The last thing you’ll ever want to leave behind when you travel abroad is your smartphone. No one can travel without it, but not many people know if they have an international phone plan.
“How much do I pay to call or text on my mobile phone?”
“Will my smartphone stay connected overseas?”
“Can I use local Wi-Fi with my iPhone for free?”
“Do I have an international phone plan?”
Not many people know the answers to these basic questions. That’s why we’ve put together this quick guide to traveling internationally with your phone.
First, Check Your Phone’s Specs
Quickly go over your phone’s online manual (or paper one if you somehow kept it all this time). Try to see if it’s technically viable for the phone to work overseas, or if you’re on an international phone plan. Check if it supports the GSM network, as it’s the most extensively used wireless technology worldwide. If it does, you can rest assured that your device will be fine wherever you go. If your phone only supports the CDMA (common for handsets bought from carriers like Sprint and Verizon) standard, then you’ll likely encounter connectivity issues internationally.
The silver lining here is that most smartphones nowadays are designed to support a variety of wireless networks. That means there’s a really good chance that your current device will readily work in other countries.
Know Different Methods to Stay Connected
After you figure out whether your gadget is physically able to function in foreign soil, the next step is to determine how you can keep your line open once the plane touches down.
Here are typical ways to stay connected internationally:
1. Have Your GSM Phone Unlocked
Call your wireless carrier and ask to have your phone unlocked. The beauty of an unlocked device is that you can readily associate it with other mobile networks from different parts of the globe. Keep in mind, though, that not all carriers will unlock all types of handsets. In most cases, your phone has to be completely paid for and off-contract before you can make such a request. Your account will also need to be in good standing.
When you’ve successfully unlocked your cell phone, the next step is to buy and install a local SIM (subscriber identification module) card from the country you’re planning to visit. You can either go to a local mobile store during your trip abroad or order the chip online and have it activated prior to your flight.
2. Try Your Carrier’s International Roaming Packages
If you check with your phone provider, you’ll likely find that they offer an international phone plan that offers discounts on data charges, international roaming fees, and calls.
For instance, Verizon offers a TravelPass that lets you take domestic calls, use data allowance, and even send SMS overseas for a minimal daily cost. Another would be
Another would be AT&T Passport that provides coverage in more than 190 countries, which includes unlimited SMS, cheap call rates, and limited internet data cap.
As for T-Mobile, it’s got the Simple Choice postpaid international phone plan that includes free SMS, calls, and international data roaming (speeds limited to 2G so it’s ridiculously slow) in over 140 countries.
Lastly, there’s Sprint Global Roaming that includes free data (at 2G speeds) and SMS in any of the 144 countries in its list, though voice calls charge you per minute. To be sure about the fine print, give your carrier a ring to know what options they provide for traveling subscribers.
Regardless of your wireless network’s special offers, it’d be wise to remember that international roaming is one option best left for those with really deep pockets. More often than not, they’re too expensive for average backpackers. Not only that, you may feel ripped off when your carrier has poor coverage or limited service overall.
Keep Your Mind Open for Alternatives
If you can’t get your phone unlocked or can’t connect to a cellular network overseas, you may have to explore alternative methods. Here are a few options at your disposal:
- Use your tablet. Let’s say you own a 3G/4G tablet. In that case, it’s likely that the device is unlocked right out of the box so feel free to use it in place of your smartphone. However, don’t forget to pair it with a local, data-only SIM so you can use WhatsApp and Skype for your SMS and call needs.
- Get a burner phone. When all you want is to browse the web and call/text, why not buy the cheapest available prepaid phone around? Although it may be a far cry from your iPhone 7, you can get a burner for next to nothing.
- Take advantage of Wi-Fi. Your smartphone may not be able to receive texts or make calls, but it’ll still connect over Wi-Fi wherever, whenever. Thus, use Google Voice or Skype to call contacts and WhatsApp to send text messages. There are even offline travel guide apps you can utilize when you travel.
- Buy a portable hotspot. For the uninitiated, a mobile hotspot is a gadget that creates a Wi-Fi network and shares cellular data connection over it. Often, you can connect anywhere between 5 to 10 devices to it. If you’re going on a vacation abroad, invest in portable hotspots like the Keepgo Global Lifetime Mobile WiFi Hotspot, which already includes a SIM with a 1GB worth of data. Plus, its data limit can easily be topped up online at any given time.
Getting your smartphone to work when you’re globe-trotting may be a huge pain initially. With extensive research and careful planning, you could be flying to Europe, Asia, Africa, and even the Arctic with a functioning smartphone in tow.
Wondering what electronic devices to pack on your upcoming business trip abroad? Well, here are 10 gadgets every business traveler should bring.