Using Your Phone in Cuba

There is a lot of confusion regarding the possibility of using one’s cell phone in Cuba. Indeed, up until 2015, the answer was easy as you couldn’t use your phone, period. Now, some US providers actually allow you to use your phone in Cuba. Verizon was the first provider to allow roaming. However, and as this CNN article mentions,

“The service isn’t cheap: Voice calls will cost a pricey $2.99 a minute, data will set you back $2.05 per megabyte and texts will be charged at hefty international rates.

Sprint’s rates are slightly lower yet still very expensive while T-Mobile and AT&T currently do not offer service.

There are two big problems with using your cell phone in Cuba. The first is that the Cubans cannot call a US phone number. Therefore, if your hotel or a friend wants to call you and you have a US phone number, you are out of luck. The second is that there is no really good way to make sure that people do not call you unnecessarily. What I mean by this is that any non-important phone call will go through and whether you want to or not, you will have to pay for the call. If you turn off the phone, besides defeating the use for having a phone to begin with for the most part, you will still pay for the calls going into your voicemail.

A good alternative is to use the National Geographic Travel SIM or the Travel Phone. The service provides two phone numbers, a US number and a UK number. The US number is a new one that you can give out to whomever you actually WANT to reach you (or, if you want everyone to call you, you can simply forward your current number to the new number). The UK number is the one that you will want to give to the Cubans so they can call you.

The FCC has a good article about cellular communication as well. Besides mentioning Cellular Abroad, they also mention renting a local Cuban SIM card in Cuba through Cubacel. There is no mention of the rates but they are surely very good – at least to call within Cuba. You probably cannot call back to the US however. Additionally, you need to fill out a lot of paperwork to get the SIM card and, when you are done with your trip, you need to go back to the store and return it. Probably not the way that most people want to spend their time in Cuba.

In sum, you now can use a cell phone in Cuba. It may not be your cell phone but if you need cellular and data connectivity during your trip, it is possible and legal to do. Now that the easy part is done, the hard part is finding an easy and legal way to Cuba to begin with.

pixelstats trackingpixel
Posted in Travel journal | Leave a comment

Spain Mi Fi Hotspot

Cellular Abroad is happy to announce the launching of the new “unlimited” Spain Mi Fi Hotspot. As a disclaimer, please note that there isn’t really “true” unlimited service in the wireless industry as wireless providers have the right to either terminate one’s service for excesses use or to place “caps” on the usage. Typically the disclaimer is in small print at the very end but Cellular Abroad prefers to indicate that the Spain data service does have a limit from the get go. Having said that, the service we offer for Spain caps out at 10GB which is enough for the vast majority of leisure travelers. Non leisure travelers, such as a production company shooting footage in Spain and needing to send it somewhere in digital format, will typically require higher amounts of data.

What is a Mobile Wireless Hotspot?

Most of us know what a wireless hotspot is but as a recap, it is basically the Wi Fi service that you get at libraries (remember those?) or at Starbucks. You can log on with your computer, phone, tablet or any Wi Fi enabled device. While the price is right there may be limitations such as there is no where to sit down, it doesn’t always work or is not fast enough, it is not secure (so forget about online banking) and, it is seldom convenient. A mobile wireless hotspot creates a Wi Fi signal, similar to what you will find at a Starbucks, but it is portable. This is extremely convenient for people who don’t want to seek out a Starbucks or who need a secure connection.

What does my trip to Spain have to do with this?

A lot as you will find out if you keep reading this post. Similar to what is available in the United States in terms of a mobile wireless hotspot, Cellular Abroad offers the same type of solution for travelers to Spain. The Spain Mi Fi Hotspot Rental offers 10GB of high speed data. The service allows up to 8 users to log on simultaneously to a personal hotspot. The only “caveat” is that users have to be within 30 feet (less if there are obstructions such as a wall) and of course, they will need to have the password, otherwise strangers can log on and use your hotspot.

pixelstats trackingpixel
Posted in Travel journal | Leave a comment

Unlimited Free International Data

T-Mobile, Sprint as well as other carriers all claim it; free unlimited international data. This is a very compelling statement and the vast majority of travelers don’t question it. The problem with this claim, while in theory true, in practice, it is not what we signed up for. For example, most of us have been fooled by that “all you can eat” shrimp or oyster deal in Las Vegas but the fact of the matter is, after a couple of bites, you won’t want any more. Unlimited data is much the same. Sure, it is unlimited but, in T-Mobile’s and Sprint’s case and like the shrimp in Las Vegas, it something that very few can stomach. Their version of free international data is at 2G speeds, which is virtually useless for anything except for checking emails, and even that may be frustrating (especially if you are loading images).

