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Most people now consider mobile phones to be an essential - but how do you find a deal that fits your your budget? We’ve put together this guide on how to find the best mobile phone deal, and what to ask before you buy.
You may already have a mobile phone and a contract with a carrier in your country of origin. While that may mean that you have instant access to a phone as soon as you arrive in the UK, it will also mean that you’ll be paying a much higher rate for international calls.
You may be able to talk to your mobile phone provider before you arrive to see if you can change your existing contract to incorporate cheaper international calls from the UK – although even this could be very expensive. If you are coming to the end of an existing contract, then it may be worth waiting and arranging a new contract with a UK provider.
Almost certainly yes, but to cut costs it’s wise to get an international SIM card in the UK - although your phone must be ‘unlocked’. This is usually simple and most high street phone shops will do this for a small fee. This will give you more options and allow you to utilise ‘Pay As You Go’ (PAYG) services so you can properly budget your costs.
In fact, the university’s International Office will give you a free mobile SIM card with a small amount of credit on your arrival, so you can phone home and let your family know you’ve arrived safely.
The UK’s major mobile phone companies have a range of international call plans that can dramatically reduce costs. The largest suppliers are O2, Orange, Vodafone, T-Mobile and Three, who provide international call packages to countries around the world, including the Far East, Hong Kong, China, India and Malaysia.
They also have deals which allow cheap calls to the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, and other countries such as Nigeria, Canada and the USA for just 1p/minute. These calls also apply to EU locations including Romania and Poland, making it a great way for international students to stay in touch with family and friends cheaply.
If you already have a contract with a UK carrier such then another way of cutting your costs is to negotiate a new deal with them. They don’t want to lose customers so don’t be afraid to ask. They may offer a ‘bolt-on’ deal to your contract that allows international calls to certain countries at a reduced rate.
An alternative is to purchase a PAYG phone. This will allow you to easily budget your calls, as you can only make calls if the phone has credit. Top-ups can be bought in a wide range of shops, and you can even top-up using the phone itself, so you don’t necessarily have to go back to the shop.
However, whilst PAYG is a great way to budget local and UK calls, it’s a very expensive way to make international calls. If you intend to be in the UK for more than a year, it’s worth considering a 12-month contract instead, as this will give you access to a whole range of ‘bolt-on’ extras.
If you brought a smartphone, or switched to a UK provider on a monthly contract (in which case you may have got one at a greatly reduced cost, or even free), you can use it to access mobile broadband. The costs involved are coming down all the time, and some providers offer deals with very generous data allowances. You can even get completely unlimited mobile broadband, and sometimes it can be even faster than conventional broadband. So if the signal strength is good enough where you live you could save yourself the cost of home broadband entirely, and simplify things by just having the one contract.
However, do be wary of this. Whilst it can sound tempting, and would indeed allow you to work remotely via an attached laptop (perhaps whilst on a field trip or placement), there can be drawbacks. Some providers specifically prohibit the use of ‘tethering’ to a laptop or other computer, so you won’t be able to use your allowance for anything but phone use. Plus, if you lose your phone (or even just your charger!) you can be left without any connection at all.
That said, it can offer real convenience, and if you use services like Skype, you could even use your mobile broadband to make international calls remotely – and at no additional charge. If you do choose to look into it further, use an Ofcom accredited comparison site to be sure you don’t pay more than you need to. You can compare mobile broadband prices here. There can be big price differences between the various mobile broadband deals available. And contract lengths and download limits are something you should definitely take into account too.
You may find you have the opposite problem – very poor signal where you live. This can be a real issue, and everything from trees to thick walls may mean you miss calls and important messages. However, there are ways of avoiding, or even fixing this.
The providers themselves offer postcode searches which can show you maps of where you live and what the signal strength is like there. This should help you avoid getting stuck in a contract or with a phone that doesn’t actually work where you live.
If you’ve done this and still find that your signal is poor (and that can happen), then the provider may be able to offer you a signal ‘booster’ - sometimes free of charge. These use your home broadband to route the call, so you’ll need broadband installed and you’ll have to be sure frequent use doesn’t push you over any download limits.
If you find yourself in this situation, but don’t have broadband installed then be sure to check out the available broadband deals online using an Ofcom accredited comparison site to make sure you don’t pay more than you have to. You can compare and find the best broadband deals here.
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Pre-departure Guide for International Students 2015
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