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Cell Phones

Think about how you will communicate once you arrive.  How ofen will the traveler check in? with who? What is the back-up if that system is down? The simplest way to use your cell phone internationally is to unlock your phone, buy a SIM card at your destination, and trade them out. Every time you change your SIM card, your telephone number will also change. You will have a local number on your (familiar) phone. This is great for your local connections, sub-optimal for UCSF connections. Purchase minutes to load, or set up your account online, and give access to a UCSF staff member to ensure a minimum of $50 is on the phone for an international emergency call. Be careful when connecting to public networks – it is relatively easy for hackers to intercept information on those networks. Don't use mobile banking apps, and don't access your bank information on a public network.

You could purchase an inexpensive phone and take both phones. This way you can have a local number in addition to your US number. There are three types of bands (GSM, CDMA or iDEN) GSM works outside the US. AT&T and T-Mobile use the GSM, Sprint and Verizon use CDMA & GSM. Your carrier can provide the access code to unlock your phone. Give them your phone IMEI number that is located on the back of your phone behind the battery. GHS uses a dedicated, emergency phone that is preloaded with emergency contact information.

Smartphones and Tablets

Discuss options with your carrier, and to make your international coverage automatically terminate so you don’t get charged every month. If you did not unlock your phone, it will only work on that carrier’s system network, and you will be charged fees. Install Onavo and the Lonely Planet apps before you leave. While you are waiting in the airport, shut down all background apps, so they don't leech data when you switch your phone back on. JiWire  has a directory of free and paid Wi-Fi around the world, subscription companies like Boingo Mobile give access to Wi-Fi networks for a fee.

There are several levels of data use protection to consider.

Leave in airplane mode: Disables call & text, but allows connection to Wi-Fi to send e-mail, surf the Web, and use certain apps (including skype). 

Disable roaming: 3G (your network and other networks). You won’t use data (email, web browsing app updates etc.) unless you’re on Wi-Fi. You can text and call. If you load maps at a hotspot, the the GPS still works when data roaming is turned off. 

Turn off push notifications: Allows you to use your data plan, you just won’t receive automated text updates from your apps.

Set email to manual: If you leave roaming and/or cellular on, avoid automatically downloading attachments. Check email at a Wi-Fi hotspot.

Internet Access

Most cities have internet cafes, and the larger hotels will have internet for a fee. Connect with family and friends via skype at least once before you leave. It works in very remote areas, if the connection is bad turn off the video option, if connection is terrible, use Skype IM. 

Access your UCSF email through outlook/ exchange. Do this once before you leave, as you have to know some specifics. As a backup, get a public account, yahoo or gmail, and cc important (non PHI!) information to the account.

Data Security

It is important to have a data security plan in place before you leave UCSF. Remember that information stored on your laptop can be at great risk for theft or corruption. If you are going to bring your laptop, bring a small hard drive to back it up, then keep them in separate places.

Encryption software may trigger import or export controls. If you are encrypting data, make sure that the software you are using is not going to cause problems at the border. Fancy cell phones and PDA's can also cause problems in some countries and can be confiscated. For additional information, please vist UCSF Computer use policy.

Electricity & Mail 

Last updated: March 11, 2014