Another similar practice is to misconstrue the true meaning of unlimited. While unlimited to you and most everyone else means, “without limits,” in the wireless industry it clearly does not. The wireless industry has something called Fair Usage. Fair usage means that there is indeed a cap and typically, once that cap is reached the data will either stop or slow down. This is very typical for any provider, including international data providers and hotspot rental companies to do. Typically, they will offer 300 or so megabytes of data at 3G or 4G speeds and once that maximum is reached, the service stops or slows down to 2G. Having said this, that may be enough data for the end user – but it also may not be enough. Regardless, the industry typically does a poor job of explaining this thoroughly.

Conclusion, next time you are offered free data or unlimited data, make sure you find out exactly what they are offering.

pixelstats trackingpixel
Posted in Travel journal | Leave a comment

New Unlimited Calling Plan for Travelers to Australia


Cell phone users in the United States have grown accustomed to being able to use the phones without concern for how many calls, text messages and, in most cases, data usage they will consume. They know that they pay X amount to Verizon, AT&T or however the carrier may be and that’s it. However, traveling outside of the US is another story. Roaming with your US carrier can be prohibitively expensive. Sure, they offer packages for calls and data but it still is expensive and you have to be extremely vigilant about exceeding the package lest you get hit by unreasonably high overages. While we use our phones pretty much in a carefree fashion back home, when we go on vacation, having to be on top of your cell phone usage is just an added stress that many travelers don’t need. Now, at least for travelers who need a cellular plan for Australia, things have changed.

We now offer a solution for Australia that offers unlimited calls and texts within Australia and unlimited calls back to the United States and Canada. In addition, the plan comes with  2GB of data at 3G speeds. While 2GB is not unlimited, it is more than enough data for most people.

So how do you get this service to work on your device and will it work on your device? That is a good question. So good that it requires a drawn out answer.

If your current cell phone is unlocked (most aren’t) AND globally compatible (most are), you can just buy an Australian SIM card before you leave and put it in your phone. Check with your carrier to see if your device is unlocked or if they can unlock if for you (note: iPhone 5 phones from Verizon are now always unlocked). Also, there are 3 sizes of SIM cards, standard, micro and nano so make sure you get the right size for your device. Why are there 3 SIM card sizes? Well, not to be cynical but a good possibility is that the carriers are trying to throw just another curve ball at travelers who want to get local SIM cards for their travels. It is unlikely that they are trying to make the the SIM card size smaller so that they can add more components to the inside of the devices they sell as the differences between standard, nano and micro SIMs is literally measurable in millimeters.

if you discover that your phone is locked or for some reason you just don’t want to have to deal with swapping out the SIM card, you can also rent or buy a cell phone before you leave. A lot of people like having an inexpensive cell phone regardless of whether or not their cell phone would work with a local SIM. One advantage is that you don’t have to worry about your $700 iPhone being stolen or you being targeted as a “rich American.” This is a bit less relevant for Australia but if you were traveling to a developing country and your phone is worth a year’s salary, you might want to cheapen yourself down a bit to local standards. Nowadays, you can even get a cell phone with internet capabilities for less than $100. My recommendation to travelers, and one that I do myself, is to travel anyway with 2 phones. There is nothing worse than having an issue with a cell phone and being miles away from a cell phone store when you are overseas. A little bit of redundancy while traveling never hurt anybody.

In sum, when most people travel, they want to have the best experience at the lowest price. The Lebara SIM card for Australia is a perfect solution for anyone going to Australia needing a reliable and affordable plan for calling and data.

pixelstats trackingpixel
Posted in Travel journal | Leave a comment

Stand Up Paddling in Italy

This year, I decided to throw a twist into my annual 4 week long sojourn back to the old country. At home in California, I go stand up paddling as often as I can. if you are not familiar with this activity, essentially, you are standing up on a giant surfboard and using a paddle to get around. It’s similar to a kayak but you are standing up and, in my opinion, a lot more fun and much easier on the back. My wife wanted to see Venice since she hasn’t bee there in a while. Hence, I figured, “what better way to see Venice than with a stand up paddle board?” And since I was going through the effort of hauling a paddle board to Italy (inflatable so not that much of a challenge), I figured I might as well hit up a few other spots during the trip.


