If you have to call the United States while you are in the French West Indies, you have options in addition to pay telephones with either euro coins or prepaid cards.
You may dial
0 800 99 00 11
from any telephone which gives you a dial tone. Your call will be answered by an American AT&T telephone operator asking how to assist you. If you wish to make a call you must have a way to pay for it, and you may use AT&T's card, a prepaid card, or a credit card. The Web site gives very specific step- by- step directions.
The AT&T Business Traveler Web page has a list of countries with directions on how to place calls to the United States. NOTE that the French West Indies are listed under "French Antilles" by island, rather than under their island names. The AT&T site also contains a great deal of additional information for travelers, whether on business or pleasure. Links include translation services, laptop help, a clickable map for country codes, a printable U.S. telephone keypad so that when you are in a country with no letters on the keys, you can dial "CALL ATT" or other numbers which have letters, instructions on how to dial other countries from the U.S., and much, much more. This is a very helpful site for persons calling overseas. Recommended.
The AT&T World Traveler page has links for printable wallet cards, access numbers you can download to your PDA, local time, and country and city codes, available for AT&T's USA Direct program. Calls cost 99 cents per minute from the covered countries, plus a connection fee of 89 cents (you can call several numbers without making a new connection).
The World Packages page has links to details on voice and data plans for dialing from the US to overseas and to the US from overseas.
If you are using MCI's Calling Card, the number in the French Antilles is
for access to MCI's automated instructions on how to proceed with your call. This number appears to be valid in all French dependencies, as well as on mainland France.
The International Calling page contains links to information on calling the US from abroad, with a list of toll- free numbers available to holders of MCI's Calling Card There are instuctions on calling with your card from and to the US, country codes, WorldPhone access numbers, and instructions on connecting your laptop and using WorldPhone.
T-Mobile's International page has links to its resources for calling to and from overseas, including messaging services, T-Mobile hotspots around the world, and cell phones that work in the various systems overseas. The T-Mobile customer care number is a free call from your T-Mobile phone even when you're overseas.
Go to International Roaming for information on costs and capabilities from other countries.
Verizon's International Services page offers information for international travelers, including how to dial to the US from overseas, cruise ship coverage, global phone, email and data coverage, and technologies used in other countries.
The Global Travel Program is keyed to people who will be overseas for 21 days or less. Select the country you are traveling to in the drop down menu and read the options and connection speeds. Guadeloupe, for example, is blanketed with 3G in almost all areas. Country pages give instructions on how to place a call on your Verizon phone to the United States and gives the per-minute costs.
If a family member or you are planning on spending a substantial amount of time abroad, check with each company's Web site for international call plans. For a small monthly charge, international rates can be had for under US$1 per minute. Note that these companies come and go, so our list is subject to dead links.
Maxroam sells SIMs for unlocked cell phones. The service is prepaid, so you stock up on minutes and megs, then top up when you run out. The company is currently offering an iPad microSIM for 75 euros for use only in the listed European countries. With Maxroam, you can add numbers to your SIM so that people calling you call a number local to them. There are certain security restrictions so that your phone can be traced to you, so read the fine print. For prices in US dollars, start here.
Roam4Less offers both world phones and world SIMs for unlocked phones. Phones range from basic cells that do only voice through smartphones that do web and email. SIMS may be purchased for US$10, $50, and $100 of air time.
Truphone's Local Anywhere service offers SIM cards with local rates in 220 countries, and it allows you to add local numbers so your friends in the US and the UK can call you without long distance charges. The site promises additional countries will be added "in 2010."
Zaptel offers prepaid domestic and international calling cards. You can purcahse international cards for calling overseas from the US or for international cards to the US. Prices vary according to the location. Zaptel lists the French Antilles and Guadeloupe, but not Martinique, St. Barths, and St. Martin. The list distinguishes between landline and cell prices. We selected the French Antilles for a 30- minute calling card (to the US) and received a list of eleven cards from different vendors; prices varied, needless to say.
SpeedyPin Phone Cards also offers prepaid cards to and from any country. It, too, lists French Antilles and Guadeloupe, and it offered four cards for us to choose from. Prices varied as did the cost details -- one minute rounding, three minute rounding, connect fees or not, and weekly fees whether the card is used or not. Read the fine print.
