How to Use Your Smartphone Abroad: Three Tips to Avoid Fees Overseas

How to Use Your Smartphone Abroad:
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* Phone rates differ per country
* Most mobile carriers offer international plans
*Make sure you’re aware of potential fees beforehand

Planning a trip abroad this summer? You might want to make sure you’re able to bring your phone first.

One of the biggest mistakes people make is taking their phone overseas thinking the data plans and rules are the same. Trust us, they’re not. While SMS texts are usually free to receive, they tend to cost a lot to send back. And then there’s the whole issue with making calls abroad. Some people have even been charged $5 for logging into Facebook. Yikes.

That’s why we picked three tips that can help you save money and avoid a headache before you leave for your trip.

1. Look Into Buying a Plan Ahead of Time

If you’re not sure whether your phone plan covers overseas traveling — and most don’t — then your first task should be to talk with a service representative.

Let your cell company know ahead of time. And, if possible, try to set up an international plan for the time you’re away. This might be a bit more expensive up front but it will definitely cost less than if you were to use your smartphone abroad without checking with your carrier first.

Now, if your cell company doesn’t offer overseas plans, it’s okay; you can simply make due with taking your phone and sticking to WiFi networks.

3. Make Sure Your Phone’s Data Roaming Is Turned Off

In fact, it’s best to just keep your phone on airplane mode until you’re able to connect to a public WiFi hotspot. There’s nothing worse than trekking around Europe only to realize the phone you’re not even using is charging you by the minute. 

Luckily, apps like Google Hangouts, Facebook Messenger, Skype and WhatsApp are all free, and they can all be used on local hotspots. Just make sure you know the network you’re connected to before you start browsing online. And make sure you’re only browsing HTTPS-secured websites, as this will help keep your information private.

3. See If You Can Buy a SIM Card Abroad

Depending on how long you’re going to be on holiday, you might also want to look into getting a SIM card abroad. Most carriers sell SIM cards in convenience stores, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find.

The bad news? Your phone needs to be unlocked. The good news? It’s usually really easy to unlock yours. (You can read a quick guide on how to unlock a phone here.) Most carriers will simply request passport info or another proof of identity for a SIM card, but some countries including Germany and Italy have been known to require proof of residence in order to purchase. Other countries offer cheap phones for a one-time fee that includes a local number and plan. Even if you purchase the phone and use it once, the $50-100 you pay upfront could end up saving you a lot of time and money. Just make sure to get a local plan that includes data, so you can access maps, restaurant info and directions while you’re exploring.