You booked your round-trip plane ticket, your luggage is packed, and you’re only a day away from your three-week international trip. You’re excited to explore new places, experience new cultures, and meet new people. Before heading off to your destination you need to check off one of the most important to-do items: make sure your smartphone works internationally so don’t get charged out the wazoo. We’ve compiled a list of must-do’s to get your smartphone international ready:
Don’t freak. Most recent smartphones are built to work in multiple countries so there’s a 99 percent chance it will work overseas. GSM, or Global System for Mobile communications, is the most common cellular technology used worldwide. If your phone uses this, it’s likely you will be fine. CDMA, or code division multiple access, is used by Verizon and Sprint and is less common, which will restrict the countries your phone will work in. It’s best to visit your carrier’s website to see if the country you are traveling to is compatible with your phone.
Simply put, this means freeing your iPhone or latest Galaxy away from the cellular carrier you are currently chained to. If your smartphone is already unlocked, you are good to go on this tip! For everyone else, contact your provider about a week in advance and be prepared to give your account information so they can have enough time to process your unlock request.
You can opt for your provider’s international data and text plans if there is one for the country you are traveling to, but if you plan to stay abroad more than a few weeks it may not be the most affordable option. Instead, opt for unlocking your smartphone and looking into prepaid SIM cards or overseas Wi-Fi.
To check your provider's international data package:
A rough estimate of international data charges is a whopping $19.97 per megabyte. (For reference just one social media post can take a third of a megabyte) Keep roaming charges from ransoming your trip with an affordable prepaid SIM card with your unlocked phone.
Research local carriers in the country or countries you plan on traveling to in order to obtain pricing and plans that suit your needs. Most oversea carriers will request Passport information to buy one. Once you’ve picked an international carrier, locate their nearest store location to where you’ll be staying. If they have one in the airport you fly into, even better! You can also buy a SIM card from a re-seller and have it shipped to you before you leave with some classy planning.
Get a U.S. based Voice over IP (VoIP phone number). We recommend Skype or Google Voice as they are free to obtain. Forward your regular phone number to the mobile VoIP while still on your home network. Turn off cellular data, 3G and roaming. To be safe, you can also put your phone in airplane mode. Use your VoIP number over Wi-Fi for the duration of the trip. This is a low cost way to have reliable phone and data overseas. Research Wi-Fi areas where you are traveling, whether it be your hotel room, Airbnb stay or coffee shop. Starbucks consistently provides free Wi-Fi and has several locations throughout the world. Install a Wi-Fi Finder app before leaving, as these usually only use GPS to help locate hotspots.
Must-have apps to use when connected to Wi-Fi or an international data plan you’ve already picked:
Facebook Messenger – Essentially free texting through the Facebook network. No need to use your SMS overseas and get expensive charges.
Skype – An affordable phone alternative to keeping in touch with friends and family with Wi-Fi video calls.
WhatsApp – Allows for messaging regardless of the type of phone the recipient has. No additional messaging costs!
Google Translate – Type words into the app to get an immediate translation. Use your iPhone or Galaxy camera to take a picture of a foreign sign and have it converted into your language.
Whether you go with Wi-Fi or a prepaid SIM card route, when in doubt just shut it down. Turn off your cellular data, which includes making sure 3G or 4G/LTE is also off. Turn off data roaming and reset your usage statistics. This can be found in your phone settings.
Your smartphone is your lifeline more than ever when traveling overseas. It’s more likely you will drop your phone and damage your screen when traveling. Protect your phone’s screen without a bulky phone case with a tempered glass screen protector. A shattered screen while getting off the Paris metro is pas bien. Get one for only ten dollars including shipping:
Before getting too hung up on any of the above tips in hopes of saving time and money, look at all your options to see which is best by asking the following questions: Where will you be staying? For how long? How much are you really going to use the internet? Will you primarily be using basic email and text or lots of social media and streaming video? This will help narrow your cost saving strategy. Happy traveling!
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