Tips on using your cell phone while traveling abroad

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Many of us can’t imagine traveling without cell phones these days — we use our phones as maps, translators, cameras, a means to stay connected and more.

More and more travelers couldn’t imagine going without their cell phones these days, whether they use it as a map, translator, camera, means to stay connected with home or all of the above. If you don’t do your homework, though, you could have astronomical roaming charges waiting for you when you return home. Here are some tips to avoid those charges while still being able to use your cell phone abroad.

Call your provider

The first thing you’ll need to do is call your cell phone service provider to check out your options. Some carriers offer international calling and data plans, while others are happy to suspend your service during your trip so you aren’t accidentally racking up charges abroad. Some even offer rental options so you can have a local phone during your trip. Find out what options are available through your specific carrier before you leave.

Cell phone (Image: johanl)
Cell phone (Image: johanl)

Unlock your phone

Smartphones are generally locked to a specific carrier, meaning that, if locked, your AT&T iPhone can’t accept a SIM card from Verizon Wireless or any other carrier. Some phones can be unlocked while others can’t, so you’ll need to talk to your service provider to see what unlocking options are available to you. For more information on unlocking your smartphone, check out the FCC information page. If you’re able to get your phone unlocked, you’ll be able to buy or rent a local SIM card in your destination, which will be helpful if you need to make local calls or connect to data networks.

Bring a converter

Getting a service plan to use your phone overseas isn’t going to do much good if you can’t charge your device. Find out what types of plugs and voltage are used in your destination, and be sure to pack the necessary converters so you aren’t stuck with a dead phone during your trip.

Turn off data roaming to avoid excessive charges (Image: photoloni)
Turn off data roaming to avoid excessive charges (Image: photoloni)

Turn off the data roaming setting

If your phone has a data roaming setting, be sure to turn it off before your flight takes off. This tells your phone not to connect to data networks that are outside of your home network, helping you avoid those hefty data roaming charges.

Want to know how much data your social media uploads and web activity actually use? Check out our extended guide.

Turn off automatic features

If your phone is set to automatically check for new emails, it could be using data without you even realizing it. This could lead to a shockingly high phone bill when you return. Avoid this disaster scenario entirely by turning off automatic features that use data, such as checking for new email.

Women on cell phones (Image: UltraSlo1)
Women on cell phones (Image: UltraSlo1)

Consider airplane mode 

When in doubt, put your phone on airplane mode. This keeps your phone from connecting to a local network, meaning you’ll avoid data charges all together. You can manually turn WiFi on while in airplane mode to keep your device connected for free when you’re near an Internet hotspot.

Use apps rather than plans

With apps like Skype and Kik, you can call or text without relying on a phone plan. These apps can be used on WiFi and many can be used for free or for a significantly lower cost than an international calling plan.

What are your best tips for using your cell phone while traveling abroad? Let us know below!

(Main image: cloneofsnake used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license)

Tips on using your cell phone while traveling abroad was last modified: June 26th, 2019 by Marissa Willman
Author: Marissa Willman (786 posts)

Marissa Willman earned a bachelor's degree in journalism before downsizing her life into two suitcases for a teaching gig in South Korea. Seoul was her home base for two years of wanderlusting throughout six countries in Asia. In 2011, Marissa swapped teaching for travel writing and now calls Southern California home.