International cell phone plans may not be your first thought when planning your vacation or business trip, however, they should be high on your list.
According to the Pew Research Center, 72% of American adults own smartphones. That means the odds are that if you travel to another country, you've got a phone you want to take with you - and know it will work.
You'll also want peace of mind knowing that you won't return home to an enormous phone bill packed with international roaming and overage charges.
All of the major mobile phone plans offer options for using your phone abroad. Each plan works a little differently, giving you choices for various budgets as well as data, calling, and texting needs. In the following guide, I'll give you an overview of the best international phone plans from the major cell phone providers. You'll find what the key considerations are when selecting international cell phone plans, the major provider international calling plans, information on global roaming, and more.
How to Make Cheap International Calls - In This Guide
Key Considerations When Choosing an International Plan
There are a few things that are helpful to keep in mind as you choose among international phone plans.
- Consider the purpose of your visit. If it's for pleasure, you may be able to get away with a lower data allotment and fewer calling minutes because you'll be focusing on enjoying your trip. If you're taking a business trip you may need more calling flexibility, as well as data for uploading and downloading files.
- Look at alternatives for longer stays. If you're going to be spending a considerable amount of time in a foreign country you may want to pick up a pre-paid cell phone that is more affordable to use while traveling. You can even rent pre-paid cell phones too. One company that lets you pick up a prepay phone is Mobal. Companies that let you rent a prepay phone are Verizon, Cellular Abroad, OneSimCard, and more. You may also be able to replace your phone's SIM card with a local SIM card.
However, you can always purchase an international SIM card. If you do purchase a local SIM card, you should know you will be assigned a different phone number, which you tell your friends and family about. If you purchase an international SIM card, you'll be able to save more when traveling worldwide.
You can also consider a temporary wireless service such as Airvoice Wireless. Airvoice Wireless allows you to save up to 95 percent on your international calls.
Related: You can learn more about SIM Cards in our guide here.
- WiFi is your friend. Many hotels offer free WiFi or a daily rate for usage. There are also numerous internet cafes and public areas with Wifi available in many countries. This makes it much cheaper to access the internet without getting hit with roaming fees. Just be cautious when using any public connection. The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) recommends using passwords on your devices and logging out of all accounts when not in use. It's wisest not to use any unsecured connections if at all possible, so if you need to, you may want to take into consideration a secure VPN service. If you need help securing your WiFi, we can show you how here.
- Make sure you can monitor usage. Even some of the best international phone plans may not allow you to track your data usage while out of the country. In some cases, you can monitor your usage but the results aren't up to the minute. Fortunately, most smartphones have a data usage feature that allows you to see how much you've consumed in real time. You can learn more about monitoring your data usage with our guide to checking data usage.
- Know which system your phone uses. There are two technologies used for cell phone service - GSM (Global System for Mobiles) and CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access). AT&T and T-Mobile phones use GSM, while Verizon and Sprint phones are on CDMA. Most foreign countries use GSM cell phone technology and GSM phones, however, CDMA cell phone carriers have CDMA phones which allow you to use them abroad. Learn more about GSM phones and CDMA phones here.
- Watch for generous North America plans. According to the National Travel and Tourism Office, about 55% of American travelers each year are headed to Mexico or Canada. If you're staying in North America you can save by choosing a plan that only covers those countries.
Following these common sense tips will help you reduce the cost of your international cell phone plan. Saving money while traveling is something that makes any trip more enjoyable!
Many hotels offer free WiFi or a daily rate for usage. There are also numerous internet cafes and public areas with Wifi available in many countries. This makes it much cheaper to access the internet without getting hit with roaming fees.
Read More: We also have a guide that dives into specific mobile hotspot plans that you can make use of while traveling abroad.