Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Tip of the Day: Answers to Questions Posted in Yesterday's Tip of the Day: Mobile Phones

1. You're driving in a foreign country and suddenly realize that a group of men are driving behind you erratically! 

Answer: Do NOT drive to your home (if a resident), as the situation could very easily go from bad to worse.

If you're staying at a local hotel that you're a guest in, drive up to the front entrance, quickly exit your vehicle and run in and ask to speak to the security director. Explain you're plight to him/her.

As a retired special agent/Regional Security Officer (RSO) from the US Department of State I would generally suggest that you contact your nearest embassy or consulate for help, but my extensive history with US embassies and consulates, with which I've had years of experience, are rarely waiting with welcome arms to help you in a true emergency.

2. You are driving in a developing country for the first time and unfortunately declined "full comprehensive coverage" because you are trying to save money on transportation! You are lost in the city and suddenly you strike a pedestrian in a cross-walk. He is not moving. Who are you going to call?

Answer: Unfortunately, this is not a good situation to find yourself in. On a scale of 1 to 10, with ten being the highest, this could well be described as a 3 or 4.

Depending heavily on what type of positive relations your government enjoys with the host nation, you should prepare yourself to having your passport confiscated and/or your identity card if you've resident in the country.

Here is a tip that all long-term residents should have all of the numbers in their "speed-dialer" of their mobile phone: (1) Name of the nearest hospital  that speaks your language; (2) the day-time and after-hours numbers of your nearest embassy or consulate; (3) the name of a reputable attorney who speaks your language; (4) your employer (if applicable); and  (5) your closest friend, preferably in the country you're in.

If you're not lucky enough to have these numbers already inputted into your "speed-dialer" I would urge you to call your closest friend FIRST, provide him/her your credit card number, expiration date and security code and ask them to contact a reputable attorney to represent you. Also, tell them what police station you're being taken to and phone number if known.

Now, the hard part: Be prepared to be detained, potentially arrested and even jailed for injuring and potentially killing a host government national.

Please hope that you have NOT been drinking as some countries treat those who injure or kill a citizen severely.

Regardless of whether you're in the country with either a business or tourist visa, if your visit is short, you may not need personal liability insurance, but from experience, I would strongly suggest it.

3.  Always carry a cell-phone charger with you when traveling abroad, particularly if you are frequently talking on the phone.

4. Do you know which countries require a "hands-free" device?

Answer: If you don't know, go to:

5. Is the cell-phone you are using abroad an unlocked, quad-band phone?

Answer: This might take a few more words than you're comfort zone permits, but the answer is pretty simple and I suspect you'll become much better informed:

First of all, if you have a mobile phone that is serviced through a wireless provider, you have what is referred to as a LOCKED mobile phone.

Personally, I don't like LOCKED mobile phones simply because using them abroad, particularly in countries where they function perfectly well, are costly (e.g., roughly US$3-5 per minute).

UNLOCKED quad-band GSM phones will operate in almost any country, although I urge you to verify this before you purchase any UNLOCKED phone. They also function because the SIM card used on an unlocked phone is specific to the country.

If you purchased an UNLOCKED GSM/HSDPA quad-band phone off the Internet like I did (Samsung Galaxy ACE S5830), you should be able to operate very inexpensively in most countries.

There are four different frequencies of GSM service around the world: 850MHz, 900MHz, 1800MHz, and 1900MHz. Most cheap phones are single or dual band, meaning they only work on one or two of those frequencies so they will only work in one or two regions of the world.

Most high-end phones are Quad-Band meaning they work on all  four frequencies. You want to unlock a Quad-Band phone because that will work with ALL carriers and in ALL countries around the world!

The definition of a locked cell phone is a cell phone that is programmed to only work with one GSM carrier. Almost all wireless carriers such as Cingular, Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile, VoiceSteam, etc. began a marketing ploy years ago to entice customers to buy their service by paying for most, or all, of the cost of a new cell phone (instead of the customer having to buy it) providing the customer would commit to a one-or-two year contract to use their wireless service.

That's one reason why the US has one of the most inflexible mobile phone systems in the world. 

The wireless carriers did not want that expensive phone to be able to be used for free at a later time by the customer with a different carrier, so they got the cell phone manufactures to program the phones to be locked so they only work with their service and no others. 

The good news is you can unlock any GSM phone relatively easily. Most are easy to unlock just by typing in a code, and some others just take a few extra button presses.

Now you know why 95% of all carriers lock their phones. If your mobile has been purchased or used by one of the wireless carriers, assume it is LOCKED. 

Sadly, most mobile phones sold in the US are locked, although increasingly the Internet is fully of unlocked, quad-band GSM phones.

You can find hundreds of companies that unlock cell phones on eBay and on the internet. The local "mom-and-pop" shops can usually unlock most phones, but charge you far more than the internet companies will. 

Most internet-based companies are able to unlock most phones remotely. All you have to do is send them the IMEI serial number on back of your phone (all phones have one, it's right above the bar codes) and they will send you a code to unlock the cell phone.

Some companies ask you to send them your phone. Each model is different, so you will have to search a little to find the best deal for someone to unlock your particular phone model. These unlock codes are usually $4.00 to over $100.00 depending on the model of the phone you have and which company you choose to buy the unlock code from. 

The only thing you have to be careful about is typing in a wrong code too many times. All SIM locked phones only allow five tries total. The fifth wrong access code locks the phone completely so it won't turn on or work at all, and you have to send it back to the factory to have them reset it which takes a few weeks. 

In all honesty, I knew that I wanted an unlocked, quad-band GSM phone for overseas use, which is why I selected the Samsung Galaxy ACE S5830.


1. Buy an unlocked, quad-band GSM phone, as it will work on all four GSM frequencies.

2. If you currently have a LOCKED GSM quad-band phone you like, keep it and go to dealers who can "unlock LOCKED access codes."

3. If you don't have a GSM quad-band phone use it at home and purchase an unlocked, quad-band GSM phone with all the bells and whistles you need for overseas use.