How to Use Your Cell Phone Internationally

Traveling internationally is exciting, especially if it’s your first time. And in the current smartphone era, it has become rather difficult to leave our phones away, even when we travel abroad. However, traveling overseas without having a very good data plan can leave you with a shocking phone bill after you return home!  And no one wants that nasty surprise!

Since we understand how hard it can be to part with your smartphone (and we get this question a lot) we wanted to compile a post to explain all your options and key considerations for using your phone abroad.  Here’s our top tips for how to use your cell phone internationally.

Will Your Cell Phone Even Work Overseas? 

To help you keep in touch with your family and friends while you are away, here is how to use your cell phone internationally.

Generally, cell phone companies tend to use different technologies as well as different frequencies. Therefore, this means that you can’t be sure that your phone will work perfectly with different networks. For this reason, you first need to check whether your cell phone will even work in your intended destinations.

In order for you to find out this information, you will need to first check your mobile phone’s user manual. If from the manual you are able to determine that your cell phone supports GSM or is marketed to consumers as “world phone”, then it should be able to support calls, texts, and 3G data in most parts of the world. Luckily, most modern smartphones have this capability — so likely you won’t have any trouble.  Popular phones such as the iPhone or Samsung are known to be global phones that have the capability of working anywhere in the world.

Check Roaming Fees (read the fine print!)

To help you keep in touch with your family and friends while you are away, here is how to use your cell phone internationally.

If you have discovered that your mobile phone is capable of working overseas, you can now go ahead and check whether your carrier enables international roaming automatically. Also, you should find out the roaming charges since using your cell phone overseas can be a very costly affair.

In most cases, while traveling internationally the usage rates can be extremely costly. To avoid these high charges, check to see if your carrier offers any affordable roaming packages that you may be able to purchase just for your trip.

Buy an add-on international package with your carrier (if they have one)

Apart from the usual roaming packages, your cell phone carrier may also offer an international phone plan. These add-on international packages will offer you discounts on international roaming fees, calls, and data charges. The charges will depend on your specific carrier and will usually be charged either per-minute basis or monthly basis.

For example, if you are using AT&T you can purchase an all inclusive international package lasting for 30 days for about $30.  When I had AT&T some years ago, this is what I would do. I would simply turn on the plan and pay for it for 1 month, then turn it off when I came home so I no longer had to pay.

Verizon is another company that lets it’s users take their domestic calls, texts, and data allowance overseas using an international package that is known as Travel Pass.

Unlock Your Phone & Insert a Local SIM Card 

** If you are NOT under contract!

To help you keep in touch with your family and friends while you are away, here is how to use your cell phone internationally.

Another seemingly convenient option for using your cell phone overseas is to simply remove the SIM card from your country and buy a local one.  This seems easy but there is one major problem…CONTRACTS!

We Hate Carrier Contracts for This Reason!

In the United States, most people are able to get a new phone for cheap because they enter into a contract with their provider, such as Verizon or AT&T.  The problem with this is that your phone is essentially LOCKED and you are NOT able to use any other SIM cards in your phone.

This means you cannot buy a local SIM card in another country and use it in your phone.  

Because Josh and I travel so often, having a contract phone just doesn’t work for us.  So we both intentionally purchased our iPhones outright — with no contract, so anywhere we go in the world we can use a local SIM.  For example, Josh has a China SIM card every time we are in China.  And I actually have a ONESim international card — which works in various countries all over the world.  I just top it up with say, $20 or $50 whenever I plan to use it overseas.  

Can I Get My Phone Unlocked or Get Out of My Contract?

If you have a locked phone, you can attempt to ask your carrier to unlock it.  However, very few of them will do this happily.  And they may give you the option…as long as you pay a hefty fee.  Josh and I actually had this problem years ago when we initially moved overseas.  Josh was in a Verizon contract, and I had AT&T.  I had to pay a couple hundred bucks to get out of my contract and unlock my phone…while Josh sweet-talked his way into a no-fee unlock (although, that came back to haunt us later and turned into quite the saga…but that’s another post!). 

If you have successfully unlocked your cell phone or just purchased an unlocked phone, you can now purchase and insert a local SIM that will be sure to work in the country or countries that you will be visiting. 

Turn off Cell Data (and Use Wi-Fi Instead)

To help you keep in touch with your family and friends while you are away, here is how to use your cell phone internationally.

In this day and age, almost all hotels offer their visitors Wi-Fi. Even the small restaurants and cafes in the street will gladly give out their Wi-Fi passwords when you ask for them. We’ve even been on some public transportation that offer free Wi-Fi! 

Therefore, if you have a smartphone that is not unlocked or you don’t have any good international roaming package, you can always choose to turn off the cell data and just use the WiFi instead. While this option may not be as convenient as using cellular data is, you will find it to be a whole lot cheaper! 

Use Apps to Communicate With Wi-Fi (FB, Skype, etc.)

To help you keep in touch with your family and friends while you are away, here is how to use your cell phone internationally.

With the increase in the number of international travelers, social networks companies are also finding new ways to keep these travelers connected internationally. Therefore, if you are planning to travel internationally, applications like Skype, Google Voice, WeChat, Facebook, and WhatsApp will come in handy.

These apps will allow you to call and send texts to your friends and family anywhere in the world for free, through data or WiFi. This in turn will help you avoid the very high international calling rates. All you have to do is to ensure that you have a reasonable internet or Wi-Fi connection.

Buy or Rent a Local Phone

To help you keep in touch with your family and friends while you are away, here is how to use your cell phone internationally.

If you feel like you don’t want to go through all the hassle involved with unlocking your phone, the easiest option is to buy or rent a local cell phone. There are a lot of companies that sell and even rent already unlocked international travel cell phones together with SIM cards that will work perfectly in other countries.

These companies provide a perfect solution for those travelers who will want to visit more than one country while they are still on the same trip. 

Choose the Best Option For Your Travel Needs

Nowadays, it is nearly impossible to even go a few hours without using our cell phones, even when you are on a holiday. While some of us may be looking to getaway and turn off our phones, other times we want to have access to document our experiences on Facebook, Instagram, and share with family & friends! 

We hope that with these tips, you will be able to travel overseas with your smartphone and use it without having to accumulate a crazy amount of bills. No one wants a surprise roaming bill after a great trip!  Also, don’t forget to bring along plug adapters, universal phone chargers, and anything that is compatible with the electrical systems that is currently in the countries you are traveling to!

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