Communication is a pretty important aspect of study abroad that usually gets overlooked. Don't wait until you're sitting in your room with no way to call your parents back home, and no way to get in touch with those kids you just met in class to finally start looking at ways to keep in contact.
Do yourself a favor and consider your options ahead of time for communication abroad. There is a very good possibility your cell phone won't work once you arrive at your study abroad destination.
The chance that your phone will work abroad is very slim. However, you’ll probably still be able to use many of the functions on the phone with the exception of calling and texting. Why is this? The U.S. developed wireless technology, known as CDMA, that’s incompatible with the technology deployed in the rest of the World, called “Global System for Mobiles” or GSM. While you can buy U.S. mobile phones that use the GSM system, these phones work on different radio frequencies than those in most other countries. It may be best to visit your local cell phone realtor and ask about the specifics of your cell phone plan and how it will, or won’t, work while you are abroad. Sometimes, you can pay for an international plan ahead of time for just the time that you plan on being away. Again, researching your options ahead of time is what’s most important.
If your cell phone provider at home can’t guarantee that your phone will work while abroad, you should consider visiting a store specializing in cell phones soon after arriving at your study abroad destination. My advice is simple: buy a phone that allows you to make calls and text - that’s all you need. It’ll probably be the cheapest one on the shelf. Having studied abroad in both Europe and Asia, and also having bought a phone in both locations, I can already tell you that you will probably end up with the same or nearly the same cheap phone no matter where you go.
Next, you will need a network. Just like in the U.S., you can either have a pay-as-you-go plan, or a monthly plan. Be sure to weigh out the costs, and remember that if you want to have a monthly plan, you will more than likely need a bank account. My advice is to look very carefully at the different aspects of each plan. I studied abroad with a few friends from my home university, so we all chose a network that allowed us to make free calls and texts to each other - really convenient since we communicated with each other the most.
I’ve already gotten into Skype, but here’s a reminder. Skype is one of the most efficient means of communication while abroad. The great thing about Skype is that you can instant message, video chat and call landlines all with one program, and at no or little cost. As I mentioned earlier, it’s so easy to set up and use that you really can’t afford not to.
If you are living in a dorm, and your university provides you with a phone in your room, check and see if you can use it to call other rooms. Sometimes room phones will have an extension, and to call other rooms, all you have to do is dial that extension. Also check with your study abroad program about making calls outside of the dorm. Are you responsible for charges to call local businesses (if you want to order take out for dinner, for example) or charges for international calls to call your family in the U.S.? Make sure you know what you are responsible for before you start dialing.