Staying connected while overseas
Thanks to today’s smaller, smarter, lighter and faster technology, you can easily stay connected to the people you love and services you’re accustomed to while living overseas. Understanding what your options are can help you choose the plans and services that fulfill your needs.
Did you know that if active-duty servicemembers have an existing contract for a stateside mobile account and are deployed or PCS overseas, the contract can be suspended without additional fees or extended contracts? It’s part of Section 535a of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). Visit the SCRA website for details at scra.dmdc.osd.mil.
Prepaid or unlocked phones – In Europe, you can either use prepaid or no-contract phones, or sign up for a service contract with a provider. Benefits of prepaid or unlocked phones include the freedom of owning your phone, the ease of changing providers, less expensive fees and no credit checks. With an unlocked, GSM-compatible smartphone, you simply buy a European SIM card with a prepaid, loaded amount of data and talk time. If you want to change providers, just buy a different SIM card. If you’re running low on minutes, purchase vouchers to add talk or data minutes to your SIM card. If you don’t want a complicated smartphone, you can buy a simple cellphone and prepay for usage as you go. SIM cards, vouchers and pay-as-you-go phones can be found at grocery stores, kiosks and gas stations. You can also buy minutes via SMS text and over the phone. Read more about prepaid plans at prepaid-data-sim-card.wikia.com/wiki/Germany.
If your phone isn’t GSM-compatible or your U.S. provider won’t unlock it, you can go online and buy unlock codes, as well as new and used unlocked phones. Check with local online yard-sale sites or related Facebook groups for a used phone at a fraction of the new price, which can be several hundred dollars.
Contracts – Service contracts offer a wide selection of devices, prices, minute plans, add-ons, features, customer service and device insurance. While some providers offer minimum length of contracts or U.S. military deployment suspense or cancellation clauses, service agreements on average last 24 months, and breaking a contract can be expensive. Most contracts also auto-renew on the contract end date. To avoid, submit a letter of cancellation no less than 90 days prior to the end of your contract period. If you want to extend your service, you may send another letter that retracts the cancellation.
Service providers – Most major bases in Europe have telecommunications retail stores. In Germany and Italy, you’ll find Exchange Mobile Centers, a partnership with SIGA Telecom, and TKS, a Vodafone Kabel Deutschland company. Both have tailored services and programs specifically for U.S. military stationed in Europe; check out their websites for details about current services, plans and specials at www.siga24.com and www.tkscable.com. You’ll also find other service providers in a variety of kiosks and stores off base.
For those on base, contact the Exchange about available services. In Germany and Vicenza, Italy, AAFES provides tiered, high-speed internet services through TKS and Telecom-Italia. No contracts are required, and no installation, activation or equipment fees will be charged. For more on CONNECT services, visit www.shopmyexchange.com/mobile-center.
For those off base, services will depend on what technology is available where you live. Your village (or home) may have digital ISDN, DSL or cable internet. Talk to your landlord about phone, cable and internet services available in your community before you start calling for services. Also, knowing the previous tenant’s full name and phone number can help when setting up phone service. Just like with cellular service, you may be offered contracts when you establish service. Call Family Readiness or Army Community Service if you need translation services before signing contracts. Also know that internet installation off base can take several weeks.
VoIP, phones through the internet - A “Voice over Internet Protocol” or VoIP service allows you to make calls over the internet. You can set up a stateside number that rings your European phone line (cell or home) and allows stateside folks to call you for free. To make calls, you can buy minutes and pay as you go, prepay or sign an annual contract. Some VoIP providers offer both domestic and international calling plans that range from $3 to $30 a month for unlimited calling. Most VoIP providers also offer either free or cheap apps for smartphone and tablet platforms that allow free face-to-face video calls between two parties with a webcam. VoIP providers also allow you to establish virtual stateside numbers, so callers can call through your computer without receiving additional international charges. For a list of VoIP providers and services, check out this website’s latest reviews: voip-service-review.toptenreviews.com.
Satellite and cable
OK, let’s talk TV. Just because you are overseas does not mean you can watch only host-country programming.
Satellite TV – American Forces Network (AFN) Europe provides U.S. Armed Forces stationed overseas free satellite programming with current networks, prime channels and select pay-per-view options, including news, sports, music, entertainment and movies. Those off base will need a satellite dish (most houses have one installed) and an AFN decoder (D9865 or newer model), which can be found new at the Exchange or used at the base thrift store, online classifieds and yard-sale services. In Germany, only a cable cord is needed to access AFN on base. Find out more about AFN, its smartphone app, decoders, installation, and current TV and radio programming schedules at AFN’s website, www.afneurope.net.
Sky TV provides popular English programming across Europe. You’ll need a satellite dish and Sky decoder; visit www.sky.com and check with your local satellite installation services for Sky TV information. They can go over plan options and help set up your subscription.
Cable TV – Many cable providers in Europe have English-speaking channels, including CNN and BBC World, BBC Entertainment and more. Those off base should contact providers to see what English programming is offered. In Germany and Vicenza, Italy, TKS offers cable TV service on and off base, with tiered plans from basic to high-definition programming. For more information, visit www.tkscable.com.
Subscription services – Your favorite programs may be available through paid online subscription services, such as Netflix or iTunes (used with an Apple TV). Be sure the service you are using does not violate copyright laws.
If you have questions about contracts or need help navigating the language barrier, you have access to translators at Family Readiness centers and Army Community Service centers on your installation who are ready to help. For those in Germany, remember that TKS provides English-language materials, and all retail outlets at your installation’s Exchange provide English-speaking customer service. So, get connected and let the folks back home know you’re doing just fine.
Want to stay up on the latest news affecting servicemembers and civilians stationed overseas? Stars and Stripes offers smartphone and tablet apps to let you get breaking news, see what's trending, and stay connected to Stripes while you’re on the go. Visit www.stripes.com and www.stripeseurope.com.