I have to admit that my first experience with a cellphone was when I moved to Batam in January 2012; up until that point I had never owned one, nor did I want to. My new employer, however, insisted on me having one and even paid for the first phone, a knock-off iPhone, which broke down in two months and was replaced by a Nokia that cost about $60.
That had been the only cellphone I had experience with until returning to the U.S. for a long visit this week. I figured I would only need to buy another SIM card once I arrived and could use my phone as usual. Turns out the U.S. and Indonesia cellphone systems are somewhat different.
In Indonesia, you buy a phone and add a SIM card and minutes (called pulsa). A simple process. Since there is only one mobile provider, there was no choice necessary. But in the U.S., the process is more involved.
Naively, I first went to a Walmart and asked the clerks in the phone section for a SIM card. “With which company?” I was asked. “I don’t care,” I replied.
“You will need to buy a new phone with a service plan,” I was then told. “My phone works perfectly fine,” I answered. “No need for me to buy a new phone.” Wrong.
I walked away, looking for my daughter who might be able to explain my situation to the clerks. But she decided we would go to Best Buy, where the salespeople actually have cellphone knowledge.
At Best Buy, I sought out a salesperson in the mobile phone section, told him I bought the phone in Indonesia and just wanted a local SIM card. He promptly took me to a section where I could choose a card from various carriers. He recommended AT&T.
Then we opened up my phone and discovered the SIM card slot was smaller than used in the States. I wold need a new phone. Suddenly, it looked like I was going to have to shell out hundreds of dollars for something I would hardly use.
Seeing my plight, the clerk offered an alternative – a pre-paid phone. He showed me one that sold for $8 and I said OK. Then I had to select a carrier for the service and selected AT&T. Not knowing how much would be charged per minute, but knowing my usage would be minimal, I decided on $30/month with a phone-in recharge of minutes. The minutes roll over.
When I was told I would still need to go online and register and do whatever was necessary to activate the account, I was concerned but figured I could handle it. A second clerk intervened, however, and said they could do all the activation for me. Good service.
So now I have a new flip phone, a new number and not a clue how to operate the thing, although I did manage to enter my daughter’s number.
And for those who recommend a smartphone, I do not see the need for spending that kind of money. I rarely need Internet access away from my laptop, although the one app I would like to have in Asia would be a translation program. I’ll deal with that at another time.
I’m saving my old phone for when I return to Asia.