The obvious question was, “can one actually do that? Can I paddle in the Venice Canals without being cited by the Venetian Polizia or mowed down by a power boat?” So, I started researching this online and luckily, I came across someone who actually gives tours in Venice on a stand up paddle. Her name is Eliana Argine and several years ago she mixed her passion of stand up paddling with her other passion – not to mention her day job – which is giving walking tours of Venice, and now she does stand up paddle tours. I contacted her several months ago and made an appointment for a tour. I booked a BandB as close to the meeting point that I could find, which is an old Venetian rowing club, and when I showed up, she gave me a t-shirt, explained a few of the basic rules – like slow down when going through an intersection – and off we went. She ended up taking me on a two hour tour in canals that I can safely say that very few tourist have ever seen. Many of the canals are tiny and, unless you have a very small boat, you will never see these canals. A gondola ride typically lasts 10-15 minutes and they are too long to easily maneuver around the tight turns in the narrow canals. To make a long story short, if you have ever done stand up paddling and want to experience Venice in a unique and fun way, contact Eliana. Her website is


As I had done with Venice, I went online to research the possibility of supping in Rome. This time I came up empty handed. So I tried the old fashioned way and just asked around to people I know in Rome. The first 4 or 5 people weren’t very encouraging. I got responses ranging from, “you can’t do that” to “it’s too dirty and dangerous” to “sei pazzo” (“you must be crazy”). Never one to easily give up, I did a little scouting and checked out various points along the Tiber. Hmmm…didn’t look like there was too much current. There were a few good spots to safely get in and out of the river and, it didn’t even smell bad. So, I was confident I could physically do it without being washed out to sea but I wasn’t 100% confident I wouldn’t get stopped by the Roman Polizia. Finally, I asked a friend of mine who does stand up paddling at the beach in Rome and he told me about a friend of his who happens to live on the Tiber in a boat. He should know if it’s legal or not. Marco, the guy with the house boat, not only assured me that it was legal but he would let me use his boat as a launching pad. Plus, he would follow me down in his speedboat and, to top it off, he wanted me to come to a party he was having on the deck of his houseboat.

The following day I met Marco and, next thing I knew, I was heading down the Tiber full speed ahead – which is only about 5 miles an hour on a paddle board. I passed Castel Sant’Angelo, passed Saint Peter’s and got all the way to Isola Tiberina. In all about 2 miles down the river and then 2 miles back. Maybe it was because this was unchartered territory for a paddle board – as far as I know – or maybe it was because this is the city where I was born or maybe it was just because, well, Rome is…Rome but for whatever reason, this was one of the most thrilling things I have ever done. Apparently, I was not the only one impressed by this whole ordeal as the guy with the houseboat started talking about starting up stand up paddle tours on the Tiber. We’ll see…


Next on my trip was Sicily. I go to Sicily every year and have been stand up paddling there for the last several years. This is a completely different experience than paddling in Rome or Venice. First and foremost, here you do want to get wet. Second, your engagement is mostly with what is directly under you as you can see the reefs, sea urchins and the fish in the crystal clear water. The one similarity is that you get to go to places where swimmers typically don’t go. The first time I went out on a stand up board in Sicily a fishing boat came up to me to check me out. Apparently, one of the crew members initially told the captain that he just spotted Jesus Christ walking on water so they had a good laugh when they got closer up and saw me (although they still weren’t clear about what they were looking at. Again, if you like to stand up paddle and love beautiful beaches, Sicily is certain a place that you should consider. There are pockets of Sicily that are still virtually undiscovered by tourists and literally cost about 1/3rd of what you would expect to pay in Rome or Venice.

Summing It Up

I think that most people reading this post would think that this sounds like a good idea but it’s either too difficult. The fact of the matter is that stand up paddling is probably just slightly more difficult than kayaking. I wouldn’t recommend for people to go on the Tiber or in the Venice canals if they have never done it before but I think that for most people, after a couple of hours of practice, they are proficient enough to go on the Venice Canals. Rome probably entails a slightly higher degree of expertise but, depending on your weight and the size of the board, I think that even most beginners wouldn’t have much of a problem. Still, without a proper infrastructure, most people may want to skip Rome and maybe opt for the Arno in Florence where they do have excursions or our new friend Eliana in Venice. Again, her website is

Hopefully, this post encourages you to do what I did this summer and will surely do again next year!

