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Information Center: SIM cards - Local, Global, Prepaid, or Postpaid?


InTouch Smartcards - Copyright 2004

Note: If you haven't done so already, I suggest you read our Cell Phone Overview article first as this article builds on it. 

What is a SIM Card?

A SIM card is the heart of the cell phone.  It is equivalent to the phone plug that your desk phone at home plugs into.  It carries vital information such as the phone number, the carrier that supplies it and accordingly the rates you will pay when placing or in some cases when receiving phone calls.  

Based on the arrangement you have with your SIM card vendor or the cell phone carrier, the SIM card can be postpaid or prepaid.  Postpaid SIM cards allow you to talk all you want and the cell phone carrier will log your calls and send you a bill at the end of each month.  This is very similar to what happens when you make calls from your home phone.  You usually receive a bill at the end of a given period, usually a month cycle.  Understandably, the cell phone carrier will require a credit card on file and probably some form of credit approval since they will extend you the service ahead of being paid and the charges in one month can amount to hundreds of dollars depending on how much you call, where you call, when you call, and how long.  It is also a function of where you place your call from since there are usually roaming charges incurred when dialing from outside of your home (normal service) area. 

Prepaid SIM cards are similar to prepaid phone cards in the way the calling charges are incurred.  You purchase a set amount of credit and each time you make a call the charges for the call counts against your credit.  You will need to reload or recharge your SIM card with additional credit as your balance drop.  Most SIM cards have a time limit after which the balance on the SIM card expire unless you reload or add more minutes.  This allows your balance to carry over to another expiration interval in addition to the credit generated from the reload.  Most balances expire within 1 year of the last reload.

The convenient thing about prepaid SIM cards is that they are transparent to the user and the people calling him.  Unlike calling cards, the SIM card once placed inside the phone acts exactly like a postpaid SIM card except in the way the calling costs are calculated and charged.  Most prepaid SIMs do not need any pre-dialing setups or codes to enter to place calls.  Callers to prepaid SIM card holders only need to know their cell phone number to call them.  

Local SIM cards are SIM cards offered by wireless carriers in specific countries.  They carry a local cell phone number and the support is provided by the local carrier.  Most local SIM cards offer cheap local calls and free incoming calls.  Most local SIM card providers offer long distance calling to overseas phone numbers.  Some even offer roaming where the local SIM card of one country can work to place and receive calls in another country.  

Roaming can be very expensive though and even if offered it is best avoided if you want to avoid excessive and unpredictable charges.  Receiving a call on an Egyptian SIM card in Lebanon for example will cost about $1 per minute when receiving the call in Egypt is free.  Calling local numbers in Lebanon using that SIM card is a lot more expensive because you will be paying the roaming charges of $1 per minute plus the long distance charges of approx. $0.75 since it is still an Egyptian SIM card calling a foreign number.  So for such a call you will be paying close to $2 per minute to call!

Compare that to a global roaming SIM card.  It features one rate for incoming and another for outgoing no matter where you call and from what country you place that call.  Global roaming SIM cards have roaming agreements with many local wireless carriers and therefore such cards will work in most countries in the world.  The benefit is that the rate is known and you will incur no unexpected surprises.  Some global roaming SIM cards offer rates as low as $1/min. for any outgoing calls (from anywhere and to anywhere) and $0.40/min. incoming calls.  Another major benefit of global roaming SIM cards is for travelers visiting more than one country in one trip.  Global roaming SIM cards offer the same phone number so your friends and family will only need to know one number to call you wherever you travel.  Also, You will not need to worry about getting a local SIM card for each place and change SIM cards at each destination or put up with exorbitant roaming charges if you decide to use the local SIM card of one country in another country.

We carry local SIM cards from most countries of the world.  Our website is the most comprehensive site for local SIM cards on the Internet.  We also carry all available global roaming SIM cards, namely Hop, Monaco Plus, and United Mobile.  If you would like us to help you decide which SIM card is most suitable for your trip, please give us a call at 1-800-872-7626 and we will be more than happy to help you.

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