If you've ever traveled outside of the U.S., you've undoubtedly run into this common question: can I use my cell phone while I'm away?
It's not that you can't use your cell phone internationally, but there may be some hefty fees involved depending on your plan and cell phone carrier if you don't plan ahead. Unfortunately, it'll cost you to stream videos on the plane or check email for work if you don't have WiFi or a travel plan.
If you're wondering how to avoid international data roaming charges abroad, look no further! It's easy to avoid international data roaming charges and call or text charges abroad if you know your cell phone provider well.
I am going to guide you through exactly how to do so below. I will also break down some tips and tricks on how to travel abroad with your cell phone.
In This Guide
What Will it Cost to Use my Cell Phone Abroad?
If you want to avoid international data roaming charges and other fees from your mobile network while traveling, there are several ways to do so. First, ask your service provider what it costs per megabyte or gigabyte of data used without WiFi. Ask again for the cost per text or phone call sent and received abroad.
If it's not included in your plan, it's likely pretty pricey. You can check whether or not your service plan includes international roaming easily by signing onto the carrier's website or contacting customer service.
Second, determine how much data you need. For example, if you just need to check emails while you're away, you shouldn't need too much data to sustain you. As a result, you may want to go with a cheaper prepaid plan offering fewer data.
Related: We designed our handy data usage calculator to help you understand how much data you use every month. How much data do you use? Give it a try!
International Data Roaming, Phone Call, and Text Prices
- Verizon Wireless: Verizon's international data, texting, and calling prices depend on your plan. If it's not included in your plan, you can pay $5 extra per day with Verizon's Travel Pass when traveling in Mexico or Canada and $10 per day when traveling in over 100 other countries. This may be cheaper than paying a huge fee every time you use a bit of data, depending on how much you use. Additionally, their unlimited plan includes calls to and from Mexico and Canada, so you'll be able to make and receive calls for free in those countries under that plan.
- AT&T: The AT&T mobile network offers the same Travel Pass for $10 extra a day in over 100 countries if you already have one of AT&T's plans. You'll need an AT&T mobile share plan or unlimited plan to get started with the travel pass. AT&T also has the AT&T Passport in which you can pay $40 for 30 days of 200 MB of data with a 25 cent overage fee, $1 per minute calls, and unlimited texts. You can upgrade the amount of data for a larger price. Similar to Verizon, you'll have unlimited talk, text, and use of your data in Mexico and Canada with AT&T's unlimited plans.
- T-Mobile: T-Mobile has a One Plan and their Simple Choice North America Plan, you have access to free, unlimited international data and texting while abroad. If you want to make phone calls, it will cost you 20 cents per minute. If you don't have one of these plans, data costs $15 per megabyte, 50 cents to send a text (receiving texts is deducted from your plan), and $1.49 per minute for calls.
- Sprint: Sprint will tell you exactly how to get international roaming with your mobile device on their website. Just go to the site and choose your device from the list. Sprint's Global Roaming Plan offers free text and data up to 2 GB with your plan plus 20 cents per minute for calls. If you want LTE high-speed date on your trip, however, you'll have to pay extra. Also, keep in mind that your device must be LTE/GSM capable of using the Global Roaming Plan.
Options for Traveling Abroad with your Cell Phone
There are several different methods you can use to avoid expensive cellular data and calling fees while traveling abroad. Here is how to prevent roaming charges before you go on your trip and stop them from piling up once you're away.
Prevent Roaming Charges Before You Go
1. Talk to your Cell Phone Carrier
You should always give your mobile phone carrier's customer service line a call when you're thinking about traveling abroad. You can also do some research on your cell phone's carrier website. Here's what you'll need to find out.
- First, check to see if your service provider offers service in the country you're visiting. Some countries do not support certain networks, according to the FCC, so you'll need to make sure. You should also make sure you will be able to utilize data, texts, and calls depending on what you need. Some companies only offer international service plans with one or another.
- Next, you should see if your current plan includes any amount of international data, calls or text messages. If not, you'll want to find out how much it's going to cost you to use data and make calls/texts abroad. You can also ask your service provider if there are other plan options for traveling abroad.
