ESL, Q&A, Travel Advice, Trip Prep and Planning

Q&A – Cell Phones and ESL

11 Comments 25 February 2010

I get many emails from travelers all over the world asking me questions about my travels.  Here are some of the recent ones that are great to share with everyone!  If you have a question, don’t hesitate to ask!

Q:  from Dave – Brooklyn

I came across your blog and was very impressed by your decision to leave your corporate life and travel. My wife and I are planning a similar trip next year and would like to spend some time in SE Asia. I have a question regarding how you managed your cash while in Vietnam.  Did you use ATMs primarily or is there some other method. I bank with HSBC which is pretty global but I would like to avoid ATM fees. Also, did you use a special kind of mobile phone. I’m wondering if I should get an AT&T travel plan and then use my phone abroad.


You ask a great question – and I have some good news – there are HSBC ATMS’s all over Saigon (and Hanoi).  I ALWAYS manage my cash via ATM when traveling – it really is the easiest way and you get the best conversion rate – plus you don’t have to carry so much cash with you at once.  Nearly everywhere I’ve went in the world I’ve been able to find ATMS that work (Peru and parts of S. America and Africa were a bit difficult to find an ATM that took Mastercard backed debit cards).  ATMS’s in other countries rarely charge transaction fees – or you can talk to your bank and see if they can waive it somehow while you are international.  Don’t use Travelers checks – they are certainly a thing of the past.  I normally simply travel with ATM card and carry a bit of emergency US dollars (in new bills as some countries won’t accept old bills) just in case I can’t find another alternative.

Regarding your question about cell phone – my best advice is to use your existing phone – but unlock it from your US carrier so that you can add other SIM cards.  When I arrive in a country – I just buy a SIM card from that country (if I plan to be there for a while) and use that – it’s so much cheaper.  The US carriers will still charge you way too much; even on their ‘international plans’.  I can’t stress enought the benefit of an unlocked phone.  The US is the only place in the world that locks their phone to specific carriers and it’s really frustrating.  If you need to unlock your phone – just do some searches on craigs list and you’ll find people that will do it.  I went to China Town in NYC and had mine unlocked – there’s a hacker somewhere who will do it!  Or just buy a cheap simple phone in a different country and use that as your ‘travel phone’.  If it’s cheap enough…no one will want to steal it!

Q:  from Susan – Ireland

Wondered if you can recommend specific TEFL programmes? I have a ton of work experience, including teaching and training, as well as a good educational background, but I assume for most positions now days, you must be TEFL certified? and i hear that CELTA is the best?


I can’t say that I’m any expert on ESL certification.  I can only tell you that I did some research and decided to get my CELTA certification as I had also heard it was the best.  Yet in retrospect – I don’t think it CELTA vs. TEFL matters at all – especially with your other credentials.  I took my certification while in NYC – but it’s much more expensive to do in the US.  The school where I taught in Vietnam actually offered CELTA certification there for half the price and then you could apply for jobs with them.  So – it’s good to potentially research potential certification options (TEFL or CELTA) in the city where you want to travel to.  Also with credentials like yours – you may not need any further certification  – you may be able to apply for university ESL jobs in various cities…which would pay better!  CELTA certification doesn’t teach you anything about grammar…it teaches you how to teach and manage a classroom – these are skill you likely already have!  A good place to look for what jobs are out there and what the requirements are is – I get their daily newsletter about openings around the world.

Your Comments

11 Comments so far

  1. Stacy says:

    I got great advice from another traveler about how to avoid bank withdrawl fees. Look into Charles Schwab. They offer an atm card that not only doesn’t charge you for withdrawing from any atm worldwide but they also refund (at the end of the month) any fees that any atm charges you for withdrawing (which is helpful for trips domestically). I haven’t come across any atms abroad that charged me a fee to withdraw but I had a stayed with my bank they would have charged me $5 every overseas withdraw. The Charles Schwab bank card help me save probably close to $150 in fees during my trip. You do have to open up a brokerage account to get the debit card but it’s free and I haven’t used it once to this day.

    • admin says:

      Thanks Stacy for that recomendation! I found that I NEVER was charged a fee using my US based bank debit/credit card. Actually – it’s totally frustrating because in America I always get charged fees, but internationally there are no fees!

  2. Thank you for the tip about cash. I have always on the fence about using ATM but hearing from an experience traveler helps. :)

  3. Mark McClure says:

    I like that one about unlocking US phones – Sherry, we’ll get you a job in IT Security yet 😉

  4. Anil says:

    Good stuff – a crappy cell phone is a good tool to have, nobody wants to steal that old Nokia!

  5. Lynn says:

    I second just buying a cheap phone once you get overseas and then using SIM cards from whatever country you are in. You might still have problems in Japan and Korea however – I think if you want a phone that will work everywhere (Japan, Korea, US and elsewhere) you need a quadband?) But alternatively I know you can rent a phone while in Japan if need be….do some research depending on what countries you plan on visiting and figure it out from there. Definitely don’t use a US provider plan. I’d also hesitate to use the cheap calling-cards. We tried using Penny-talk when we first moved to Hong Kong, but it was a bust; cheap calls meant incredibly poor service.

  6. Robin says:

    Can you share what school you taught at in Vietnam?

    • admin says:

      I taught at ILA Vietnam for the first 5 months and then I started teaching privately at a factory. I taught business English at the factory to the office workers – it was a great gig!

  7. Jenna says:

    Thanks for the cell phone advice. I’ve heard that you can still use the apps/maps/clock/etc on your Droid or iPhone all over the world for free – it’s just the calls that are charged. Do you know if that’s true?

    • Sherry says:

      Hi Jenna,
      I can use the apps and the map internationally only if I have a wifi connection. If you app required some sort of internet connectivity then you either need wireless internet access or you need the cell service turned on. When I travel abroad with my locked Iphone I just put it in airline mode but turn on the wifi – that way I can still use it all if I have wifi access. Hope that helps a little!

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Sherry traveling the world

I'm Sherry, a corporate cube dweller turned nomadic traveler. I travel to off-the-beaten-path destinations to bring you unique travel experiences and photography. But it's not just about travel, it's also about life experiences of a middle age wanderer.
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