Use international phone plans when traveling globally — or suffer bill shock

Cell phones are a part of international travel. There is no reason to face a major hit in your wallet.

international phone plans

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Travelers United has already warned you how to control roaming data charges. That article has much of the information in this article but more.

Here is some additional information about how to reduce your international charges while traveling. Every cell phone user can start with these basics to control data roaming charges and high phone bills that greet you when you return home.

Mobile phones can be used to pay for taxis and anywhere credit cards are taken. They can be used for train tickets, and for crossing borders, in some cases. Plus, most airports, shops, and restaurants have WiFi. But make sure your cell (or mobile) phone is charged or else it will not work. I have become a master of asking if anyone sitting near me has a suitable phone charger. I’ve learned that every bit of a charge helps.

1. Turn off data roaming or switch to airplane mode.

This will eliminate all data usage. Then connect for calls or to check email or text whenever a WiFi spot can be found.

2. Buy an international data roaming plan.

This will limit data usage but is not cheap. All of the major carriers have international plans. Prices vary, as does coverage. Speak with the representative since the coverage varies. It is helpful to know what you are buying.

  • At&T sells an international pass for $10 a day. The plan will charge for only 10 days per billing period. This allows travelers to use their phones much as they do at home. AT&T will automatically add a day pass when travelers with unlimited plans connect to the network in a foreign destination.
  • Verizon offers an unlimited program that costs $10 per day with no daily limit per payment period. The first 2GB that you use is included, then the speed is slowed. Canada and Mexico only cost $5 per day.
  • T-Mobile provides texting as an included product. But phone calls cost 25¢/minute. If you need more data or if you are staying out of the country for more than a month the costs increase.

3. Swap your SIM card

Get refunds in cash when airlines cancel your flightSIM cards (Subscriber Identity Module cards) are small chips that link phones to the user’s network and phone number. These provide another way to save money while you’re traveling. These are best to use when phone users are taking an extended trip or using lots of data. Don’t sign up for your provider’s international calling plan, Buy a local SIM card, usually at a cheaper rate. Rates vary depending on the provider, country and offerings.

Let the person selling the SIM card know that you are traveling and want a SIM for a few weeks. They all know what you’re looking for.

If you have a newer model of phone, you probably don’t even need to swap out — and keep track of — physical SIM cards: You may have built-in eSIM capabilities instead. You also may be able to use your own phone number from home.

Travelers also need an unlocked card which is not linked to your home network. They will get a foreign number, so they will have to share it with those who want to reach them on the phone or text message.

4. Disable the apps and background operations that use data.

Automatic backup and app updating tools can run up a data plan usage like mad. We have become used to them here at home. However, there is no need to have them working on your data plan. Wait for a good Wi-Fi spot.

Turn auto-updating off for your Play Store (Android) or App Store (iOS) or at least set automatic updates to only run over Wi-Fi. Check the settings inside each app on your phone. Make sure photos, videos, and other large files are only backed up automatically when there’s a Wi-Fi connection available.

Double-check all the other apps you’ve got installed. Turn off any kind of built-in automatic updating or refreshing system unless it can be set to only run over Wi-Fi. It’s amazing how many apps want to update their information without caring about which connection they’re using. It is also amazing just how much data they’ll use while doing so.

5. Use a messaging app to avoid international data roaming and calling charges

Join UsApps like WhatsApp and Viber make it so that you won’t have to pay for texts to your friends and family who are using the same app. Similarly, iMessage is free, as are Google Voice and Skype when you use them over a Wi-Fi network. Skype also allows travelers to carry a balance in their phone, and international calls only cost a few cents.


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