I feel like this is kind of a weird topic to talk about for a blog post, but after Erica and I were chatting the other morning before her big trip to Turks + Caicos, I thought..you know what – I should blog about this! Dane and I travel a good bit and while we aren’t professionals by any means, we have certainly been down the path of what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to cell phones and international travel. It’s not really a topic you even think about until you’re a few days out from a trip and thinking…oh yeah – do I need to stay in touch with anyone while I’m away? So today, I’m sharing everything I’ve learned about how to use your phone abroad without breaking the bank!
A Guide To Cell Phones + International Travel
For easy reference, I have an iPhone 8 and AT&T Wireless as a provider. First things first, Dane and I do not have long term international plans on our cell phones and we never have. We just have normal stateside service and an unlimited data plan that we share with my family (family plans for life, folks). Whenever we go away, we always check to see what the wifi situation is like at the hotel/apartment/resort we are staying in. One of the best ways to save money while traveling internationally is to simply keep your phone on Airplane Mode, but switch on your wifi and connect to the internet that way. This also allows you to send iMessages (again – iPhone only), send e-mail and utilize the internet and social apps just like you would with your regular phone. To be honest – I really love this, because it means I can only use my phone when I’m connected to the internet, but still have it with me to take photos, video, etc.
If the wifi situation is not good where you are traveling to, I cannot sing the praises enough of this mobile wifi station. This is a good option if you plan to be moving around within an area that has little to no wifi or you need a strong signal at all times to do work, research, etc.
While we are traveling, connecting to wifi is our cell phone “plan” of choice. We used FaceTime or iMessage if we need to connect with friends or family (at least 1 person in all our circles has an iPhone), WhatsApp for messaging with friends who live overseas and of course – Facebook and Instagram chat. Social media is, quite honestly, a great way to communicate if you’re able to use it! We did have trouble accessing social media during some of our time spent in SE Asia, but that is a whole other story and a topic that had nothing to do with connectivity and everything to do with certain sites and networks being banned.
For AT&T users there is a plan called “International Day Pass” that you can have added to your line prior to leaving the country. Their website states “Take your talk, text, and data plan to over 100 countries for a low daily fee. Pay the daily fee only for the days you use abroad. Get unlimited calls within International Day Pass countries and back to the U.S. and unlimited texts to the world at no additional charge.” **We had International Day Pass added to my phone prior to our trip to Italy and to be honest – it didn’t work quite as seamlessly I had hoped. My phone had trouble connecting to the Italian provider and wouldn’t make a call. I spent 20 minutes tinkering with it before I called it quits and simply asked a local restaurant to make the call for me. This could be a total fluke, but for the sake of total transparency – there you have it!
For Verizon customers, they have a similar plan called “TravelPass”. Their website states: “Now your wireless plan travels just like you do. For just $5 a day per line in Mexico and Canada and $10 a day per line in more than 130 countries you can take your domestic talk, text and data allowances with you. You’re only charged on the days you use your device abroad. It’s an economical way to stay connected while you travel.” Eligible TravelPass countries here.
If you’re planning to travel and absolutely must be reachable while in country, there is always the option of adding an international cell plan to your bill (from a brief search I’ve done it doesn’t look insanely expensive, but be wary of cellular data charges!). Alternately, you can rent a phone from a company like Mobal who specializes in international phone plans that offer talk and texting options.
So let’s chat – what are your options when you’re heading overseas? Is there a plan you gravitate toward?