Mobile roaming can be a nightmare. Its an expensive service when you travel in Europe, but if go to Africa it’s like throwing gold to the garbage. If you can, don’t take a mobile phone with you. If you must have one, because you need to contact someone so they know where the hell you are, or because you feel more confortable for security reasons, only than, take one with you. But than, prepare yourself to a huge battle with it and all the mobile providers you will be working with during the journey. You will be missing the friends and family you left behind, and, without noticing, you will be calling or texting them just for that once. A good surprise will be waiting for you when you will return home and you will receive the mobile invoice. I know, because I was there. Some advices:
- Check if your mobile is carrier-locked before you leave. If it is, than unlock it or choose another mobile that it isn’t.
- In each country try to buy a pre-charged card , they sell them on the streets and it’s a great way to stay in a budget.
- You don’t have to know the prices in each country (It’s very expensive!)
- Don’t forget that you are paying also all the incoming calls you accept.
- Disconnect immediately all nice features you can find in the mobile, like each time you see the word “data” or “roaming” in the settings, just turn it off. Than promise yourself that you will not turn it on, not even for sending that very important email. Smartphones like iPhone and stuff, will try to “sync”, “backup” and ”update” and whatever they have to do, and you’re dead.
- Text messages have a size limit (128-160 characters, depending of the provider), if you think that you save money sending long messages, think twice. They will charge the cost of one messages for each one 160 characters in your message. And boy, each one it’s already expensive, imagine the price of a really big message, like the ones that GPS systems prepare with all the information about where you are and stuff. Useless and expensive.
- If you really have to call someone, make a very quick voice call, with a local prepaid card.
Services at the borders
When you arrive to some borders, you can have a bunch of “service providers” that will “strongly suggest” that you must use their services or else you will take the risk of staying at the border all day (which can be true due to the complexity of formalities and language difficulties). This happened at Tangier, Spain to Morocco border and mostly at Russo, Mauritania to Senegal border (the very worst case). As politely as you can, refuse the services that you will have to pay in the end, but only if you can afford the time to wait. The service itself is not very expensive, they will accept a small amount of money. The worst is the pressure to exchange money (at the rates they want) and even might ask you to pay taxes that you shouldn’t have to pay. They will try to make you spend money that otherwise you didn’t have to. Just look for the local authorities and start the formalities, preparing yourself to have a lot of patience throughout the process.
Another way of spending bad money is to make a bad currency exchange on the streets. Everybody knows that one of the best ways of getting money in African countries is at the black market on the streets. Normally we know the exchange rate and we can achieve a not so bad negotiation, we have to admit that this is not our core business, or instead of traveling in a Fly scooter I would be working at Wall Street or something. The problem is when you arrive to a border, on a new country, and we still don’t have that new currency money to pay all the taxes, fees and even the guys who kindly “suggest” you that you must use their services or else you take the risk of staying at the border all day ( which can be the true). If you don’t have an idea of the exchange ratio you can do very bad business transactions with this guys. Exchange money is their core business. Believe me I was there. If you cannot take the new currency with you, and you will not find ATM machines in those borders, than the least you can do is to be well informed about the official exchange rate and than try to find an official exchange agency at the border. If there is none, than try to make a good negotiation with those guys, but put a foot in the door in being well informed about the rate.