Recently I was in Panama City for a day, before flying back to the US for a family wedding. In my hotel room, I went through the ritual that’s becoming familiar to all of us internet-connected travelers: I checked into my flight online and then tried to download my boarding pass.
I don’t know what happened, but between a very slow internet connection and who-knows-what, I was unable to get the boarding pass. My check-in was fine, but no printed proof.
So I took a different tack. I picked up my smart phone and went to the airline’s website where I was able to download the confirmation for mobile devices.
Turns out it’s a little QR code.
I assume when I get to the airport I just hold my phone up to a reader somewhere that will scan that QR code and spit out a boarding pass for me. I’ll let you know for sure after I’ve done it.
This is not the first time since I arrived that I’ve relied more on my phone than on my computer.
Not everyone needs — or even wants — the level of connectedness I have. But I’m very happy I chose a smart phone that lets me receive my email, browse the internet, and take advantage of GPS navigation.
If you’re thinking about a smart phone to take overseas with you from the US, there are some things you should know up front.
Buy an Unlocked GSM Phone
In the US, most phones are “locked” to a specific provider — AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, etc. This means if you want to change providers you can’t expect the same phone to work.
Most countries don’t do this. In most parts of the world you purchase a phone and you can use it with any provider you want.
If you want to take your US phone abroad you’re likely to have a problem.
The solution is to buy an unlocked phone.
You also need to choose a phone (and service provider) that uses GSM (Global Systems for Mobile Communications). GSM is the standard throughout Europe, Asia and Central and South America.
In the US, Sprint and Metro PCS use a non-GSM system, so if you want a phone to use there, choose a different provider as well. (You can see more information about these standards here.)
Make sure the voice and data will work in the country(s) you plan to visit
If you want to use your phone for calls in multiple countries, buy a quad band device. It’ll work for voice calls almost anywhere in the world.
Data’s a little trickier, and sadly I learned this the hard way.
In the Americas you have your speedy 3G and 4G networks. In Europe and Asia, they use a different system.
Unaware of this, when I bought my unlocked Android phone, I chose one made for the European market. If I go to Europe or Japan, I’ll enjoy lightning fast data connections. Unfortunately, in the US and Panama, my internet is s-l-o-w.
Lesson learned, so I hope you can benefit from my mistake.