International Studies & Programs

Communicating Home

Telephone

If you are studying abroad on a short-term program, look into obtaining a phone card from a U.S. telecommunications company that has access numbers abroad. In general, local and long-distance telephone usage is much more expensive in foreign countries. Calls made directly through U.S. long-distance companies are the least expensive way to call the U.S. - simply dial the access code for the country from which you are calling (Country Codes), plus the U.S. country code (always "1"), followed by the appropriate U.S. area code and local number. You may find that local phone cards work better, but it is still advisable to bring a U.S. card.

If you are opting to maintain your current U.S. cell phone abroad, but rely on wifi (e.g. turning off data roaming), make sure you provide our office with a way of contacting you in the event of an emergency and make sure your phone is capable of making emergency phone calls.

Many public phones abroad require phone cards instead of coins. The cards are inserted into a phone slot and debited as you place calls. You can purchase them at post offices, grocery stores, and other locations for varying fixed prices.

Avoid expensive calls from hotel phones - there is usually a surcharge.

If you are living with a host family, ask about phone use. Most families will object to your use of the phone, even for local calls, because they are not free. Since your family may not discuss this situation in advance, it is important to ask what is expected in order to avoid conflicts.

Be aware of the time at the other end of the phone. Even if you call at a reasonable hour where you are, it may be the middle of the night elsewhere! And if you promised to call your family upon arrival, remember to do it!

Read Avoiding High Smartphone Bills Abroad for tips about using apps, wi-fi and other money-saving steps.

International Cell Phones

Most standard U.S. cell phones won't work outside of the United States unless you purchase a SIM card. Alternatively, you could purchase an international cell phone. Before you investigate providers, you should learn a bit about how international cell phones work. The online magazine Travel Insider, has excellent information describing the types of phones and services available abroad.

Before signing up with a new cell phone provider, don't forget to check with your current cell phone provider. You may find that they can temporarily upgrade you to a tri-band phone that is capable of receiving service abroad, allowing you to use your current phone number abroad. Be sure to discuss rates and fees, though, as they are likely to be higher than what you pay for domestic service, and have more restrictions. Remember, too, that you also have the option of buying an inexpensive, disposable phone upon arrival abroad. These typically operate on a pay-as-you-go system.

Note that some study abroad programs, particularly internships or longer-term, direct-enrollment programs, include the cost of student cell phones in the program fee. If you are unsure about this, check with your program leader or OEA program coordinator before ordering a phone on your own.

Should you choose to rent or buy a cell phone from an international cell phone provider, you should definitely comparison shop! When researching cell phone providers, be sure to consider at least the following: countries included, roaming charges, incoming/outgoing call costs, peak times, text message fees, overuse charges, etc.

Warning: frequent cell phone use abroad is generally more expensive than in the United States. Use your phone wisely abroad, or be prepared to pay for the consequences.

Mail

Mail can easily be sent internationally, but will take longer than mail within the United States. Letters should be marked "air mail" to ensure prompt delivery. If it is not marked, mail may be sent by surface mail and can take up to three months to be delivered. Mail sent internationally must include the destination country as a final line in the address to ensure delivery. Prior to departure, you will receive an email with your contact address and telephone number abroad. It is advisable to leave a copy of this information with family members.

Email

Your ability to access your MSU email account will vary according to the facilities available to you on site. You can access your MSU account through the MSU website.

You may wish to obtain a commercial email account (Hotmail, Yahoo, etc.), since these accounts may be easier to access from abroad than MSU accounts. Since you will be responsible for knowing the information that MSU or OEA sends to you through your MSU account, be sure to forward all MSU email to any commercial email account you may be using.

Many students use computers at cyber cafés or bookstores that have hourly rental rates.

Absentee Voting

If you will be absent during a U.S. election and wish to request an absentee ballot, you should do so at least two months before the election. To access the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) and instructions, visit the Federal Voting Assistance website. You can also check with your county registrar or Secretary of State.