Cell phones are ubiquitous in our society and that doesn’t change just because you hop on a plane to visit the, “old country.” If you’re used to having your cell phone in hand while at home, you’re likely to feel a little bit off if you don’t also have it around when you go abroad.
You could end up with a huge, expensive error in your hands along with a defunct cell phone if you simply assume that your phone will still function once you reach your destination. Even if you get lucky and it does work, the added fees might be more than you’re prepared to pay, leaving you grasping for alternative means to contact friends and loved ones while you’re away. That’s why you should do a little bit of cell phone research before your trip.
Global Usability is Provider Dependent
According to MIT, one of the first things you should check when discovering whether your cell phone will work overseas is the provider you have. While this information might change in the future, at the time of this writing, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon all have global accessibility. However, you must have the right phone in order to access the global system for mobile communications network (GSM). If you have a GSM device combined with one of the above-mentioned providers, you will likely have voice and data accessibility when you travel internationally, although some remote areas may still not have service. In order to verify that your phone is a GSM device and that your location isn’t too remote, check your provider’s website for their coverage guide.
If you’re at a point in your contract where you can switch providers and you want to search for a competitive, long-term roaming plan for travels abroad, this handy chart from ConsumerReports.org compares the plans of various carriers.
Don’t Forget to Consider Plan Limitations
Once you find out whether your phone and carrier support cell calls to and from the location you’re visiting, your next step is to look at the international calling details of your cell phone plan. Because of the extra fees associated with roaming and international calling, it could be in your best interests to buy a special voice-roaming package from your provider. If you plan to travel abroad just once and don’t want to commit to a roaming package, you can purchase a prepaid SIM card. This is a memory chip that can hold data specific to international calls. When you put it into your phone and activate it, you get a separate phone number that’s local to the region you’re visiting. SIM cards come in various sizes, so be sure to get one that fits your cell phone. The New York Times suggests that travelers who wish to have a phone number exclusive to the country they’re visiting and want to retain it indefinitely, skip the prepaid SIM card and buy a regular SIM card which will have its own data plan and monthly bill.
Smartphone Users: Beware Added Charges
Your Wi-Fi-enabled Smartphone will still pick up Wi-Fi while you’re abroad, but remember that the data may cost much more per megabyte than you’re used to. Because of this added expense, NBCLatino.com suggests that you switch your phone to airplane mode and restrict automated access to the ‘net. In addition, it’s a good idea to either disable the apps before you leave or uninstall them so there won’t be any accidental, expensive, access.
Save Money by Exploring Cell Phone Alternatives
In the interest of saving money, it may be a better idea to choose an alternative plan for contacting friends and loved ones while you are abroad. Using a laptop or tablet, you can sign up for a service like Skype to video or audio chat while you’re away. Google Voice offers another option for voice contact as well as texting. You can also use social media sites such as Facebook to chat, share pictures and videos and send private messages to those you want to stay in touch with.
When bringing your expensive electronics abroad, you need to review their usability and affordability while also considering how you will protect their value against risks of loss due to damage or theft. With trip insurance, you can easily ensure that all the luggage you bring—including your electronics—has the right travel insurance protection.