An adventure in a foreign country may sound like a lot of fun. That is until you come home to thousands of dollars in phone bills. Now, that will certainly take you off from holiday mood right down to panic mode in a split second.
But humans as we are, we always feel the need to connect. After all, what good would our trek in the Amazon be if we wouldn’t be able to stream live it on Facebook? Or tell our closest friends about our first ever llama petting session. Or even call people back home for back-up when we get stuck in sticky situations.
In the above instances, using your phone is almost inevitable. So how do you use your phone abroad while still keeping bills at a minimum?
Here are five ways to use your phone internationally without charges:
Turn Off Roaming
One of the most expensive mistakes you can make while on vacation is keeping your phone’s roaming on. Especially when you’ve got a kid who just can’t resist checking their Instagram.
Some apps also run in the background long after you close them. So even if you don’t check your social media or do anything that uses an internet connection, you’ll still be racking up data. Then there’s the automatic updates too. If you’re not on WiFi, those unexpected data usage while on roaming can set you back at least a few hundred dollars.
To avoid roaming charges, make sure to turn off roaming services or set your phone to airplane mode before boarding. For iPhone users, turning off WiFi assist will also help you avoid data roaming charges. WiFi Assist automatically connects your phone to mobile data when the wifi signal is poor racking up mobile data without you even knowing it. And that’s a risk you can’t afford to take too.
Rent a Device That Works Abroad
If you can’t use your own phone abroad, you can rent a device that works on a local network. This allows you to enjoy local rates.
There are companies that offer those kinds of services now. It’s mostly available in popular tourist destinations like Europe, Brazil and some countries in Southeast Asia. Rents can be flexible too. You can choose from daily, weekly or even monthly term. With today’s cloud-based technology, accessing files from your mobile phone won’t be a problem too. So you can use the rented phone like it’s yours.
Of course, this depends on what country you’re in and where you came from. Developed countries usually have more expensive per-minute rates than their third world counterparts. So, at the end of the day, you really need to do the math carefully. See where you can save more.
Unlock Your Phone
Before taking that flight out, make sure your phone is unlocked. If you got it from a network provider, there’s a good chance that it’s locked. Meaning, it can only work with a sim card from that particular network.
So how does unlocking your phone help you save money on cell phone bills?
When your cell phone is unlocked, it can work with any sim card. This means you can buy a local sim and put it on your phone. Then you can explore local data, call and SMS bundles that will suit your needs.
AT&T usually lets you unlock your device once your contract is over. Before that, they let you unlock it temporarily for up to five times per year.
Other phone providers would let you unlock your device online but some require you to take it to their service centers. If you didn’t get your device through a wireless plan, there’s no need to unlock it.
Take Advantage of Free WiFi
Wherever you end up around the world, there’s bound to be a wifi hotspot somewhere. You’ll find free ones in coffee shops, bus stops, airports, seaports and even in some subway stations. Take advantage of them.
Connect your cell phone and make free calls over wifi. There are a lot of free calling apps that you can download right now. Call your family and friends while waiting for your flight or while sipping coffee and looking out the window to the Eiffel Tower.
The number of people connecting to a wi-fi network may also affect your internet speed. So you might not get the fastest internet in crowded places like airports or bus terminals. Of course, it also depends on the country’s overall internet connection quality. In some countries, you’ll find it hard to stream Youtube videos even when on wifi.
You’ll also need to turn off your mobile internet or set your phone to airplane mode if you haven’t got a local sim card. Some phones automatically switch to mobile data when the wifi signal is bad. When this happens, you’ll risk running a neck-deep mobile data charges.
Get an International Plan
What if there’s no wifi nearby or your phone can’t connect to the local network? Don’t fret. You’ll still be able to use your phone abroad for cheap when you get an international phone plan.
Most network providers offer international plan bundles. It usually includes data, text and call minutes. Prices vary widely depending on the inclusions. Some also offer prepaid options while others will give you no choice but to go postpaid.
AT&T offers an International Day Pass where you can use your mobile plan from home for $10 a day. Verizon’s TravelPass also offers the same scheme for the same price. Though you only pay $5 when you use your phone in Mexico and Canada.
You can also avail of an international call plan with MyLine for only $2. It lets you make the cheapest international calls to more than 150 countries and destinations around the world for as low as $0.001 per minute. Unlike AT&T and Verizon, it doesn’t require you to have an existing plan with them. You only pay when you actually use the service. Perfect for those occasional travelers looking for a pay-as-you-go international calling plan.