Disclosure: The following is a sponsored post in that I received a free SIM card with credit from Tellink in return for reviewing it. All opinions are, as always, my own.
Those of us who travel frequently, and especially those of us who travel for work or who blog about travel, often struggle with telephone and data connections. We want to call home, but the charges are so outrageous that we don’t. An SMS message on arrival and, if we’re lucky and the hotel has decent WiFi, perhaps some Whatsapping or Skyping.
To get around this problem on my solo travels last year, I bought SIM cards in each country. I wanted to keep my home SIM card in my phone so I would be reachable, but I didn’t call home except when it was absolutely necessary. Instead, I used the SIM cards in my portable modem so I would have reliable WiFi to use skype or whatsapp.
The problem with this was that it worked in some countries and didn’t in others. Most of my problems, I’m sure, were due to the fact that I’m technologically clueless.
- In the US, I was able to buy a one-month SIM-only subscription for my phone with lots of data, but phoning home to the Netherlands was still too expensive.
- In Hong Kong, a kind saleswoman in the store where I bought a week-long unlimited data SIM card installed it in my portable modem and set it up for me. I carried it in my pocket and had secure WiFi everywhere.
- In Japan, I was told in several stores that it was impossible to use any of their SIM cards in my portable modem. The language barrier made it impossible to find out why.
- In Spain I could buy a SIM card for my modem, but there were no subscriptions for a week or a month; only pre-pay (pay per use) was available, but at least it worked. Phoning was still expensive and involved switching the SIM to my phone from the modem, or else buying a second one.
Many hotels have WiFi these days, but, in my experience, it’s often poor quality, which can be frustrating when you’re trying to upload photos or add a blog post.
So when I met the people from Tellink last fall at the World Travel Market in London, I was more than willing to take them up on their offer to try out one of their SIM cards.
The idea is that you put one SIM card in your phone and use it wherever you go around the world. No changing SIM cards, no having to figure out each country’s system, and none of the high rates your home country SIM charges.
Since the telephone number on the card is Belgian, you are considered to be calling from Belgium, so charges within Europe are particularly cheap.
Tellink claims that you can save up to 90% on your roaming charges. I have no way to check if that’s true, and I’m sure it would vary widely depending on your home country phone contract. What I do know is that in the two months I tried it out (in Dubai and the Netherlands), I sent 13 SMS messages and made 11 outgoing calls, and I only spent slightly under €20.
- Outgoing texts within the UAE and to the USA cost me €0.35 each.
- Outgoing texts within Europe cost me €0.06 each.
- Outgoing calls of just one minute varied from €0.18 within Europe to €0.42 cents from the UAE to Europe.
- A 13-minute call to my daughter in San Francisco from Dubai cost €4.81.
- A 24-minute call to a friend in the Netherlands from Dubai cost €4.32.
Incoming calls, on the other hand, are sometimes free to receive on Tellink SIM cards, depending on where in the world the call is coming from. The caller will still pay, though, so what I agreed with my family was that they’d send an SMS or a Whatsapp and I’d call them back. That worked well.
On my regular Vodafone subscription, I get charged for both incoming and outgoing calls overseas, even with their “Blox” for reducing charges when traveling overseas. Last August, when I was in South Korea, a 3-minute call to the Netherlands cost me €5.74. An 11-second call cost me €1.64. A 21-minute call cost me €26.47. If I’d been using Tellink, these calls would have been the same cost as my cheap calls within Europe, since Tellink groups South Korea in the same zone as Europe.
Clearly Tellink offers significant savings.
How Tellink works
Tellink uses a pay-per-use system, and topping up requires visiting their user portal website. You can also check your balance via SMS. The SIM card itself costs €25 to buy (free shipping to anywhere) and comes with €10 euro credit.
It uses a system called “transparent call back.”
- First you dial the number you want to reach, including the + and the international dialing code.
- On my phone I immediately get a message saying “Not allowed by SIM,” but if that happens on yours, you should ignore it.
- Next you get a message saying “Call in progress.” In just a moment, you receive a call.
- Answer it, wait just another moment, and as you wait the phone of the person you’re calling will ring. Assuming he/she answers, you’re connected.
This takes some getting used to. I kept thinking it wasn’t working when I got that error message, but fortunately the incoming call would arrive before I had time to hang up. The person receiving the call has no waiting time, just like a direct call, because their phone doesn’t start to ring until you’ve answered the callback.
The screen on the person’s phone will show your Belgian number. One friend of mine didn’t answer at first because she didn’t think she knew anyone at that number, so it’s a good idea to text first, or to let people know the number before you leave. If you travel most of the time, you could just use it as your primary number.
My opinion of Tellink
Tellink uses the Orange mobile network, so the coverage is good. In Dubai I called San Francisco, the Netherlands, and within the UAE, and all the calls were as clear as my regular phone company (Vodafone) with no delay. I made several calls to various parts of the world from the Netherlands to try it out before I left, and they were also all good.
The wait time in making the calls took getting used to, but that’s a minor problem.
Customer service has been great; my emails are returned very quickly. Their website for checking balances and topping up is clear and easy to use.
Really, now that I’m used to how it works, the only thing I don’t like about this card is having to take my SIM card out and put the Tellink one in each time I leave for a trip. It’s a fiddly job, and I’m always afraid I’ll lose my Vodafone SIM.
My next phone, once my Vodafone subscription is finished, will definitely be a dual-SIM: then I can just put both SIMs in and be reachable no matter which number people use. I will certainly keep using the Tellink SIM when I travel, and, once I figure out how to use my phone as a mobile hotspot, I won’t need the portable modem at all.
Now that I think about it, maybe that would be a good next step for the Tellink people: to sell this travel SIM card bundled with unlocked dual-SIM phones in every price range. They could even sell them with the cards already installed and the settings done, for the technologically-challenged traveler like me. Just a suggestion, but I bet they’d sell!
How have you dealt with the problem of high phone charges when you’re on the road? Add a comment below.