Whether you’re visiting family or traveling for business or pleasure, taking a trip abroad can be an exciting time. You might look forward to exploring the local culture and touring well-known landmarks. At the same time, you might feel a measure of anxiety about being in a foreign country and not being able to communicate effectively back home with your friends and loved ones. Will your cell phone work? Will you incur insanely high costs for using it abroad? Are there better international plans you could be taking advantage of?
Having a cell phone abroad is convenient and it’ll certainly make your travels easier. Decades ago, this was unheard of, but today, there are plenty of ways to use a cell phone while in another country and we’re here to ease some of those mobile fears you may have. Follow these tips before your trip to save yourself a lot of headaches and ensure you aren’t stuck in another country without service.
1. Get a prepaid SIM card.
If you have an unlocked cell phone, one option is purchasing a country-compatible prepaid SIM card, which is preloaded with minutes. These cards pop in and out of your phone and allow you to connect with a cell network. Purchase a SIM card before you leave the States so your family and friends can call or text for free, or purchase a prepaid card once you arrive at your destination (wireless shop, airport, convenience store) for cheap calling and texting in the foreign country and to the U.S.
For this method to work, your cell phone must be unlocked. You can purchase an unlocked phone, or if you’re no longer in a wireless contract, contact your service provider to see if they’ll unlock your current phone for you.
2. Get an international calling plan.
Before heading overseas, contact your cell phone provider to add-on an international service plan. This is relatively cheap and can save you a lot of money. If you travel abroad frequently, there’s the option of a permanent international add-on based on your needs, or you can purchase a short-term international plan.
Rates vary depending on your carrier and where you’re traveling. Keep in mind, your wireless carrier may already include international roaming with your current plan. For example, Sprint recently included global roaming with certain cell phone plans. If you have an eligible Sprint plan, you receive free texts, $0.20 per minute calls and 2G unlimited data in 160 destinations. For faster speeds, the wireless provider offers 1-day and 7-day speed passes for up to 4GB of data.
3. Reduce data roaming charges.
If you choose not to use a prepaid SIM card, take steps to reduce data roaming charges while away. This can be challenging, especially if you stream frequently. As a rule of thumb, download movies and music to your device before leaving home. Once you arrive to your destination, keep a close watch on your cellular data usage. As a precaution, turn off your cellular data entirely and disable your phone’s auto-check features.
4. Seek out free Wifi.
When planning your vacation, specifically seek out hotels offering free or cheap Wifi. Because Wifi usage doesn’t eat up your cellular data, you can use your cell phone as often as you like while connected to a hotspot. This is perfect for sending and receiving text messages, checking social media, sending email, etc.
A trip to a foreign country can be the experience of a lifetime, but it’s also nerve-racking when you’re unable to communicate with friends and family back home. Luckily, with improvements in cellular technology, there’s no reason why you can’t stay connected while away.