Using your cell phone in the British Virgin Islands

If you want to use a cell phone while sailing in the BVI, you have a couple of options.

  1. Use your own phone. Your US phone will work in the BVI. You should call your carrier before hand to make sure you have international roaming turned on and to check on the rates. While this option is very convenient, it’s often very expensive. T-mobile charges us $3/min to call from the BVI! Good for an emergency but not for calling home to check on the house or the kids.
  2. Rent a phone from the yacht charter company. Most of the yacht charter companies will lease you a cell phone. We found this to be pretty expensive as well. (Most of them won’t charge you unless you use it, so you can pick one up and carry it for emergencies.)
  3. Buy a local SIM card. This is my favorite option as it lets you use your own phone and for a one time $30 fee for the SIM card you can call home for 20-30 cents/minute. I’ll explain how it works below …
  4. Use your laptop and Skype. We’ve done this several times. We take our laptop and when ever we have a wireless signal we call home via Skype on the computer. We usually managed to call home every couple of days.

To use a local SIM card you will need:

  1. An unlocked GSM phone. If you have an AT&T or TMobile phone you most likely have a GSM phone. You can call your carrier to get the unlock code. (Just tell them you are going to be traveling internationally.) If you don’t, you can buy one pretty inexpensively, like this Motorola Motofone for $25.
  2. A local Lime SIM card. You can buy one online from Mr. Simcard or you can buy one when you get there. I recommend buying one online as you never know when and if the stores will be open and have them in stock. The SIM card with $5 on it costs $30. Incoming calls are free and outgoing calls to the US are 20-30 cents/min.
  3. Skype (optional). Add this piece if you’d like your friends to be able to dial a US number to reach you. (Otherwise they will have to dial your BVI number and pay long distance.) You’ll need a SkypeIn number which is $18 for 3 months – this is a US number that calls you on Skype. (I have one because I travel a lot internationally for work.) Then you set up your SkypeIn number to forward to your BVI Lime SIM card. You’ll pay 12-14 cents/min when your friends call your SkypeIn number and you answer on your BVI SIM card. You can also set up your cell phone to forward all calls to your Skype number while you are out of town. But that’s only if you really want to answer all your regular calls while you are sailing around the BVI … after a day or two you probably won’t!

So for $30 for the SIM card and then 20-30 cents/min, you can call home from the BVI on a cell phone. And brag about how you are calling from a yacht in paradise!