Cell phones have made it easy to stay in touch while traveling, but many people understandably become confused (international data plans!) and cautious (exorbitant Verizon/AT&T bills!) when using their phones abroad. We’re here to clear up the bad connections and get you communicating with confidence.
Before departing the USA
Call your cell-phone provider to determine if your phone will work outside the USA. (3G iphone models earlier than an iphone 5 will not. If your phone is subpar, ask about renting a phone, which will be delivered to your door with instructions and return packaging before departure.)
Then, if the cellular gods determine your phone is cleared for take off, ask your provider about an *international data/roaming package based on estimated usage at your destination. Make sure that you cover every family member’s phone – especially the teenager’s – as well as your own. *Verizon customers may want to consider the Travel Pass plan that lets you keep your current data plan for $10/day when traveling.
THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT:
***Without an international data package set up before departure, you will be charged expensive roaming fees every time you use your phone away from Wi-Fi (unless you remember to turn off roaming or turn on airplane mode) or if you exceed your plan’s coverage. You do not want your phone bill to equal the national debt! My Data Manager is a helpful app to monitor data usage.***
To conserve data drain, consider downloading What’s App for unlimited, free texting and free calls on WiFi with friends and family, those traveling with you and those remaining behind, eager to hear from you. In order to connect, everyone’s phone must have the app. Skype is another option if you prefer face-to-face chatting, and Facetime is also free if connected to WiFi.
And if you preload your international phone contacts (hotels, restaurants, guides, etc.), insert the + sign in front of the country code for effortless dialing abroad.
If you do have an international plan: upon arriving at your destination, turn off and then turn back on your phone to automatically activate your plan.
If you don’t have an international plan: be sure to turn off the roaming option or put your phone in airplane mode as soon as you arrive at your destination to avoid intl roaming fees!
Connect to free WiFi whenever possible (hotels, public places, etc. but be cautious when accessing bank accounts on public WiFi networks. Hacker alert!)
When returning to the USA
If you designated a return date with your provider, your coverage should automatically revert back to normal on that day; however, just to be sure, you may want to call your provider upon your return (perhaps something to pass the time while waiting to board your final flight home?) to confirm the suspension of international coverage.
And another option…
…if you plan to use your phone only sparingly
SIM Cards can be purchased and inserted into your phone if you prefer to pay per call. They are available at foreign pharmacies and tobacco shops, but beware language/translation issues if you seek assistance there. Each call charge is deducted from the card, which can be reloaded as needed.
Is it worth the hassle?
Yes! Cell phones are indispensable travel aids that enable you to connect, document, record, store, photograph, navigate, and sleep tight at night the world over. Just remember to pack your charger (and a portable one, too).
Caroline Travels the World (roaming within reason)…And So Can You.