Telephones and Tablets

Data Plans

In many countries, data plans cost significantly more than in the U.S. Some devices will allow you to turn off data access while you are traveling. If your device doesn’t, or if you’re not sure how to do this, you might even consider canceling your data plan before you leave and reactivating it upon your return. Consult with the instructions for your device or ask your service provider for the recommended solution.

Columbia faculty or employees with University devices, are cautioned to check with their Department Administrators to ensure that they will avoid exorbitant fees or charges.

Cellular telephones, smartphones and Tablets

Modern U.S. cellular phones will work in most urban areas, but coverage in other areas may be limited or non-existent. Confirm that you have an international plan with your wireless service provider (e.g., AT&T, Verizon) for whatever devices (e.g., cell phone, tablet, PDA) you will be using overseas, and confirm what usage rates will apply in the countries you are visiting, including data use. If you will be using international service regularly or extensively, consider whether an “international roaming” option would lower your total cost. These plans are available from some providers and offer reduced usage charges for a set monthly fee.

Carefully review the charges that will apply in the roaming plan that you choose and adjust your usage patterns accordingly. Services that are included for free, or at low cost, in domestic plans (for instance, texting or download of music and other media files) may incur significant charges in other countries.Wireless devices may also be rented for international use.

Columbia faculty or employees with University devices, should visit the CUIT International Services page to learn about the process and available options.

Mobile Phone Security

Mobile phone security is very important in protecting your identity and personal information. Almost all mobile phones have the ability to send and receive text messages, as well as the ability to connect to the internet. These features are useful and convenient, but malicious people can them to their advantage and, if you don’t set up your phone securely, may be able to:

→ Gain access to account information and personal data

→ Steal your phone and wireless service

→ Infect your cell phone with a virus

→ Lure you to a malicious web site

→ Use your cell phone or mobile device to attack someone or something else

Not only do these activities have implications for your personal information, but they could also have serious consequences if you store University information on your device.

Secure Your Mobile Phone

Lock your cell phone or mobile device. Using the security lock code, or PIN feature, to lock your phone is an important and simple tool that can be used as a safeguard and vital part of mobile phone security.  This feature will make it less valuable to an attacker or someone trying to gain access to your cell phone.

You may want to install a security program. For example, see Lookout Mobile Security. Lookout is free and runs on iPhone, Android, Blackberry and Windows Mobile. It provides anti-virus and other security management features.

Internet Phone and Video: Skype, iChat, and other similar software

Skype (Mac and PC and App available for smartphones and tablets) and iChat (Mac and iPhones) are popular software applications that allow you to reach people over the Internet using voice or video. Additional features of Skype, iChat, and similar products can include instant messaging, file transfer and video conferencing. Some of these products are desktop applications that require a software download and install. Other products require just a web browser. Either way, you may contact your school or department’s desktop support personnel to determine which of these products will meet your needs internationally, and how to install and use them. Please note, however, that some countries prohibit the use of these types of software applications and you should consider verifying whether the country you are visiting may be one.

helpful applications (apps)

SMART Traveler (U.S. Department of State) -Easy access to frequently updated official country information, travel alerts, travel warnings, maps, U.S. embassy locations, and more.

International ISOS (if eligible) - Membership App provides you with quick and convenient access to the benefits of your International SOS membership

OANDA Currency Converter (or similar) - Easy access to up to date currency conversion

Google Translator (or similar) - Translations available through voice otr text to over 60 languages.


Helpful Telephone Terms


Global System for Mobile communications is a common world standard for mobile phones. Its ubiquity makes international roaming common between mobile phone operators, enabling subscribers of one service to use their phones on many other services around the world.


Quad-band Phone

GSM phone that can operate in four different frequency bands:

850 MHz (U.S./Canada/Latin America/Brazil)

900 MHz (Africa/Europe/Brazil/Australia/much of Asia except Japan and South Korea)

1800 MHz (Africa/Europe/Brazil/Australia/Asia)

1900 MHz (U.S./Canada/Latin America/Brazil)

Some companies refer to this as a “world phone,” because the device can work on networks essentially around the world.


SIM Card

A Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card is a portable memory chip used in some models of cell phones. You can switch to a new phone by simply sliding the card out of the old phone and into the new one. When you purchase a pre-paid SIM card:

You may be required to present ID photos, copies of your passport and visa, and possibly proof of residence.

You will be assigned a phone number randomly by the service provider.

You’ll pay in regular increments (like $5 or $10), with the amount of voice and data transmission increasing with the cost of the card.

You will lose minutes not used by the expiration date (e.g., minutes may expire if they are not depleted in 90 days).


Unlocked Phone

A phone “lock” is a software setting that keeps the device “loyal” to one carrier. A locked phone will recognize a SIM card only from a particular carrier, while an unlocked phone will recognize a SIM card from any carrier.

You can purchase unlocked devices at various online retailers such as Dynamism or Skymall.

Consider the following before buying:

→ You’ll probably pay full retail value for an unlocked device. In many countries, you have the option of purchasing an unlocked device and then choosing your service provider.

→ If you plan to be away from the U.S. for more than a few weeks, consider purchasing a disposable phone in the country of travel, specifically for local calls (in addition to using an international phone for U.S. calls).

Jailbreaking:  “Jailbreaking” a Smart Phone (e.g., an iPhone) allows the user to remove the restrictions that prevent you from loading applications not provided through the standard application store (e.g., the iTunes App Store).  While it is legal to jailbreak your phone to install third-party apps not offered by the Apple Store or Android Marketplace, for example, doing so exposes you to several significant risks to the security of your phone and your information on it.  For example:

→ The warranty becomes void

→ Your phone is more open to attack. When you jailbreak your device, it is more accessible from the outside than it was before the jailbreak

→ Your phone could become less stable

→ Each time Apple or the applicable retailer issues an update, you’ll need to jailbreak your phone again

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