One of my smartest USA exit purchases was an unlocked iPhone4. USD$800 was a bitter pill to swallow. Now a year later, it numbers within my top 5 of things I would grab if I had to flee a burning building. I’m sure that to my Brazilian in-laws my constant fiddling with this little black brick it is one more symptom that I’m nuts. Since Brazil is just catching the smart phone wave, the fact that I walked in with an unlocked phone means that I pay just USD$20/month for cell phone and data service. It is my calculator, pocket translator, Portuguese classes, notebook, phone, MP3 player, web browser, and above all my lifeline to loved ones at home.
It seems that everyone on the internet has a list of Apps that they love. So if you were wondering how I managed to make the transition to the Brazilian outback, here’s my list of Apps that I consider essential to long-term international travel/living.
Maps – FREE – Standard Maps App that comes with the phone. When you’re in a strange country and trying to navigate a city you don’t know and aren’t sure that you’d be able to remember all the directions someone fires at you in his strange accent, having Maps point you flawlessly in the correct direction is a blessing and a half. We’ve even spotted a GoogleMaps car on the roads here in Brazil! Just be warned–the rural areas have lots of roads that just aren’t on the map, and when the roads go straight for miles and look like they could have been drawn with a ruler odds are they were. Good for cities only.
Clock – FREE – Just the standard iPhone clock. I’ve programmed it with all the time zones of my loved ones. With daylight savings time across multiple countries and multiple time zones, I would be lost without it. Since I can only call home when I’m near internet access (often on market Saturdays), knowing at a glance who’s still sleeping and who might be through their first cup of coffee keeps me in my friends’ good graces.
Facebook – FREE – Silly as it may seem, Facebook has enabled me to stay in touch with the daily details of most of my friends’ lives, all that richness that is the fluff on the friendship peanut butter sandwich. Sure I could do this without it, but it wouldn’t be nearly as sweet and my friendships wouldn’t stick together nearly as well without it. In addition to “what’s new?” conversations, I use Facebook to share albums of photos of my new life, easily sharable even with those who don’t have Facebook by pasting a link address into an email.
Skype – FREE – Both Skype and GoogleTalk have cheap, cheap rates for calling phone numbers in the USA. At $0.02/min, I can’t go wrong. Skype will forward my calls to my Brazilian cell phone (warning: that’s more expensive and costs both forwarding and cell phone minutes, but still worth it to me to get that call) as well as show my Brazilian cell in my friends’ caller-ID. I usually only use this when on a wireless network, but when I do it’s a delight. No talking into a computer or other weirdness.
Camara+ – USD$0.99 – I’ve ditched my digital camera and the iPhone standard camara App completely, and now use this one exclusively. Friends and family at home thirst for a view of our new life. This App gives me quick, beautiful, high-resolution photos every time with the ability to filter and polish them further. According to some reviews the most recent version of this App is glitchy (I use it so much that I refuse to upgrade until the reviews clear up), so be warned.
Ultralingua – USD$19.99 – I tried to get along with free and cheap dictionary Apps for a while, then I bit the bullet and bought this one. Worth every penny. An extensive dictionary, quick links to look up word definitions on the internet, and a feature that provides endless verb conjugations, this App has taken me from the basic “What’s the word for that again?” to the advanced “What’s the past subjunctive tense of that irregular verb?”
Kindle – FREE – I usually use this App on our iPad. With it I can get cheap reading material wherever I am. It also has meant that I can review and annotate PDFs about small business development. All very useful when living in rural Brazil and the closest printer is a drive into town and the closest bookstore is 3 hours away.
NPR news – FREE – A simple App that keeps me in contact with news at home. Best of all, it loads all of its simple-text content at once. So even with my slower-than-mud rural data network I can still read what’s up with national politics and current events.
Home Banking – FREE – One more reason that I love my credit union. If your bank has an App, I highly recommend downloading it. I’ve been able to check my balance, transfer money from savings into checking, and issue payments to friends back home who are taking care of assorted details for me.
GlobeConvert – FREE – This brilliant little do-dad with a very easy interface helps me switch from meters to feet, ounces to m,L, Fahrenheit to Celsius and even real-time exchange rates for $USD to Brazilian reais. Beyond the obvious applications, I probably couldn’t cook from a recipe without it.
Traffic Rush – USD$0.99 – This game tops the charts as the international crowd pleaser. Easy to learn, few English instructions, and mesmerizing game-play, this one charms little kids and grand-parents alike. It’s a great icebreaker when family members curiously peer over my shoulder at the sweeping motions I make on my phone. Maybe someday it will convince them that I’m not (as) crazy after all.