year after year for 3 months each year without buying a new phone.
Thanks for all the info
Denise
Posted By: Peter Jones

Re: International Cell Phones - 10/15/09 04:06 PM

If you read what I wrote above, a SMART phone doesn't have a SIM card. The phone itself "contains" the number. I'm not sure what rules they apply to credit and number lapsing, but it's comparable to Digicell - credit WILL expire and the number also WILL ultimately expire. So it's no more suitable for being left unused for 9 months of the year.

Some people prefer SMART to Digicell, claiming it gives better reception and is cheaper. Maybe. My own experience with SMART was less than good and cost me a lot of money, so for the time being I'll stick with Digicell and hope they sort out their various problems.
Posted By: Sal777

Re: International Cell Phones - 10/16/09 01:19 AM

A lot of very useful information here - but my head is spinning. Question I didn't see addressed (and apologize if it is). .

What about a T-Mobile phone that no longer has a contract? (ie hasn't been used in months - no service attached to it) Would it now be 'unlocked'? How can I tell?
Posted By: ron

Re: International Cell Phones - 10/16/09 01:40 AM

One way would be to put a SIM card in from a different carrier (AT&T) and see if it turns on and you can dial a number. If so its unlocked. My guess is that it isn't I think the software is part of the operating system of the phone and needs a code to unlock it. Should be able to call T_Mobile and have them give you the code.
Posted By: Peter Jones

Re: International Cell Phones - 10/16/09 01:45 AM

I agree. T-Mobile should help as they don't have anything to lose, but in my experience phone companies don't go out of their way to be helpful. Prepare for a battle. Almost certainly no-one else can unlock the phone, so unless T-Mobile do it it will become an expensive paperweight.
Posted By: CaptOneIron

Re: International Cell Phones - 10/16/09 01:47 AM

I routinely buy all my cell phones unlocked from mobilecityonline.com . They have virtually all phones unlocked and some of the older models are very cheap.
Posted By: Freezer

Re: International Cell Phones - 10/17/09 12:44 AM

I appologize if this has been addressed already, but...why not just buy a cheap phone in San Pedro and let it expire whan you leave and sign up again when you come back? I have a freind that looks after our phones when we leave for the summer and I buy a bunch of $2.00 phone cards so he can fire them up every 89 (they expire after 90 days) days. It is very cheap and with my freind looking after my phones I don't loose my number. I do email him and tell him to put a card in when it is due. Plus, every one back home has my Belizean numbers so I am never out of touch. I used to use a GSM phone but it was costing me $150.00 US every month that I was there. That is a WHACK more than buying a phone in Belize. We have bought 2 new phones so I even have a cheaper Smart phone that I can give you if you want it?
Posted By: Peter Jones

Re: International Cell Phones - 10/17/09 01:06 AM

So long as you can trust your friend to do what he promises, not a lot wrong with that. Does mean you won't have a phone until after you've arrived, so you can't phone from the airport to say you're coming.
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