If you haven’t traveled abroad before, one thing that demands your attention is how you intend to communicate – and get around – while you’re away. Talking, texting, accessing social media, and using turn-by-turn GPS navigation may cost you little when you’re at home, but overseas, it could cost you a fortune. That is, if you don’t take proper precautions ahead of time.
Thankfully, there are ways to avoid sticker shock when your phone bill finally arrives. From the simplest (if lease desirable) solution – not using your phone at all – to solutions that will meet your needs but cost you a bit of money, you have no shortage of options. It’s simply a matter of finding the solution that best suits your needs and wishes. Here are some helpful tips if you’re traveling abroad with a cell phone for the first time.
Turn Off Data Roaming
The most effective way to avoid unnecessary bill charges while abroad is simply not using your phone. Of course, that may be difficult to do. After all, we use our phones for everything now. As a nice compromise, consider turning data roaming off completely. This will prevent your phone from attempting to access data without your knowledge, as well as from third party networks. If you don’t have a proper international data plan for your device (more on this below), even accidentally trying to access data could potentially cost you hundreds of dollars in roaming fees. Avoid this by shutting off data roaming altogether.
Turn Off Cellular Data
An added precaution worth taking is turning off cellular data altogether while abroad (or placing your phone in airplane mode). While turning off data roaming will prevent your phone from accessing data on any networks other than your own, turning off cellular data altogether will prevent your phone from accessing any data over a cellular network. Of the two methods, this is the “nuclear” option. If you turn off cellular data, your phone will not be able to access the Internet except over a Wi-Fi network, which will guarantee that you don’t accrue any surprise data fees while overseas. You can also manage cellular data access for individual apps in your Settings menu, if would still like some data access, but want to minimize risks.
Use Wi-Fi Only
You may already be in the habit of hopping onto Wi-Fi networks whenever possible – if not to save money on your phone bill, then for a faster connection. If this describes you, then keep doing what you’re doing! By accessing Internet and other data over a Wi-Fi network, you can avoid having to use a cellular network while abroad, which will allow you to avoid roaming fees and other related charges. Just remember, not everything can be accessed via Wi-Fi; for example, if you intend to use step-by-step GPS navigation while you’re on vacation or away on business, you’re going to want an international data package. Which brings us to our next recommendation.
Get an International Data Packaged
While the recommendations above are a surefire way to avoid surprise charges on your phone bill, let’s be honest: you’re going to want cell phone access while you’re abroad. Why? Well, to make phone calls. To send text messages. To upload photos to Instagram while on the go. And of course, to access GPS. Which means a strict Wi-Fi-only solution likely won’t work for you. This is where an international data package comes into play. Some carriers, like T-Mobile, offer added perks for those seeking an international plan. With the company’s Gogo inflight plan, individuals get unlimited inflight texting, plus an hour of free Wi-Fi coverage, which can mean all the difference on a long-distance flight. See what options your carrier provides.
Download Offline Apps (and Maps)
Walking maps, subway maps, street maps, and a variety of travel apps that you might find useful can be downloaded right to your phone and accessed offline. This is great when you’re on the go and Wi-Fi is nowhere to be found. Maps are a great way to navigate without having to access GPS, and tourism apps that can be accessed offline can be a great resource when you’re looking to find what to do next, or have a sudden change of plans. Many of Europe’s larger metro systems make their maps readily available for download, like London’s Tube system. Download the maps for the places you’ll be visiting, and store them on your phone.
Buy or Rent Local SIM Cards
One final option (though not for everyone) is buying or renting a local SIM card while you’re abroad. The reason this option isn’t for everyone is that finding one – and knowing how to set it up and use it – may be difficult for some. Plus, when it comes to swapping SIM cards, not all phones are created equal. It also may prove to be a troublesome distraction when you have a limited amount of time at your destination. Still, if you are looking to avoid cell phone bill shock upon your return home, this is one means of doing just that! Give it a try if it sounds like the best plan for you. You may find that you get more minutes for less than many comparable international data plans.