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Blog Posts by Mindel DeLaTorre

Final Reminders: What should I do when I return home?

June 25, 2010 - 10:05 AM


This week we have covered pre-departure steps, overseas calling alternatives, and VoIP services, all focused on avoiding excess charges. Today we will wrap up the "Wireless World Travel Week" with an overview of the international calling tips, as well as a few final reminders.

  1. Check with your provider before you travel to see if your phone will work abroad.
  2. If your phone will work, check with provider to see if you can buy a SIM card in the foreign country to avoid roaming charges.
  3. If your phone will not work abroad, choose an alternative calling method that is best for you – purchase or rental of a world phone for instance.
  4. Disable push notification and wireless network settings on your smartphone as much as possible to avoid unintentional data transfer charges.

If you are using a mobile phone abroad, you will need to be able to charge it. Make sure you have the proper power adapters and converters for the country you are visiting, and any other equipment specific to your phone.

While you should be aware of all charges before you travel abroad, it is important to look closely at your invoice/bill to make sure that charges are accurate. If there are any discrepancies, notify your provider immediately. Keep in mind that roaming charges apply as soon as you arrive in a foreign country, so have a plan of action for placing calls abroad before you travel.

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Can I make calls over the Internet from Wi-Fi hotspots?

June 24, 2010 - 10:21 AM


[Addendum: The FCC does not endorse the VoIP services mentioned below or any distinct technology.]

We've gone over many different options for international calling which all revolved around use of wireless networks and landlines. However, there is another cheap and easy way to make international calls called Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) through a Wi-Fi hotspot. This allows you to call someone using high-speed Internet service instead of a telephone service. Just make sure that your phone does not automatically connect to an international mobile network, which can be expensive to access.

Of course, you must have Internet access to use a VoIP service, as well as a computer with microphone or webcam, or a smartphone that has VoIP capabilities. Assuming you have access, you can use one of many popular VoIP services such as Skype, Fring, or Truphone. If you use a VoIP service to make a call to another person using VoIP, it will probably be absolutely free (not including any fees you may have to pay to access the Internet). If the person you are calling is not using VoIP on their computer, you can also call them directly on their phone. This is often cheaper than using a calling card or local SIM card.

The main advantage of using VoIP to make international calls is that it is very inexpensive (free in certain circumstances). The downside is that it requires Internet access, and a computer or mobile device that has the necessary VoIP application. Also, international equivalents of 911 and E911 may not be fully functional with VoIP calling. Make sure you are aware of these limitations before relying on VoIP as your primary calling method. Visit the following links to learn more about VoIP services and to look up calling rates to individual countries.

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Once I am overseas, what calling options can I choose from?

June 23, 2010 - 10:04 AM


You have arrived overseas, and are ready to make a call. After verifying your carrier's policies and charges, you should have a plan for how you will communicate while overseas.

Some phones are capable of using a SIM card that can be purchased overseas (call your provider for details on your specific phone and whether it's compatible with the system in the country you're visiting). This means you will have a local phone number, and not the same phone number you use in the U.S., but you will not have roaming charges. International calls and text messages placed from your destination will be much cheaper, and incoming calls will most likely be free. Keep in mind that it may be more expensive for the calling party because they will be calling or sending text messages to an international number.

If you plan on using your phone heavily, an alternative might be to purchase an inexpensive phone as well as a SIM card with prepaid minutes in the country you are visiting, so you know exactly how much you will be spending. You can also purchase a calling card if you need to make a long distance call to the U.S., as this is often much less expensive than using a hotel room phone. While it is not a good idea to use hotel room phones for a direct long distance call the U.S., you should use them if you want to call between rooms in the hotel.

Use your international calling card from a phone booth and not your mobile phone, as regular per minute charges usually apply if you use your mobile phone. And if you have an option of contacting someone in the country you're visiting at either a wireline or mobile number, call the wireline.

Another popular option is using the internet to make phone calls, called Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP. Stay tuned for tomorrow's post on how to use this inexpensive method!

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Will I be able to use my phone overseas? What preparations do I need to make?

June 22, 2010 - 02:02 PM


In order to maintain communication with people back home in the most affordable way, you need to be ready ahead of time. First, make sure you understand the telephone system in the country you're going to. Different countries use different types of mobile phone networks, so don't assume that your phone will work in a foreign country. And even if your phone does work for voice calling, some of its other functions – such as sending and receiving data or text messages – might not work. The most important thing is to check with your wireless provider before you leave for your trip. When in doubt, ask.

For most U.S. customers, the service plan that covers domestic usage does not cover usage while traveling abroad. And the rates may be much higher when you are abroad, because of the additional fees for "roaming" on a foreign mobile phone network. Roaming can be complicated, and charges may vary by country and mobile network. Again, it is best to check with your provider before you depart to find out the service arrangements that best fit your needs, and to find out all the rates and charges that will apply. Higher rates may apply to all features of your phone, including making or receiving voice calls, receiving or checking voice mail, sending or receiving texts, and uploading to or downloading from the Internet. Even if you have "unlimited" use of these features, you may still be charged per minute/text/etc. By knowing these charges ahead of time, you will be able to save money and avoid any surprises when you return home.

The bottom line: don't make any assumptions about your phone or calling plan. By researching your carrier's policies and charges, you can decide whether you should bring your own phone along or use one of many alternatives once you arrive in your destination country. Those alternative options will be discussed tomorrow!

