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Next Year’s Good News: Cheaper Overseas Phones; Easier Indian Visas

T-Mobile, the number-four wireless carrier in the United States, announced that users of its primary consumer service, the “Simple Choice Plan,” will soon be getting global coverage at no extra charge. The base plan, at $50 per month for one line, $80 for two, and $100 for four, includes unlimited data coverage, no-cost texting, and voice calls for 20 cents a minute from more than 100 countries around the world, including most countries that you’re likely to visit. Within the U.S., the plans provide unlimited calling with no per-call charge, texting, and data. As usual with international roaming, you need a phone that uses the GSM system, which many newer phones do. The plan goes on sale sometime this month.

This is a big deal for anyone who wants to keep in touch with family and friends while traveling overseas. With other wireless carriers, international roaming costs are high. Even with its extra-cost international calling packages, for example, from Europe, AT&T charges $1 a minute with a $30 monthly minimum, or 60 cents a minute with a $120 monthly minimum; charges are higher from other areas. Sprint and Verizon charge 99 cents a minute for voice calls, 50 cents to send texts, and 5 cents to receive texts on their extra-cost international plans.

The new T-Mobile plan is best if you confine your use to voice and text messages. Although the plan includes data, the connection speed will be s-l-o-w; CNET says it’s about 120 KB per second. That’s only about double the speed of the best old dial-up data transmission: OK for email and texts but woefully inadequate for viewing many ordinary websites or downloading video. And the plan specifically precludes tethering. You can, however, upgrade to faster speeds—for a price, of course.

For ordinary overseas travelers, signing up for T-Mobile makes life a lot less complicated. Yes, you can find even lower rates with third-party SIM cards, but you have to buy the card, make sure your phone is unlocked, and switch out the SIM cards. You can also install one of the several VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) apps, such as Skype, which allows you to make no-cost calls to other users and low-cost calls to land lines. But both of those approaches can be hassles, especially for folks who aren’t up to the latest tech gimmickry. T-Mobile offers calls at reasonable prices and no hassles. If you really need access to faster Internet, stay at hotels with Wi-Fi, or plan to visit an Internet cafe every day or so. On last year’s round-the-world trip, I booked only moderate-priced hotels under $100 per night, and all offered Wi-Fi at no extra cost.

I expect that most of you are not planning to travel overseas until next year—and maybe not until summer. I’m focusing on the new T-Mobile service today to alert you to start checking your current wireless service now. Specifically, if your current plan is set to expire within the next six to eight months, you may well want to plan on switching to T-Mobile rather than renewing your current contract. Of course, you’ll also want to keep checking with your current carrier: So far, AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon have not responded to T-Mobile’s move, but they may soon have a counter.

The other good news is that India has decided to offer 30-day visitor on-arrival visas to citizens of 40 countries, including the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, Ireland, and most Western European countries, and also to “all” senior citizens age 60 or over. Register online in advance; then all you need on arrival is your passport. This service is already available at India’s 10 biggest international gateway airports, with more to be added. On-arrival visas will eliminate the hassles and expenses of applying to an Indian consulate or paying fees to visa services.

Ed Perkins Seniors on the Go is copyright (c) 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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