pixelstats trackingpixel
Posted in Travel journal | 1 Comment

My Experience Getting an Italian Data SIM Card

Every year I go to Italy and the last few years, I have simply put one of the TIM data SIM cards into my iPad from Cellular Abroad, the company that I founded well over 10 years ago. This time, I asked someone in our company that is in another department to set up my iPad, someone who has a different job description than setting up SIM cards (I didn’t want to bother the tech department as it was a very busy day). Low and behold, when I arrived in Italy, the iPad wasn’t recognizing the SIM. Apparently, it was cut incorrectly. I went to the TIM store and, after waiting in line for a while, they told me that I needed a new SIM card. I could get a replacement but I had to have the serial number of the SIM, which I didn’t have. Had I had it, they could have given me a replacement for a small fee. Since I didn’t have it, I just said I would buy a new SIM. They asked for my codice fiscale, which is like a social security number. Anyone can get this online. It can be generated for free in 10 seconds by going to They asked for a document so I gave them my driver’s license but unfortunately, they needed a passport, which I didn’t have with me.
Moral of the story, yes, you can certainly get a data SIM card directly in Italy but it is a bit of a hassle to do so, despite the fact that I speak Italian like an Italian. And this is why we have so many customers that purchase an Italian data SIM card from Cellular Abroad.


pixelstats trackingpixel
Posted in Travel journal | Leave a comment

Telecom Italia Mobile (TIM) Customer Service number

Virtually every day we get phone calls from TIM customers asking us if we know the phone number for Telecom Italia Mobile. We do! So, in an effort to save everyone’s time…here it is.

If you are calling from Europe, dial +393399119 (the + sign means 00). If you are calling TIM from the United States or Canada, dial 011 39 3399119119. By the way, if you check the TIM website, the number they give is without the extra 119 but, from our experience, that doesn’t work.In addition, if you have credit on your SIM card, you can usually dial 119 from your handset to reach TIM customer service. “Usually” because if you don’t have coverage, you can’t. Please note that these are not toll free calls from outside of Europe.

Please note that they will probably not speak English and they will definitely ask you to confirm your identification and TIM SIM card phone number. Please note that since we, Cellular Abroad, is not TIM, we have no information regarding your TIM account. If, however, you have a TIM data SIM card that you rented from Cellular Abroad, since they are registered directly to us, we can help.

pixelstats trackingpixel
Posted in Travel journal | 31 Comments

What is the Best Data or Voice Plan for Travelers?

Just recently, I was told by a prominent travel writer that he was working on an article regarding what the best international data and voice service is for travelers. He also said that he had just 1200 characters of space in which to write his article. We both agreed that condensing a good answer into just 1200 characters was a very ambitious, if not impossible feat. Having said that, I am not going to attempt to do this either as it is like trying to say where the best vacation spot in the world is, which for me is probably the Amalfi Coast because I love the food, the sun and the beauty but, if you don’t like pasta, burn badly and are blind, then you are not going to agree with me. OK, I admit, this is an improbable scenario but the point is, there is NO SUCH THING as a definitive “best” data or voice plan for the international traveler. Having said that, there are a few solutions that will address the needs of 80-90% of all travelers. First, in order to show my point, here is an example of a traveler whose needs ARE fairly unique – me.

I travel to Italy every year for usually 4-5 weeks. If I could, I would not bring half of what I bring with me for my communication needs but since I need to keep in touch with Cellular Abroad, I don’t have that luxury. So, here is my personal arsenal. In the US I have a Blackberry with T-Mobile. T-Mobile offers unlimited data in Italy. The problem is that the data speed is only 2G which is too slow to do anything but check and send emails. This works great for my emails but since I don’t want to pay the $0.20 per minute (plus tax) for the calls, I forward my calls from my US phone to my Italian cell phone through a service we provide. That costs me $19 for 6 hours of calls or about $0.06 per minute. I need to Skype and I want to browse the internet so I can read news and watch videos so i take my iPad with me and I put in an Italian data SIM card. This gives me unlimited data. If I need to make a phone call to the US, I typically use Skype on my iPad for 2 1/2 cents per minute or I will use my Italian cell phone for about $15 cents per minute. So, for about $250 I am able to email, call and browse the web as much as I need to which is usually about 2 hours a day, for my entire trip. If I did not have these solutions, there is no way that I could take such an extended trip to Italy every year. Again, not everyone needs to stay in touch as much as I do so here are a couple more solutions that are more suitable for the vast majority of travelers.

