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Want cell service abroad? Try a cheap local phone

Not all phones will work abroad, and even if yours does, you could end up with roaming charges unless you sign up for an international calling plan before you go.

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Chatting at a coffee shop in Cologne, Germany.

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WORCESTER, Vt. — To prepare for a trip to Tuscany, Paul Boffa visited a local Verizon store to learn about options for taking his mobile phone with him.

Boffa, a musician and teacher who lives in Vermont and travels overseas infrequently, quickly learned that staying in touch with home would be more complicated than he'd thought. A salesman told Boffa and his wife, Maya, about service plans that provide international roaming, but said they couldn't use their own phone overseas.

Then the salesman took pity on them and gave them some good advice: "Let me tell you how I do it when I go to Bosnia. Just get a cheap phone and put a new SIM card in it and just use up that card."

And that's what the pair will do.

While almost anyone, anywhere, can log onto the Internet and read e-mail with easily recognizable technology, things aren't nearly as simple when it comes to communicating by voice. U.S. travelers face a bewildering array of options when they plan a trip to another country.

Not all phones will work abroad, and even if yours does, you could end up with some very expensive roaming charges unless you sign up for an international calling plan before you go. Some carriers, like AT&T, can pro-rate an international plan so that it's only in effect for the duration of your trip.

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