I opened the newspaper — and you won’t believe what happened next *

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Ring! out the old and ring! in the new: going back to the future for a flip phone.
Ring! out the old and ring! in the new: going back to the future for a flip phone.

We have a local phone. It only took, what, nearly three months?

Let’s just say there wasn’t any overriding, compelling, just-gotta-have-it reason to acquire another phone.  Rose and I are big e-mail users and the communications lag suits our new lifestyle just fine.

It used to be like this:

I text you. You text me. I text you back. You text me again. Then I ….  And, oh my god, if there is a lag of more than two minutes I am freaking out and wondering what I said to so piss you off that you are ignoring me…. I mean, don’t you freaking care, man?

Now, it is like this:

I e-mail you then get a cup of coffee, do some writing, read a book, go for a bike ride, go to yoga and when I get home you may or may not have e-mailed me back. Not a biggie. We’ll connect soon enough. Island time, mon.

Just the same, when last Thursday’s San Pedro Sun came out – on Friday, because that is how things are done here — with a full page ad for $55 BZD phones with $25 BZD worth of free phone credit from the upstart mobile service provider Smart – excuse me, Smart! Can we just imply the “!”? —  I mean, time to bite the hook. Am I right?

In US dollars, that  Samsung Gusto 2 flip-phone phone with texting and a camera — shades of the Motorola Razor!  — is $27.50 brand new, still in the box. Jeez, back in the old neighborhood you could not get this phone for $27.50 off the back of the truck. If you know what I mean. On Amazon, the Gusto 2 sells for up to $150.

smart-facadeIt had to be a good deal  because, on Saturday morning when I pulled up in front of the Smart showroom on Barrier Reef Drive, there were about 10 bicycles stacked against the front of the building. Inside people filled every seat and lined the walls as two sales agents processed paperwork at what seemed to be a glacial pace.

I say “seemed” because it wasn’t. It was a time-management problem on my part. I was due at yoga class in half an hour. I ran the numbers and decided to split.

One refreshing yoga class and a late breakfast at Estelle’s with Rose later, and I was ready to tackle the Smart showroom once again. It was shortly after 1 p.m. and they’d only just reopened after lunch.

Many retail shops and all government offices here simply close down for the lunch hour. Remember that practice from our youth? Taking lunch? So civilized.

Three people were ahead of me and I hardly got to read more than a few Kindle pages before it was my turn.  In no time at all I had a petite little flip phone in my hand — Yeah, bring back 2004! – a local phone number and $125 worth of phone credit.

I know I said the phone came with $25 worth of free credit. But Saturday was also a “double credit” day for Smart. I think it only happens once a month. So, I dropped another $50 BZD and picked up $100 BZD in phone credits. “Double credit” Day also explains about half the crowd jammed into the Smart showroom that morning.

So, here’s the deal: for the grand sum of $52 USD we get a cell phone and $125 BZD in phone credits, good for the next three months.  Now, Belize calls are 55 cents/minute and international calls are 60 cents/minute or in US currency, 27.5 cents and 30 cents. But — by my math and logic –because I got double credits, local calls translate to 13.75 cents and international to 15 cents. Oh, and Smart does not round up minutes.

So now, what to do with our iPhones, which were costing us $190 USD a month – in airplane mode with data blocked? In other words, an expensive pair of handheld WiFi platforms.  Answer:  Put AT&T in cold storage.

For about as long as it took to buy the Smart phone, I was able to get an AT&T customer service rep to suspend our service. Our iPhone WiFi platforms now cost a total of $20 a month– saving at least $170 a month — and when we return to the States for a few weeks in July-August we can turn the phone service back on with a single click on the AT&T website.

Then turn it back off again when we return to Belize.

I think this is a good solution. Besides, I still don’t completely understand the concept of “unlocking” an iPhone, saving date to iTunes then redumping it on to the phone after a local chip is installed. I’m just a simple guy seeking a simple solution to life’s thorny problems.

The single consistent piece of advice we’ve gotten from expats is “get a crappy phone and fill it with minutes. You will eventually lose it/break it/have it stolen … so why throw good and limited money away?”

Why, indeed.

Some expats say they raid their kids’ desks for old unused phones when they go home to visit. Yeah, when I think of all the obsolete phones I had kicking around in desk drawers for years ….

I dunno, you veteran expats, chime in: Was this a good solution or not?

* About the headline: The  style of headline is what we online news types affectionately call “click whoring.” It is very popular on websites that slavishly seek massive page views or clicks at the expense of real audience. Like Huffington Post, Slate, etc. Did you know you were being manipulated when you respond to these type headlines? If not, then, you really “won’t believe what happened next.” I promise to never do it again.


7 thoughts on “I opened the newspaper — and you won’t believe what happened next *

    Karoline said:
    May 6, 2014 at 11:42 am

    Great deal!!! My husband and I bought crappy flip phones about a year ago on middle street for $75 US each and we could not hear the ring. We now use our old I Phones (unlocked by Verizon) and I just load them with Digicell minutes before we come from the US through the Hot Belize Travel Guide -Marie is awesome to work with!!! With I Cloud we have no problem traveling back and forth. We gave one of the flip phones to our caretaker.
    Great blog by the way!!!


      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      May 6, 2014 at 12:15 pm

      Thanks, Karoline! Good tips on phone practices. Rose and I met Phil and Marie once and had a very enjoyable conversation. Mostly we wave and say hi to each other as we pass on the road! Busy, busy. I downloaded the “Hot” site after we met them. Here’s their Facebook page for anyone interested: https://www.facebook.com/HotGuideBelize .


    Maya Kroth said:
    May 6, 2014 at 6:44 pm

    Unlocking the iPhones is most definitely worth it and not very complicated at all. Backing up the phone, unlocking it, and then reinstalling from the backup is something you only have to do once and it takes 10 minutes, max. I too was spending $20/mo with AT&T just to keep my voicemail active while I used a Spanish SIM, but when I moved to Mexico I decided I didn’t want to waste that money anymore, so I routed my old SD phone number to Google Voice, canceled AT&T entirely, and now use a pay-as-you-go plan in Mexico that costs me about $25/mo. I have a T-Mobile chip that I switch to when I’m in the US that costs $3/day for unlimited everything. Totally worth it. Screw AT&T.


      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      May 6, 2014 at 7:33 pm

      I guess that is what we ultimately must do.Thanks, Maya! I went to Google Voice and it says they do not support overseas calling. Must be old information. This is good stuff!


    Maya Kroth said:
    May 6, 2014 at 6:46 pm

    PS: T-Mobile also lets you switch to more cost-effective plans if you’re staying in the US longer than a few days … if you were there for a month, $3/day sounds like a lot, but there are other much cheaper temporary plans you can select.


    Emily said:
    May 8, 2014 at 1:04 pm

    One other thing to note with Smart service: if you do happen to have your phone stolen or lost (as happened to me on the island — it jumped out of my backpack on a bike ride when I’d forgotten to zip the flap), you can go to Smart, and they can lock the lost phone and move your minutes to a new phone. I did that immediately once I retraced our entire ride with no sign of my phone. We happened to have another unlocked “dumb” phone we’d brought down from the US, and they transferred my minutes from the lost phone to the new phone and set it up for Belize. I was relieved as I’d built up a lot of minutes by then! It only cost me the $40 BZD to activate the new phone.


      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      May 8, 2014 at 1:13 pm

      Good to know, thanks, Emily. So far, the bumpy roads have taken one set of keys and one bike lock from us. Nothing too critical, although Rose’s favorite yoga keychain went with it.


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