When traveling abroad you need to plan ahead for your international phone and data use. We are so used to grabbing our phones for information, being without them can be daunting.
No way to check for where to meet someone. No way to let family at home know you have arrived safely. How do you find where to go in the airport? The list goes on.
You have to plan ahead to have your favorite tech tool working for you. Are you going to one country? Or, are you visiting several? How long are you traveling for? All of these factors will have an impact on choosing your best alternative.
Planning for international phone travel
There are two major ways to manage your phone needs. You can use an international plan with your existing phone and carrier. Or you can take an “unlocked” smartphone. This method requires a prepaid International SIM card for each country you visit.
The easiest way to travel with your smartphone is to use your existing carrier.
Most carriers have some sort of plan. AT&T has a plan that will give you 800mg of data (about a week’s worth), for $120. Verizon’s international plan is $10 per day that you use the phone. T-Mobile and Sprint offer free international use – but the speeds are very slow.
All of the plans require you to set up international service before you leave on your trip. They can switch you from US service when you depart to your destination country when you arrive. Or that is what they say.
In my experience, there seems to be a time lag. My phone doesn’t seem to get I have just changed time zones. When set to “automatic” time settings, your phone should use the time coming in from local signals. I accidentally discovered the cure is to turn it off and then back on.
Reboot when the plane touches down. By the time you are exiting at the gate, you should be on the correct time and have access to local service.
A big plus to this scenario is family and friends will be able to reach you seamlessly. But so will those pesky telemarketers. And they will chew into your time plan. For Verizon, they activate the $10/day fee.
Unlock a smartphone.
Smartphones that are paid for have another alternative. Unlock them following directions on your provider’s website to do this. If you can’t locate them, check with your customer support.
Locked phones only work on a single carrier. Unlocked phones can get a
separate SIM card and work on a local carrier. You will need to buy the SIM card and a local service plan for voice and data.
There are many choices on the internet. Some allow you to purchase and have the card waiting at your hotel when you arrive. SIM cards start at about $29.95 plus the service plan. Swap the cards and you are ready to go.
If you travel a lot, or take longer trips, consider buying a local phone. It will have a separate number, but you can just turn it on when you arrive and off when you leave. Service may be a flat rate or a per minute charge plus data. Do your math… it pays.
Purchase a local smartphone…
Purchasing a local smartphone starts at about $150 depending on make and model. Or you can rent a local smartphone starting at about $19.95 per week. This may have free incoming calls and pay per minute for outgoing calls. Be sure and check about a data plan, or keep the phone in airplane mode unless you are in a free wi-fi zone.
Other travel tips
I did have an unexpected hitch traveling with my US phone. Hotels won’t use that as a contact phone due to international charges. They wanted a local number for contact or limit it to email.
There is an easy way to save money with international service. Set your phone for manual data updates or turn off your wi-fi signal. Only turn it on when in a free wi-fi zone. This can save a bundle in data charges.
When using free wi-fi try to use one that requires a password. This protects your security. If only “public” wi-fi is available, avoid doing any form of transaction it isn’t safe.
Another way to save is to set up Skype. This free service allows you to use the free wi-fi available to call or message your family and friends. Mobile to mobile or a computer device is free. To a landline, it’s pennies to use. Load your Skype account with $5.00 – $10.00 and you will have enough to last a long time.
Another suggestion I found was to take advantage of free Apps. WhatsApp by Facebook allows for free phone and messaging services. WeChat does the same.
Both of these need access to Wi-Fi to function. You leave your phone in airplane mode unless you are in a free wi-fi zone. Switch airplane mode off, use the app and call free.
If you use this with your Verizon international plan, you can block incoming calls by being in airplane mode. Tell family and friends to message you and then use skype or other free app and call them when in a wi-fi zone. No use of your voice plan should mean… no international charges.
Voltage and converter needs. Be sure and check this before you leave. It can be difficult to find something that will connect your US phone into a foreign plug-in. You want to make sure you don’t toast your phone while recharging it.