Tips for Using Cell Phones Overseas
Our tech expert’s latest tips help you stay connected while you’re abroad—without the excessive fees.
Get a Data Plan: All the major U.S. cellular carriers are offering a better value when it comes to roaming—great news for travelers. AT&T and Verizon Wireless currently offer the best deals, starting at $25 a month for 100MB. Spending only two weeks away? The plans can be prorated, letting you activate the service for as long as you need to (yielding a fraction of both the bill and the data allotment). Be sure to stay within your limit: overage fees remain costly, but free app My Data Manager (Android, iOS) can help monitor your usage in real time. As for text and voice plans, they’re still separate, and less cost-effective.
Subscribe to Wi-Fi: If you’d rather not waste vacation hours seeking free Wi-Fi, consider subscribing to a dedicated hot-spot service. Boingo Wireless provides access to more than 700,000 hot spots worldwide; plans with international access are available for as little as $7.95 per month. Alternatively, you can buy a portable MiFi hot-spot device with an international roaming plan, which supplies an Internet connection to any mobile device, wherever you go. The Verizon Jetpack is $50 with a new, dedicated two-year contract, and 4GB of domestic data runs $30 per month—add 100MB of global roaming for just $25 more each month. Similarly, for AT&T customers, the Liberate is $50 with a two-year commitment—month-by-month data plans start at $50 for a more substantial 5GB, and international plans cost $30 for 120MB.
Call and Text for Free: Thanks to a handful of new apps, it’s easier than ever to stay in touch without spending a dime—as long as you use Wi-Fi. Through the Viber app (free; Android, BlackBerry, iOS, Windows Phone), users can call and message one another at no cost. Google Hangouts and Skype are tough to beat for HD video chat: they work on all devices, and provide free Internet phone service within your network. But for local calls without the long-distance charges, use Rebtel (free; Android, iOS, Windows Phone), which gives your smartphone a local number abroad, and charges the best rates we’ve seen—as low as a penny per minute in the UK.
Buy a SIM Card: Picking up a local SIM card is affordable (roughly $25, including a few minutes of call time) and can be arranged through most local cell-carrier branches. Don’t have a SIM-compatible phone? Pick one up along with the card for a small fee, usually another $25. To arrange it all before you leave, try Cellular Abroad, which rents basic cellular and smartphones from $29 a week (personal MiFi hot spots are also available from $3 a day). Devices are conveniently delivered to your door two days before your departure.
Tom Samiljan is Travel + Leisure’s Tech Correspondent.