National Geographic Travel Phone

The most economical solution for travelers who just need an emergency phone for their yearly trip is to buy the National Geographic Travel Phone. Many US and Canadians phone DO work overseas but, even if you do not intend to make many phone calls, anyone who has that number can call you. Yes, you can turn the phone off but that kind of defeats the purpose of having an emergency phone. The Nat Geo phone allows you go have a new number but also to keep your existing phone number. Having a new number that you can give to select individuals is not a bad idea.

Country Specific Solutions

If you are traveling only to one country and/or need data, using a local solution (i.e., using a SIM card for that country) is the way to go. Many travel writers advocate this solution. They say to go overseas and buy one locally. Those that know that you can buy them before you leave will tell you to go to Cellular Abroad or elsewhere (there are very few companies that carry local solutions) in order to save the hassle of trying to locate on there. I will also add that some countries do not even allow you to buy them locally and, in any event, if you don’t know the language and if you want something as soon as you land, buying one before is the way to go. Also, why would you even want to wait to see what is available overseas when you can get one before your departure?

Use your Own Cell Phone

This is what I call the Rich Man’s Solution. The great thing about this is that you don’t have to do anything. The bad thing is that it is expensive and also, oftentimes, it is not clear what you are getting. A great example is the “free international data” offering from T-Mobile and now Sprint too has joined the band wagon. The problem with this is that it is 2G and the problem with 2G is that most people reading this won’t understand what, “the problem with this is that it is 2G” even means. To make it plain and simple, 2G is too slow to do anything but send emails and use apps such as Twitter or Whatsapp. We get a lot of feedback from customers complaining about their frustration with going overseas and planning to have free data when instead they couldn’t even use their phone to Skype or browse the internet or use Google Maps and by that time it was too late to do anything about it.

Another problem with using your own phone is that anyone and everyone who has your number will be able to reach you. If you are a business traveler, you probably want that to happen. If you are on vacation, you are probably trying to get away from everything and do not want that.

pixelstats trackingpixel
Posted in Travel journal | 3 Comments

Free National Geographic Traveler Magazine


Cellular Abroad is offering a free one year subscription to any Cellular Abroad customerwho orders a SIM, cell phone rental or MiFi hotspot and enters the promo code “NatGeoMag” (without the quotation marks!) online at Cellular Abroad or who mentions the offer when calling our order line at 800.287.5072.  National Geographic Traveler Magazine is an excellent resource for trip planning or even just dreaming about exotic places. If you are not familiar with this magazine, this is the perfect opportunity to have a one year subscription to this magazine. This offer is valid until 5/31/2015.

As a clarification, your credit card information will not be shared with National Geographic Traveler Magazine (or anyone else for that matter!). You will simply have a one year subscription that will terminate after you have received a year’s supply of the magazine. Unless otherwise requested, we will have the magazine sent to your shipping address. If this subscription is a gift and you want another recipient other than yourself to receive the magazine, please enter the name and address of this person in the “order notes” section during checkout.

Cellular Abroad is sure you or your friends and family will love this magazine!

pixelstats trackingpixel
Posted in Travel journal | Leave a comment

Sprint’s New International Plan Isn’t For Everyone

Sprint has always been the only carrier out of the four major carriers in the US (Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile being the others) not to have a viable international roaming plan (and not that the other’s are a great value to begin with). In the past, the only travelers who would chose to roam with Sprint would be business travelers who simply don’t care what the rates are or tourist who were unaware of the rates. So, while the new Sprint roaming plan is certainly not for everyone, it is a step in the right direction. The deal is this – free texts and 2G data roaming and calls are just $0.20 per minute. First, let’s start by saying what is wrong with it. Only eight countries, including, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Germany, Guatemala, Japan, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Russia, South Korea, Spain and the United Kingdom are even effected by the new plan. If you are traveling elsewhere, you are out of luck. This is inevitably going to cause a ton of issues. Here is a scenario. Your daughter is going to Spain so she is good, right? Only as long as she stays in Spain and remembers not to use is if she happens to go elsewhere. If she decides to change her plans and go to Portugal for a day or two, she will be paying – get this – $1900.00 for 100mb of data. In addition, while in Spain, her data speed would be 2G which is virtually useless for anything but checking emails.

Having said this, if you are clear on the offering and are a disciplined traveler, the new plan has its advantages. Texting is included and the calls are affordable. However, if you want to use the internet, you should upgrade to one of the 3 data plans (at 3G speeds). In particular, the 500mb data plan for 2 weeks is not a bad offer.
In sum, if you are traveling to the above listed countries and ONLY to the above listed countries, Sprint’s plan could be the way to go

pixelstats trackingpixel
Posted in Travel journal | Leave a comment