Staying Connected While Abroad
Now, more than ever, people are attached to their cell phones. But what do you do when you’re visiting another country? If you’re not careful, you may find yourself racking up a pretty hefty bill from international roaming, calling, and data rates. That’s why it is important to have a plan for staying connected while you’re away from your home country. Luckily for you, we have some tips to help keep you connected to friends and family while you’re out and about without having to break the bank.
International Calling Plan
One way to make sure that you can use your cell phone while you are in another country is to sign up for an international calling plan with your cell phone provider. International calling plans can be expensive and if you don’t travel enough, it might not be worth it. Also, make sure you read the fine print. Some international calling plans still charge you for calls and text, although at a cheaper rate, and the speed and/or amount of data may be capped.
The best thing to do is to contact your cell phone provider and see what they have to offer. Some providers offer short duration international plans that will cover you for the duration of your trip without locking you into a plan that you may not need. I know of at least one telephone company that provides international calling as a basic part of your service and covers over 160 countries. The speed may not be the greatest and there may be additional for calls and text, but it does provide you with the basics.
Wi-Fi Calling and Texting
If your carrier provides it, Wi-Fi calling and texting is a great option for staying connected while you are traveling abroad. You get to use your own phone with all of your apps and contacts just as if you were at home. Plus this service is usually free as an added bonus. The downside is that this only works when you have access to Wi-Fi and hotspots may not be available everywhere you go.
If you choose to go this route, it may be worth the money to pay for Wi-Fi access through a local service provider so that you aren’t cut off from the world every time you leave your hotel. It may also be worth calling your provider at home to see if they partner with any of the providers in the area you are visiting. There’s a chance you may be able to access their Wi-Fi using your login from home. Keep in mind that if you decide to rely on Wi-Fi calling and texting, you will not be able to make local calls at your destination without getting hit with international rates.
Although it’s not available everywhere, renting a cell phone is another option for staying connected while visiting another country. Usually, you’ll find vendors providing this service at the airport or in your hotel. I personally wouldn’t recommend this option, but it does offer some convenience. The problem with renting a phone is that typically it’s pretty expensive with very limited calling, texting, and especially data. Then you still have to worry about retrieving any data you’ve saved to the phone. But being able to just pick up a phone and go without having to adjust settings or download apps does have its appeal.
Tip: If you decide to rent a phone, make sure you delete any personal information from the phone before you return it. Yes, your identity can still be stolen while you’re away from home.
Prepaid SIM Card
Purchasing a prepaid SIM card is one of my favorite options when it comes to staying connected while traveling overseas. Pricing and plans vary, but this allows you to use your same phone with all of your apps and settings anywhere as long as you have a signal. Plus you get the benefit of local calling and texting. This is incredibly helpful when you need to search for information or have the tendency to get lost like me and need to use your GPS. The only drawback is that most likely you will not be able to call or text back to your home country because the SIM will have its own number associated with it and will be subject to international call and data rates. However, you can still keep in contact with people at home with the right apps.
You can purchase these prepaid SIM cards before you leave for your trip, but usually, I try to find them somewhere in the airport once I land. You can probably get a better price outside of the airport, but I prefer to go ahead and get them there so that I’ll have one less thing to worry about later.
Before you leave for your trip, it’s a good idea to make sure that this is an option for you. First, make sure your phone is not network locked by your carrier or the prepaid SIM card will not work. Second, check to make sure that the cellular technology that your phone uses works in the country you are visiting. Most countries use GSM, some use CDMA, and some use both. Almost all countries will use LTE, but this is mostly used for data.
TIP: Make sure to carry your SIM card extracting tool that came with your phone or you’ll end up having to find an electronics store or phone shop to swap your SIM card.
Prepaid Cell Phone
Buying a prepaid cell phone when you arrive at your destination is another option for staying connected while you’re out of the country. Buying a prepaid has the advantage of allowing you access to calling and data in the country you’re visiting without making changes to your cell phone from home. You can also use your prepaid phone as a hotspot so that you can still have access to the features of the phone that you brought with you. However, carrying two phones can be a hassle and you probably won’t have much use for the extra phone once you return from your trip. And considering the price of phones, this could easily be one of the most expensive options.
When used with the tips above, apps are a great way to keep in touch with people back at home or give you the ability to call and text at your international destination. Many apps are free to use as long as the person you are contacting has the same app. For a fee, other apps will give you a phone number that you can use in the country you are visiting or for your home country. Just remember that if you do not have service, you will still need access to Wi-Fi for the app to work. It’s also a good idea to do some research ahead of your trip to see what the most popular app is for where you are going. Some places actually use apps more than their regular service. This information can come in handy and may help you decide on your strategy for staying connected.