Nowadays, almost everyone uses a mobile phone as a major source of communication. We are all so used to being connected, that we forget about how not to be. When traveling abroad, it’s always nice to disconnect, relax and go off the grid. Sure, it sounds great, but we all know that you just have to post that awesome photo of you in front of the Parthenon on social media in real time.
I’m not talking about using the camera on your phone, because that can be done no matter what. I’m talking about using your phone for actual calls, texts, posts, etc.
I belong to many Facebook travel forums and people all ask the same question, “Can I use my phone overseas, and if so, how?” There are so many answers to this question. Let’s break it down into a few options. 1. WiFi when you can. 2. Use your current carrier. 3. Use a local country SIM card in your phone. 4. Get a burner phone.
WiFi When You Can
We all like free WiFi, and to tell you the truth, it’s pretty much everywhere you go in certain parts of the world. If you do not want to have to spend any more money, because let face it, you’ve already spent enough getting to your destination, use the free WiFi option.
Especially in Europe, you’ll find free WiFi in hotels, bars, cafes, museums, restaurants, on public transportation; pretty much everywhere.
Nowadays, you can just use WiFi to call someone using Facebook and other social media outlets with calling options, so there’s no need to download any other apps. WhatsApp is still a popular option if you wanted to go the app route. Most iPhone users can make WiFi calls to other iPhone users as well. By using free WiFi you can also download maps to your phone so you can use offline while on the road to avoid using data. Google maps has a great option for this.
Use Current Carrier
Most US carriers (Verizon, AT&T, etc.) have their own version of an international plan you can use. It’s usually a daily, weekly or monthly fee and provides for a certain amount of data and calls for that period. These plans are OK, and we’ve used them a few times, but just remember how many gigs of data you use a month and gauge by how much data you will be allotted for the international plan. Because when you run out of data, you go into roaming, which can be quite costly. For instance, our US mobile data plan allows for 6 GB per month. Most international plans may not offer such a hefty amount of gigs, so just do your research to find the best plan for your usage.
Local Country SIM Card
This is actually my favorite option to use. With this option, you use your own phone. There are a few steps you need to take to make sure this option will work, but it’s so worth the time and effort. The one prerequisite is that you’ll need to have a fairly new mobile phone, in the last 5 years or so, and for it to be a popular model like Samsung or iPhone. These are the most universal and are used in many countries. The reason I know this is because I tried to use an old Motorola smartphone in Ireland and the SIM would only allow me to make calls and send texts, the data didn’t work. I found out that my phone was not compatible because it wasn’t a popular phone model, and was quite outdated.
Next, use your current phone or one of your older phones if it follows the above prerequisite. If your phone isn’t already unlocked, either sign into your mobile carrier app or call them to request the phone to be unlocked. This usually takes 24 hours, sometime quicker. Once the phone is unlocked, once you’re in country, either go to a mobile phone shop in the airport (recommended so you don’t have to search all over the city) or trek out and find one on your own. Either way, there are many options and the salespeople will help you choose the best option for you, they will also put the SIM in the phone for you. Just remember to bring a small Ziploc to put your current SIM in for safe keeping, you’ll need it when you’re back home.
Most common, you can get unlimited data and discount international calls for around $25 USD, or get a monthly plan, depending on your length of stay. It just depends on where you go. I would recommend against going to a convenience store to get a SIM card because there are different kinds of SIMs, plans, etc, and it’s best to talk with a salesperson at the actual store to help choose what is right for you. Do a little research before you travel to find out which carrier has the best coverage, service, etc. and find nearest locations. We made the mistake to wait to get a SIM card a few days after arriving in Athens, Greece and had to travel all over the city to find a Vodaphone that was open. At least we found a great deal and they even put the SIM in the phone for us! We also found a great bar along the way, so not really a wasted trip!
This is probably the least recommended option, but if you wanted to get a pay as you go phone, you could pick up a burner phone in many of the convenience stores or in the airport of the country you are traveling to. This could be a good option if you do not currently have a smartphone, but would like to be connected while traveling. There are different plans and phones to choose from, so grab the best one and go!