United World Telecom has a different take. Many countries have a monopoly in charge of the telephone system, and prices are higher than calls placed in the US. So with UWT, you place a quick call to a US number from your host country, dial in the telephone number you are calling from, UWT calls you back at low US rates, you dial in the number you really want to talk to, and you get connected. If the rate to call your host country from the US is cheaper than the rate to call from your host country to the US, you pay less money for that return call. The telephone you use in your host country must receive incoming calls. If your local phone won't make long distance calls, you may still be ahead to use your cell phone to set up the call back to your local telephone. Note also that you are not limited to calls within the US. You may use UWT to call from Guadeloupe to St. Barth, to Paris, or to Nairobi.
Ekit is another access service promising global calling cards at savings of "up to 70%." A distinctive offering at Ekit is the ability of people calling you to leave messages at no cost to them. Additional services include leaving your travel itinerary online (safely), government travel warnings, and online document storage.
Phone Shark provides calling cards online -- just print them and take them with you. Cards for calling from the French Antilles are few, but you get to compare connection fees, rounding increments, maintenance fees, and taxes.
Pin City provides international rates like the others, but in addition, Pin City allows you to register your cell phone for the lower rates. You still will pay whatever the cell rate is for a call, but you will get Pin City's lower rate for your international calls to the US. Check to see if this combination is less than your cell phone provider charges.
Mobal Rental offers to rent cellphones and satellite phones, but they have an interesting alternative -- a $49 cell phone with no monthly fee. This phone does not work in the United States (but their $99 phone does). It works in over 140 countries (the $99 phone works in the US and 160 countries). You buy the phone and get a UK telephone number which remains the same no matter where you travel. Then you pay nothing till you use it. Per-minute rates are high -- $1.50 for outgoing calls within the US, $1.75 for incoming calls; $1.95 for calls within Guadeloupe (includes St. Barth and St. Martin), $3.95 for calls from Guadeloupe to the UK, US, and Canada. And don't forget that people calling you pay for a call to your UK number. The place for potential savings is that there are no monthly fees to maintain the account; you provide your credit card number for billing, and they mail a statement in addition to deducting the charges on your credit card. Their phones are locked and cannot be used with SIM cards from other providers.
Cellhire rents cell phones and Blackberries. If you choose the Blackberry, you can add up to 10 of your email accounts to the unit you rent so you won't miss your email during your trip. You may also add your phone number to the unit, so that your contacts won't have to know the new rental number. All of this comes at a cost, of course, so review the site for fees.
WebPhone is another VoIP service vying for our attention. It is PC only, so we cannot try it. Sign up, download the PC application, pre-pay for some time, and make a call from your PC to any telephone. As with all computer 'telephones,' you need either a microphone/loudspeaker or a headset with mic/earpiece. Costs are 2 cents per minute within the US and more for calls from France. We cannot tell from the Web site if the French West Indies are considered France. The service has no fees other than call time; if you choose the Plus package for $5 per month, you can choose a US phone number in any area code so that friends or family can call you at a number local to them, which you can answer on your computer at the 2 cent-per-minute price. They also offer a calling card for those times when you are away from your computer.
Skype (rhymes with 'type') is a proprietary peer-to- peer networking phone service. Since it is peer-to- peer, it scales well as users join; however, since it is peer-to- peer, Skype uses your computer and internet connection to carry the traffic. You may recall KaZaA, the music-sharing program; Skype is by the same guys. Computer-based calls between Skype users are free, and there are fee-based adjuncts that let you call and receive calls from regular telephones (charges for these calls are about two cents a minute). If you do not mind having VOIP telephone calls made by other people routed through your computer and using your bandwidth, and if you do not mind having Skype's program accessing your fixed disk (there is no option to disable this use of your processor and your connection), Skype may be just the ticket for you.
Satellite Phones. You may rent satellite phones which will work where there are no land lines and no cells (the middle of the ocean, for example). The fees vary significantly, and the charges vary even more. Some give free shipping and high rental rates; some charge less for the rental and really make a profit on the shipping. A week's rental may include the delivery time or maybe not. Read the contracts carefully and add in all the charges to compare the full cost for the rental period you need. NOTE: As of August 2008, the GlobalStar satellite system is failing. Connection rates may be as low as 30% of your attempts to make (and receive) a call. If you really want to make a call, do not rent a GlobalStar phone.
Sorting through the thicket of rates, maintenance charges, connection charges, taxes, rounding increments, and the like is a daunting task. If your cell phone works in the French West Indies, you may find the convenience outweighs the lower cost of struggling to find a payphone and getting through to your access number. Remember also that getting online in some parts of the islands is more difficult than in the US and that the staff at cybercafes varies in technical abilities and in fluency in English.
Conversely, not having a connection to the US is just fine, too. It is a vacation, after all.
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