How to make your phone work while traveling overseas

By Alex Perry

You’ve got a passport and are ready to leave your home country to see something new. Overseas travel can be a ton of fun, but there are also a bunch of considerations you need to make before doing it. One of these is making sure your phone works.

A smartphone is a great way to find things to do, maneuver your way around, and generally document your journey abroad. How are you going to get those Instagram posts off if your phone doesn’t work? Maybe you’d like to call a loved one and tell them how things are going, too. That’s probably more important.

Unfortunately, you can’t just bring your phone as-is to another country and expect it to work without a hitch. That’s not how the world works. You probably won’t need to get a brand new phone just for your trip, but the options for using your normal phone vary by both convenience and price.

Here are some ways you can use your phone overseas:

Make sure your phone will work

This should be less of a problem for those with recent smartphones, but there’s always a possibility your phone won’t be compatible with different cell frequencies around the world. This is because of the mobile standards known as GSM and CDMA.

Just know that a GSM-compliant phone is more likely to work around the world than a CDMA-compliant phone, and if your phone is recent enough, you probably don’t need to worry about that.

If you don’t feel like doing a bunch of homework but you still want to have all your bases covered, you can always call your phone company to verify your phone will work overseas. Otherwise, you can find out with enough internet research; Apple, for example, has a page for this on its website. There’s also a trip planner tool with this issue in mind on Verizon’s website.

Check your carrier’s options

Every mobile service provider understands that their customers might need to travel overseas on occasion and has specific service plans in place for this. On paper, this seems great. You don’t have to buy anything or mess with your phone to make it work abroad because your service carrier will just make it work on their end. The only problem is the price.

This will vary from carrier to carrier, but international plans can be expensive and not always that great. With major carriers like AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon, you’re generally looking at about $10 per day and per device in most countries.

Look into getting a local SIM card

The cheapest and best way to use your phone in another country is almost always going to be with a local SIM card. In case you’re unfamiliar, SIM stands for “subscriber identity module” and the SIM card in your phone is what lets you go online, make calls, and so on and so forth.

You should probably do some location-specific research to find out the best place to get a local SIM card before you travel, but at least in some cases, you can get them right at the airport.

The only potential headaches here are finding a store to get a SIM card and making sure your phone is unlocked. You should contact your carrier ahead of time and see if they can unlock your phone so SIM installation is as painless as possible.


Image courtesy of (Image Courtesy: Nomadic Matt)

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