Like most countries in the world the Netherlands uses the GSM cellular phone system.
GSM provides excellent coverage along with crystal-clear sound, indistinguishable from that of land-based phones. In fact, in Holland (where ‘cell phone’ are referred to as ‘mobile phones’) many people have given up their regular phone lines in favor of mobile phones only.
The GSM system is
compatible with mobile phones sold in
the UK, and
most of Asia.
It is not compatible with phones sold in
Japan, or with
many of the phones sold in North America.
GSM vs. CDMA
A majority of the world’s cellphone subscribers — 82 percent — use the GSM technology standard, according to the GSM Association. In the United States, the major carriers use two systems. Cingular (now AT&T) and T-Mobile use GSM, while Sprint and Verizon use CDMA, an incompatible technology.
CDMA technology is found in North America, as well as some Asian countries, but it is basically nonexistent in Europe. As a result, Sprint and Verizon customers can use their phones in just 26 countries. (AT&T and T-Mobile customers can potentially use theirs in over a hundred.)
When traveling in non-CDMA countries, Sprint and Verizon customers can rent or purchase GSM phones from those providers. Sprint rents a Motorola Razr for $58 for the first week, and $70 for two weeks, plus $1.29 to $4.99 a minute of airtime. Verizon charges $3.99 a day to rent, plus $1.49 to $4.99 a minute. Verizon also sells three combo CDMA-GSM models, priced from $150 to $600 with a two-year contract.
Cingular and T-Mobile customers have more options — if their existing phones can pick up multiple frequencies. To complicate matters, the American GSM standard operates on 850 and 1,900 megahertz, while the rest of the GSM world uses 900 and 1,800 megahertz.
To use an American GSM cellphone in a foreign country, the handset you own must be tri-band or quad-band and able to operate on one or both of the frequencies used outside the United States. The Cingular and T-Mobile Web sites, as well as Telestial’s and others, list the predominant frequencies used in each country, and show if your phone can operate on one or both overseas bands.
To protect against fraud, American cellphones are typically blocked from making calls when used abroad. Before traveling, call your provider and ask to have that restriction removed.
A Temporary SIM Card
GSM phones use SIM cards (subscriber identity modules), tiny electronic chips that hold a cellphone’s ‘brains,’ including the subscriber’s contact numbers and phone number. (CDMA phones store such information directly in the hardware.)
GSM customers can avoid sky-high roaming charges by replacing their American SIM cards with ones from other countries. For example, travelers to Britain can pick up a SIM card from the British carrier Vodafone; once inserted, it gives the phone a temporary British phone number. Calls within Britain and to the United States would be much cheaper.
For example, T-Mobile charges its customers 99 cents a minute for using their phones in Britain, whether calling a pub in London or your home in New Jersey.
Insert a prepaid British SIM card from a company like Telestial instead, and local calls drop to 26 cents a minute, while calls back to the United States cost 9 to 14 cents a minute.
Another benefit when using overseas SIM cards is that incoming calls are typically free in most countries.
Unlocking the Phone
Even if you have a GSM phone that operates on both overseas frequencies, domestic cellphone providers do not want you to use your phone with another company’s SIM card, because they do not make any money when you do. To prevent your doing so, cellphones bought through Cingular and T-Mobile are electronically locked — they accept only their own company’s SIM cards.
Before you throw your phone off the Eiffel Tower in frustration, know that there are several ways to unlock your phone and avoid those high overseas roaming rates.
Cingular and T-Mobile will unlock their customers’ phones under certain conditions. Cingular will provide unlock codes to customers whose contracts have expired, who have canceled their service and paid an early termination fee, or who have paid a full rather than subsidized price for their phones, according to Rich Blasi, a Cingular Wireless spokesman.
T-Mobile has more lenient policies. It will provide the unlock code to any customer after 90 days of service, but no more than one unlock code will be provided every 90 days, said Graham Crow, a T-Mobile spokesman.
If you do not meet these requirements, you can still get your phone unlocked from a private company. For a few dollars, the Travel Insider (www.thetravelinsider.com) and UnlockTelecom (www.unlocktelecom.co.uk) will provide your phone’s specific unlocking code.
– Source: Guidelines for Using a Cellphone Abroad, by Erica Taub, New York Times, Mar. 15, 2007
Overseas Calling Plan
Tell family members and friends to get an overseas calling plan before calling your mobile phone while you are abroad. Otherwise they will end up paying exhorbitant rates.
Cell Phone Stores / Mobile Phone Stores in Amsterdam
If you only plan to use a cell phone/mobile phone within Amsterdam (or indeed within the Netherlands) an inexpensive phone complete with a pre-paid calling plan is an excellent alternative. Buy one locally at any Albert Heijn supermarket (usually at the service desk), or pop into one of the ubiquitous phone downtown phone stores.
You can buy extra pre-paid cards at Albert Heijn (supermarket), tobacco stores, or those phone stores again.
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