DennisBeaverAugust 12, 2006 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver

I just returned from a trip to the Orient and Australia. My cell phone provider told me how to make calls, but I was never really clear on what it cost to call home. The phone bill came to a whopping $600 and instead of the dollar a minute I expected, most calls were almost $3 per minute! But yet, when in Vietnam and Hong Kong, friends who live there told me that when they use their own cell phones, it costs them only a few cents a minute to call the U.S.!

I have asked my cellular provider if they can do something to help me, but so far they refuse. In all fairness, when I now study their international calling web page it is fairly clear, but when I phoned I was clearly told that it would cost $1 a minute to use the phone overseas. What do you advise I do? Are there any recommendations you have for using a cell phone overseas and not being taken to the cleaners? Don from Fresno.

Better than Las Vegas

When I ran the facts of Don’s e-mail by Ken Grunski, CEO of San Diego based Telestial, Inc., he was not surprised. “Rates charged by U.S. based cell providers for calls back to the United States are a giant slot machine – one with great odds for the house,” he said. His company is responsible for saving, “Literally millions of dollars in the excessive charges that U.S. based cell phone companies force their users to pay for using a cell phone overseas. They do not like us, but our customers love us,” he added, with a big smile.

And, if I may engage in a bit of flag waving for a moment, Ken’s story is an example of what makes this country such an amazing place. America truly is that land where, if you have an idea that makes sense, you will indeed make dollars and cents out of it. Ken’s is not the story of the better mousetrap – it is the story of the mousetrap that was just waiting, just begging to be used.

It began years ago after Ken discovered that a brief phone call he placed to the States from China was more than the price of a hotel room, but that locals could make inexpensive calls from their own cell phones. “I wondered, why can’t we – the tourist or business visitor – use local cell phone services, at a local rate, just like anyone who lives there?”

Sometime after that experience in China, the idea of marketing local cell phone service to an international audience “hit me like a ton of bricks!” Ken proudly relates. “At the time there were no world cell phones and even when phones that work on most global frequencies came into production, there was still no way to obtain the low, local cell phone rates charged in most countries to their residents. Why was it so expensive to use your American phone overseas? There had to be a better way, and thus was born Telestial – our company satisfied an obvious need,” he explained.

Today it is possible to have the convenience of a cell phone virtually anywhere in the world without falling victim to the international roaming surcharges USA cellular providers beat us with. The products and services that Ken delivers – as do others in this same business – also provide an alternative to many so called international calling cards.

“They are typically cheaper to call from but require a payphone when available or you are often subjected to hotel access charges when you dial that toll-free access number. But, for as little as $99 any traveler can have the security and convenience of their own cell phone, while receiving free income calls just like the locals do,” Ken states.

When You Need To Use Your Local US Cell Phone Service

All of that said, Ken cautions that, “For some travelers, it is absolutely necessary to be reachable through your U.S. cell phone service. Even though it is more expensive than using a pre-paid SIM card and local number, the advantage for some users is that you can be reached just by calling your U.S. number – the call following you overseas but at a very steep price.

What are the Options?

The international traveler has four choices for using a cell phone overseas. One, go with a U.S. GSM provider, roam overseas, and expect to pay from $1 up to $4 per minute for incoming and outgoing calls. To roam with your US service you will need a GSM compatible phone that operates on the 900 and 1800 frequencies.

The least expensive choice is to purchase a SIM card for local cell phone service before you leave. With local service you get a local cell phone number for the country in which you are traveling, free incoming calls (even from the US), pay roughly 30 cents for local calls, and 70 cents for outgoing calls to the States. Since the service is prepaid you always know how much you are spending for calls and there are never any billing surprises when you return home.

“Finally, there is also prepaid international roaming service – a truly powerful product for the modern globe-trotter. Designed for multi-destination itineraries and frequent travelers, you can have a single phone number with global coverage and still benefit from rates that are up to 70 percent cheaper than other alternatives. Free incoming calls are of course available at many destinations including most of Europe, Mexico and Australia while outgoing calls will rarely cost more than 60 cents per minute locally or to the United States,” Ken pointed out.

How Does it Work?

To take advantage of international prepaid cell phone service you need a GSM phone with the correct frequencies for the areas you are visiting. If you are using a phone provided by your U.S. cell company, it must also be unlocked, which means that it will accept foreign SIM cards. Expect to pay around $40-$60 for the card which, in addition to your phone number, will also include some air time credit.

Reduced Rates

In discussing this with the major US cell carriers, I learned they have reduced rates, but it is still impossible to match those of local carriers overseas. But a lot has changed, as five years ago, with a US cell phone, roaming was possible in only a handful of countries.

Help To My Reader – Re-Rate The Calls

In my reader’s case, all was not lost, as Ken had a suggestion. “Why not phone them and see if they will re-rate the charges, especially as it seems as though your reader was not told the full story about how expensive it would be. Most US companies are pretty good about this – give it a try.”

So we did – Don and I got on the line to the Customer Retention department of his cell provider, we explained the problem, and they did indeed re-calculate his calls at the $10 a minute figure he had expected to pay. This saved him over $400, but the cost in using a pre-paid SIM card service would have brought his entire bill down to less than $100.

Need I say more? You can visit the Telestial Web site by going to

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.