When you travel abroad, the idea of leaving behind your cell phone and disconnecting from technology seems like a vacation in itself. But sometimes traveling to a foreign country without a smartphone causes extra stress, especially if you are meeting up with people or you get lost and have no way of looking up directions. Read on and discover the cheapest way to stay connected with your smartphone and how to avoid expensive international roaming charges.
For most countries, a prepaid international roaming plan is the most cost-effective, especially if you bring your own unlocked phone. Some carriers offer an unlocking process, depending on the company and type of cell phone. AT&T, for instance, allows customers to request an unlock on their website as long as the phone has been fully paid off. Each company is different, so it would be a good idea to contact your carrier’s customer service prior well in advance of your departure.
If your carrier doesn’t offer unlocking or you haven’t paid off your new phone yet, it might be easier to buy a cheap unlocked phone that you only use for international travel, especially if you travel often. Look for an inexpensive smartphone such as Motorola’s second-generation Moto G, which is around $150 on Amazon.
Once you arrive at your destination, simply buy a data plan and an international prepaid SIM card at cell phone store. Another option is to preorder a SIM card so you will be set up when you arrive.
However you do it, look for an affordable international roaming plan. The T-Mobile One plan starts at $75 per month for unlimited text and data. The downside is a slow Internet speed—only 2G (but unlimited 2G!). If you need high-speed data for the trip, you can upgrade to T Mobile One Plus for an extra $15 per month, which upgrades your international roaming data speeds to 3G.
Alternatively, Sprint’s Open World International add-on offers unlimited texting and one gigabyte of high-speed data in most of North and South America, and competitive rates in other locales around the globe.
Another way to stay connected while you're traveling is to purchase a prepaid phone when you arrive at your destination. This is particularly useful if you are meeting with local friends or are spending an extended time in the county and having a local phone number would be nice. It can also be used in emergencies and allows you to access data without getting stuck with international roaming fees. Pre-paid SIM cards can be found at most destinations and easily set up.
After all that, if you think you can get by just floating wifi from cafes, then free apps for messaging, such as WhatsApp or WeChat, bypass the need for texting altogether. Just make sure your data is turned off so you don’t accidentally incur roaming fees!
If you want to take your phone on vacay with you, there are a lot of affordable options out there. Explore what works for you, and bon voyage!