As an avid traveler “how do you use your phone abroad” is one of the questions I’m asked most often by friends, family and fans/followers. There are loads of options for staying connected when you’re abroad and each of them vary based on your needs, usage, cell phone provider and especially – budget.
Me, easily using my phone in Bali, Indonesia
Fortunately for me budget isn’t really a factor when it comes to the phone bill department.
Since I’m a self employed social media manager and business consultant I *need* to use my phone to do my job at home or abroad – so my phone bill, regardless of where I am, is a lovely tax write-off. *Note: consult with an accountant or financial manager to determine if the charges for your phone usage abroad is a write-off for you/your business.
I’m going to break this list down from “Ballin” to “Budget” to “Bargain” and each of the options will vary based on your cell carrier here in the States. I use Verizon because I find that it’s not only the best service in the states but also the best deal for my dollar when I’m abroad (and simply for the record: no, this isn’t a paid sponsorship/affiliation with Verizon – I’m just extremely happy with the service I pay for). I’ll also explain my deal with the devil (aka the time I went to Europe with a T-Mobile SIM card).
Verizon has an awesome new TravelPass program allowing me to access my current domestic plan of unlimited talk, text, and 42G of data a month – abroad – for as low as $2 a day (per device) in Canada and Mexico and $10 a day (per device) for other countries in South and Central America, The Caribbean, Europe, The Middle East and Asia Pacific. (Click the TravelPass link above for full breakdown of countries.)
Now, if I’m away for 30 days that’s $300; which yes is a pretty pile of cash but compared to the prior plan which was $40 a month to access my phone internationally and gave me 100 outgoing text messages, 100 minutes to talk and only 100MB of data. (And, oh yeah, that plan automatically renews when you use the 100MB of data.) I got SMACKED IN THE FACE with $160 of charges in just four days in New Zealand. (Damn you, SnapChat!) Had the TravelPass been available during my time there those same four days would’ve just cost me $40.
Additionally, I have two phones and an iPad through Verizon – which would cost $30/day to access each device abroad and which also would be ridiculous. Instead of paying to access my three devices abroad, I pay to access my wifi hotspot, a Verizon JetPack (for the same $10 per device – per day) and am able to stream wifi anywhere on not only my two phones and my iPad but also my computer.
With my TravelPass I was able to stream the season premier of Game of Thrones at 3am in Europe on a moving river cruise ship. If that’s not the most solid endorsement ever, I’m not quite sure what is. The fact that I don’t need to change my number to a local number while abroad when using TravelPass is also extremely convenient.
I would also place T-Mobile’s “Unlimited International Plan” under this ballin’ category because if you want to acquire service that actually works it’s going to cost you $50 per 1G. The catch with T-Mobile’s plan is that it’s $50 for Unlimited International Data abroad that provides you a strong-fast 3 or 4G singal for only the first 1G. After you use that first gigabyte (which is going to fly by faster than you think) they slow your speeds to as low as 2G (we’ve advanced from 3G to 4G to LTE – so you can only imagine how incredibly, teeth-clenchingly, slow this service is).
I wasn’t even able to send a single tweet to T-Mobile questioning their super slow speeds. Since the service was so slow – the tweet sending time request kept failing. Atop of that – to combat their super slow, super annoying “post 1G downgrade” – they text you taunting you to upgrade your next 1G of service for another $50. *insert rolling eyes emoji*
I used 14G of service in 15 days my last trip in Europe on mostly 4G and some LTE towers with Verizon – costing me $150. Had I still been with T-Mobile, it would’ve cost me $700. SEVEN HUNDRED DOLLARS.
I rest my Verizon vs. T-Mobile for abroad services case.
Since I have Verizon, my phones come “unlocked” meaning I can put any SIM card in my phone and it will work. As I mentioned above I also have two phones so if I’m in a country for longer than just a few days I get a prepaid local SIM card. The price of this can vary from $5 for a one month unlimited data SIM card with no talk or text capabilities in Bali (SCORE!) to $28 for 10G of data, unlimited text and talk (on a local number) in Australia.
Each country is different but this can definitely be a more economical option for using your phone abroad and with apps like FaceBook Messenger and WhatsApp you’re able to stay in communication with friends/family even with a local phone number connected to your phone.
*Before You Depart: Check with your cellular service provider (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, etc.) prior to departure to inquire about your phone’s capabilities to allow cellular and data services from another SIM card – some companies block other SIM cards from providing service to the phone.
If money is tight or if you don’t need to stay on the grid for clients/work while abroad – the best way to use your phone abroad is to notify your cellular provider of your travels, adding the least expensive plan for basic talk and text allowing you to stay in communication with loved ones. *Note: failure to add at least some type of plan will result in an automatic, most likely roaming, pay-as-you-go plan which can get SUPER EXPENSIVE. With this option you’d only use data services (WhatsApp, FaceBook Messenger, Instagram, Snapchat, etc) while you can access wifi for free – at a hostel, hotel or in some cases even cafes, restaurants and hotspots around certain cities.