Use a USA Based Phone in India

Posted On: November 12, 2012

Many United States based Non-Resident Indians (here after, NRIs) travel to India every year with USA based cell phone carriers. Many wonder, 

“How can I use a USA based phone in India?”

Step 1: Find out if your phone is GSM or CDMA

  • Carriers T-Mobile and AT&T are GSM compatible. (Verizon and Sprint are CDMA phones.)
  • GSM phones are easier to carry and use in India.
  • GSM phones allow you to exchange the SIM card. The SIM card gives a phone number for whichever phone the SIM card is placed in. This allows you to buy a SIM card in India to assign your US based phone an India-based phone number.

Step 2: Remove Network Lock

  • As you learnt in step 1, the SIM card is the identity of the phone. Carriers do not want people to swap their subsidized phones with another carrier. For instance, AT&T would not want a customer to buy an AT&T smartphone and use it on the T-Mobile network. To prevent this, they put a Network Lock on the phone. The Network Lock ensures that an AT&T phone can be used with an AT&T SIM card only.
  • Before going to India, call your carrier and ask them to unlock your phone for use abroad.
  • If you have AT&T and your contract is less than six months old, you may have to convince the operators that:
o You will be returning to the US.
o Unlocking your phone is a temporary requirement.
o Your US based contract will continue upon return. (Beware that if you do not return, US based contracts often charge heavy fees for breaking your contract.)

In case the carrier does not agree to remove the lock, there are websites that will unlock the phone for a price. The unlock process for most phones is simple; it involves entering a special code. Smartphones with iOS operating systems like the iPhone require some software to be installed or run but, that can be done.

Step 3: Buy a SIM card for GSM based phone in India.
In India, go to a mobile shop, and purchase an Indian based SIM card. To install the new SIM card, follow these steps:

  1. Open the rear panel of your phone.
  2. Remove the battery pack carefully.
  3. Remove the previous SIM card.
  4. Replace it with the new SIM card.
  5. Ensure that you keep your US based SIM card for reuse after your India visit.

So, you may wonder, what can I do if my phone is not a GSM phone?

  1. If your phone is not GSM, it is a CDMA phone. CDMA phones are compatible with Verizon and Sprint.
  2. If you have a CDMA based phone you can buy a cheap prepaid phone once you land in India.
  3. If you have a Verizon phone, you can enquire with the carrier about a “Verizon World Phone” or its current related international option.

I hope these tips will help you in having an uninterrupted cell phone connection on your international trips between the USA and India.

Photo credit: Krishna Kumar, used with permission.

Author, Jennifer Kumar works with global talent to prepare them for international and expat assignments with their American counterparts. Contact her today for more information.

Chris Sufi is a freelance editor who lives in Bangalore, India. Her personal interest in language and communication inspires her to contribute through proofreading and editing. 

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