- You may have to ask your provider to activate international roaming before you leave. Once you have discussed your options and how much it will cost to use data and send/receive calls/text messages, let them know when you're leaving and when you'll be back. This way, you don't pay for more or less than you need.
- Once you get where you're going, you'll need to turn on Data Roaming to activate your travel plan if you have one. This can be found in your phone's settings. If you don't have one, keep Data Roaming off and use WiFi.
2. Look into a Rental Phone with an International Sim Card
If your mobile phone provider's travel plan(s) are too expensive for you, there is another way. You may want to buy an international sim card to put in an unlocked rental phone or an unlocked, used cell phone.
You can buy a used or rented phone to use abroad as long as it's unlocked and simply buy the sim card when you get where you're going. The sim card plan you buy abroad will likely end up being cheaper than any major service provider plan in the U.S. You can also put a sim card in your own phone if it's unlocked; just make sure with your mobile device carrier. Here's how to unlock your cell phone.
Read More: Tired of Expensive Cell Phone Bills?
Prevent Roaming Charges During your Trip
3. Put your Phone on Airplane Mode
Airplane mode sends your phone into WiFi only mode. It basically turns off your cellular data so that you cannot incur fees by using data on accident abroad. If you try to enter an app or website in Airplane Mode without Internet access, it simply won't work. Luckily, you will not be charged a dime as long as you only use your phone where you have Internet access.
There are also apps (like Google Voice or Skype) that allow you to send messages and make calls via WiFi, so you don't have to worry about text and call fees either. If you want to know more, check out our guide on how to enable WiFi calling. Keep in mind, however, that some apps will use data if you have data turned on for that app, even during Airplane Mode.
You can make sure this doesn't happen by going into your settings and turning off cellular data for each individual app on the iPhone. If you have a Samsung Galaxy phone, the process is a little different. Go to your Settings, tap on Wireless & Networks, choose Mobile Networks, choose Global Data Roaming Access, then tap on Deny Data Roaming Access.
4. Monitor your Data Usage Closely
Once you're in a different country, you can save money on data charges by simply monitoring the amount of data you're using. Check out our guide on how to check your data for detailed instructions on how to monitor data usage for each carrier. Monitoring your data is also good for prepaid travel plans so you don't run out of data.
Tips on How to Travel Abroad with Your Cell Phone
- Look for a Travel-Specific Plan: MTX Connect, for example, offers sim cards for Euro Travelers with 1 GB of traffic volume for 15 days at $19.99 Euros. You can also buy 24-hour passes with varying data or a 30-day card with 2 GB of data at a higher price. Once you arrive at your destination, your device will work like normal if you've entered the sim card and followed the directions to set it up. Also, check out Cellular Abroad, Telestial or MAXROAM.
- Use WiFi Whenever Possible: Whether you've decided to purchase a travel plan or not, you should always use WiFi when it's available. Using WiFi whenever possible will help you save your data for those times when you really need it.
- Bring the Appropriate Wall-Charger: Make sure to bring the right charger! If you're going to Europe, for example, you'll have to buy a plug converter for your chargers; otherwise, they won't fit into the wall outlet. If you're going to Mexico, on the other hand, you won't have to worry.
- Download Free Text and Calling Apps: You can download apps like Whatsapp, Google Voice, and Skype for free messaging and calls over WiFi while you're away. This will save you worrying about whether of not you'll have to pay an exorbitant amount for texts and calls. Just make sure to turn off your cellular data; the process may differ depending on your device.
- Write Off Expenses if Possible: If you're going on a business trip abroad, you may be able to write off any cash you spend on a cell phone plan, according to the IRS. Check the website or ask your tax advisor what qualifies if you're interested in getting some money back during tax season.
Read More: Is Cell Phone Insurance Worth it?
Traveling abroad with your cell phone is easy when you know what you're doing. Hopefully, you can say the same after reading this cell phone guide to traveling abroad. If you have any other questions that need answering, please leave me a reply in the comments.
If you have traveled abroad before and have experience with the best route to international cell phone service, you can also let us know about your experience in the comments.
Check out our guide on how to make cheap international calls to learn more about what each major cell phone carrier offers for international use. To see how much you can save by switching to a new cell phone plan, use our cell phone savings calculator.