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Kick-off: How can I make calls while I'm abroad?

June 21, 2010 - 12:19 PM


It's the first day of summer, and the official start to a busy travel season. Whether you are headed to the tropics to enjoy the beach, or halfway across the world on a business trip, you want to know how to stay in touch with people back home without breaking the bank. E-mail is a great way of doing this, but you still may need to speak with someone on the phone. The question is, what is the best and cheapest way to call the U.S. from a foreign country? To answer this question along with many more, the FCC is kicking off its "Wireless World Travel Week" today. There are many more variables with international calling than with domestic calling. You should be well informed before trying to make phone calls from a foreign country. Useful tips will be posted here throughout the week, focusing on a different topic each day. Here's the schedule for the rest of the week:

Tuesday: Getting Ready for Your International Trip
Wednesday: Calling Options from Overseas
Thursday: VoIP – Calling Over the Internet
Friday: Back at Home – Checking Your Invoices

The goal of this initiative is to inform consumers about international calling to help them avoid unnecessary charges while abroad. We hope our tips are informative, helpful, and allow you to make the best decisions when calling from overseas.

Check out our tip sheet, Wireless World Travel Made Simple, and a video message. You can also follow the FCC on Twitter at, where you will find more tips throughout the week.

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Helping Haiti: The FCC's Work with Conatel

by Mindel DeLaTorre, Chief of the International Bureau
February 19, 2010 - 12:09 PM

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:98:height=100,width=70]]At the FCC, we continue to be very busy on a number of fronts to continue to help Haiti regarding its communications services.

Within the U.S. Government, our work is in coordination with USAID as you know.  But it really derives directly from our regulatory counterpart in Haiti – Conatel.  The importance and necessity of our work at the FCC is underscored by the requests of the Director General (DG), Mr. Montaigne Marcelin,  which continue to come in.

When the communications asssessment team was in Haiti in late January, we were fortunate to be able to spend a great deal of time with the DG and the staff of Conatel.  We discussed the status of the communications sector in Haiti, and several key regulatory issues like spectrum management.  In addition, on behalf of our two agencies, Mr. Marcelin and I signed an  “Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) Regarding Communications Regulatory Cooperation” between Conatel and the FCC, as requested by the Conatel DG. The MOU states that the FCC will provide assistance to Conatel in several areas, including: ongoing assessment of the needs of the communications sector in Haiti, spectrum management, licensing policies and procedures, human resource capacity building, as well as other regulatory issues as needed.  The cooperation between Conatel and the FCC is envisioned to be telephone and email consultation, in-country assessments and technical assistance by FCC staff, and Conatel staff fellowships at the FCC.

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Helping Haiti: Back from Port-au-Prince

by Mindel DeLaTorre, Chief of the International Bureau
February 5, 2010 - 02:14 PM

Helping Haiti: Update from Port-au-Prince

by Mindel DeLaTorre, Chief of the International Bureau
January 29, 2010 - 12:22 PM

(UPDATE: Photos from the FCC Team in Haiti below.)

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:98:height=100,width=71]]There is much to report on developments related to the US Government’s efforts on communications services in Haiti since my last posting.  I traveled with a U.S. team to Port-au-Prince, arriving before daybreak Monday, January 25.  We are on-the-ground now, assessing communications needs.  We joined an initial group of three FCC technical experts, who deployed to Haiti days after the earthquake to support a FEMA Mobile Emergency Response Team.  Our combined team includes two of us from the FCC International Bureau, three from the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, one from the Enforcement Bureau, one from the Office of Engineering and Technology and two private sector experts on the team.  We are here in response to a request from Director General Montàigne Marcelin of Conseil National des Télécommunications (Conatel), the communications agency in Haiti, in coordination with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

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Helping Haiti: Second Update

by Mindel DeLaTorre, Chief of the International Bureau
January 20, 2010 - 07:38 PM

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:98:height=100,width=70]]The conditions in Haiti remain urgent.  USAID – the lead agency for U.S. relief efforts in Haiti – gives a daily update of developments in Haiti on its website, including the difficulty in meeting the critical needs of the people devastated by the earthquake.

While life-saving needs such as water, food, and medical attention are the highest priorities, getting those supplies and services to the Haitians in need is made much more difficult without a working communications infrastructure.  Communications is the invisible enabler of these services, and of course, it is essential for connecting people in Haiti and outside to know how their loved ones are doing.

I’m happy to report that there’s been a lot of progress in the U.S. Government’s efforts regarding communications issues in Haiti since my blogpost on Friday, January 15.  We at the FCC continue to share our expertise in domestic and international communications and disaster recovery with USAID and our other federal partners, including the National Communications System.  We are also working closely with the communications industry.

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Helping Haiti: Update

by Mindel DeLaTorre, Chief of the International Bureau
January 16, 2010 - 12:41 PM


Since my blogpost yesterday, we’ve been moving fast at the FCC.  We’re taking licensing steps and other actions that should be helpful in getting communications services to Haiti. Here’s what we’re doing:

Today, the FCC issued a press release in which Chairman Genachowski said, “Haiti’s need for communications services is extraordinary and urgent, and the FCC is strongly committed to doing our part.”The press release identified FCC actions and provided agency contact information for the public;

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