How to Use Your Cell Phone Abroad
If you’ve ever traveled abroad, you are familiar with the frustrations of getting your cell phone to work. Whether you are trying to access data, texting or making calls, if you aren’t careful to keep your phone on its airplane mode you may incur exorbitant and unexpected charges!
Airplane mode, however, essentially transforms your expensive communication device into little more than an expensive brick (at least whenever you’re away from Wi-Fi and, let’s face it, reliable wireless internet can be a rare luxury outside the country depending on your destination). Want to stay in touch while traveling, but not have to pay an arm and a leg? Check out these 7 solutions to the International Roaming conundrum!
Get a Local SIM Card
In most cases, the best option by far for staying connected when traveling abroad is to get a local SIM card in the country you’re visiting. It’s generally a quick and easy procedure. In most countries there are either SIM card vending machines or telecom stores inside the airport that can help you select, purchase and install the card that fits your needs. You can also check electronics stores and drug stores too.
Most providers today will offer you a 1-5 GB card at an affordable price (usually no more than $20-$25). Most cards will grant you plenty of data access for your stay and a number of free minutes and text messages. One important thing to keep in mind when shopping for SIM cards is that there is most definitely a difference between local SIM cards and prepaid phone cards in that the SIM card will allow you to use your own cell phone while the prepaid phone cards are for landline use and are generally considered to be a scam.
The other main downside of using an international SIM card is that you will have a different phone number and your contacts and messages will not be accessible. Two recommendations here. First, bring a Macbook or iPad if you are an iPhone user and you can do all your iMessaging with your secondary device. Second, do not take out the local SIM once it’s set up otherwise you may lose connectivity and your local SIM may no longer function. Lastly, your smartphone will have to be unlocked before you can change the SIM card so please make sure this is the case before you buy a local SIM card.
Get an International Data Plan with your Local Carrier
If you choose not to go the SIM card route, almost all cell phone providers now offer international data plans of some sort which will allow you to access your data plan using your same phone and phone number for a fee. This option may be more convenient for those who don’t have the time or means to get another SIM card, but you will pay for that convenience.
Verizon, for example, offers the Verizon TravelPass, an international data plan for $10 per day that allows you to use your phone in nearly 200 countries outside the US, Mexico and Canada. Other providers might charge you per minute, text, or MB of data accessed so be careful to check out the package pricing options that your carrier might provide. It is pretty easy to sign up for an international data plan, most carriers will allow you to add international coverage to our existing plan online or over the phone but with the costs associated with it, these plans are most beneficial for shorter trips to avoid racking up huge fees on your phone bill. When going with this option, it may be wise to keep your phone in airplane mode whenever you aren’t actively using it to avoid wasting data.
Call Using VOIP
In the age of smartphones, there are several apps you can use to contact people while traveling abroad. Other than Skype and WhatsApp which we have previously mentioned, Facebook, Viber, Google Hangouts and MagicApp will also allow you to make free international calls over the internet.
Using these apps is free and very convenient but you can only make calls or send messages over them when you have internet access which does tend to limit their effectiveness but for travelers who only need to check in once a day or less, these apps may be all you need.
As you now know, Wi-Fi is free no matter what country you find yourself in, and can be an easy way to stay in touch and use your phone abroad. While it may not be available everywhere, you can usually get internet access at restaurants, hotels and coffee shops.
Just be sure to ask for the password and actually patronize the establishment as most locations will only allow paying customers to access their wireless internet. Sometimes you can get Wi-Fi access in various public places like town squares or parks as well so look around! You should get lucky somewhere, even if you have to get yourself a coffee to go with your internet access. This option is especially useful when traveling to urban or highly developed areas and may not be as feasible when traveling to more sparsely populated locales.
Today, we use our phones for much more than making calls or sending text messages. Oftentimes, they are our lifeline, especially when exploring an unfamiliar area. Without some sort of data access however, the advanced navigation features on your phone may be useless.
Maps.me provides a solution to this problem by generating maps which can be downloaded for offline use. Just be sure to download the map you need while you are connected to Wi-Fi or before you lose data access so that you can use it when you need it. Maps.me is available for pretty much any mobile device you might have with full support for both Apple and Android users. Additionally, the maps are accurate and highly detailed allowing you to find your way in almost any country around the world.
If you have an Apple product such as an iPad, iPhone or Macbook you can stay in touch with friends and family using the default messaging app, known as iMessaging. This works pretty much the same way as the VOIP apps we previously covered – you will need to have Wi-Fi access to send or receive messages and avoid international roaming charges – but if you are staying in a city with good wireless coverage, you can easily make this option work for you.
The biggest advantage to iMessaging is that it’s completely free and in fact, is already installed on all Apple devices. Unfortunately, it is an Apple exclusive app so Android users will have to stick to a third-party app like WhatsApp or Viber. Again, it is important to remember to keep your device in airplane mode and just turn the Wi-Fi on when you have access to be sure to avoid the roaming charges.
While our phones are undoubtedly a vital part of modern life, they can often be a distraction as well. Sometimes a forced disconnect from your day-to-day world can be a blessing in disguise! Instead of surfing the web like you could do from home, get out there and enjoy all your destination has to offer!
You don’t need data access to use the camera function on your phone, so use your device to help you make memories instead of giving in to your digital FOMO and actually missing out on the adventure you planned for yourself! It will feel good to take a break from the constant connection of the modern world, you are on vacation after all!
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