by Michael J. Shapiro | January 01, 2008

Nokia’s N95
Fit for global gab:
Nokia’s N95

If you’re planning to travel internationally with your cell phone or to buy an international phone, proceed with caution. Both the service provider and the phone model will have an impact on international compatibility. Here’s what you’ll need to consider.

* U.S. providers generally use one of two networks: GSM, aka global system for mobile communications, or CDMA, which stands for code division multiple access. GSM (AT&T, T-Mobile) is far more widespread internationally and is the standard in Europe. CDMA (Verizon) has coverage in a few dozen countries, including most of the Americas and parts of Asia.

* ?Not all GSM phones are created equal. European providers use either the 900MHz or 1800MHz frequencies. North American cell phones use either 850MHz or 1900MHz. Some phones work on multiple frequencies.

* Your current phone might function overseas, but will your carrier provide roaming service there? If yes, be sure to investigate rates or international plans ahead of time to avoid getting any rude surprises when you receive the bill.

For the ultimate in flexibility, purchase a tri- or quad-band GSM phone, and confirm that the frequencies offered are those used in your destinations. If your phone is “unlocked” -- meaning it will work on multiple carrier networks -- you’ll also have the option of removing the phone’s SIM card, which holds your number and personal data, and replacing it with a local number abroad.

Check out and to purchase GSM phones and cards specific to your destination. Cell phone rentals likely will cost you more.