The most frequent question from new international travelers is can I use my smartphone abroad? Most have heard horror stories of travelers returning home to exorbitant phone bills from roaming charges. So what is one to do when we want to travel with our own devices?
I travel with several, at least 2 smartphones, a Samsung Galaxy camera and a tablet or laptop. The latter choice depends on how much writing I will need to do on that trip and my preference is leaning towards my Nokia, Windows tablet.
Wifi will be your first choice always and is becoming much more readily available. Who remembers “internet cafes”? I used to disembark at ship and at every port run to the nearest internet café to spend several hours—connections were very slow—catching up on work. Whew—glad these days are gone.
If you are on a land trip, you will find that every hotel has wifi. Many travelers choose to turn off the cellular roaming abroad and just wait for wifi connections. The cost of wifi at hotels is almost directly associated with the cost of the hotel-inversely. Some very high priced hotels still charge very high rates for connecting wifi for more than one device. They argue that this is necessary to insure guests have sufficient band width. I am not buying it. I have stayed at 3 star hotels with free wifi and no problems with bandwidth. I know it will sound strange but if I am staying in certain 5 star hotels that charge $40.00 per night for wifi, I often opt to use my cellular/data plan (see below) instead.
Also, increasingly, public areas are becoming wifi enabled both in the U.S. and abroad. Almost all of London is under a cloud of free wifi. I have found it to be good, not strong enough to stream video, but strong enough for all my other needs. This trend is expanding rapidly.
If you are cruising, the technology is also improving. On a river cruise, you will often be close enough to land that you can pick up cell tower signals for your data, or the ship’s wifi will be strong and steady.
For ocean going cruises, it is a little trickier. All ships now have wifi, but most will be very slow, spotty and costly so be prepared. Again, when you are closer to land you can pick up cell tower coverage. Some ships are now offering free wifi and the speed is improving on a few. I do think this will change dramatically in the near future as travelers demand good connectivity while traveling.
A past solution for high data charges when abroad for those who need voice contact with home and data all the time was to purchase a sim card or phone abroad and use that different number. In some countries, I will still purchase one or a dongle to plug into my laptop for cheap data connectivity. But that entails a visit to a local store and at least an hour or two of figuring out what you need. I will also use my phone for a “hotspot” when needed.
Thankfully with the rationalization of global data plans this is becoming less needed. I am a fan of Verizon’s Global Data plans. (And this is way before they asked me to be a Lifestyle Blogger for them.) Before I travel, I call their Global Services number and if a data plan covers the areas I am visiting I add it to my plan. Usually $25.00 for 100MBs and then another $25.00 plan is automatically added if I go over that. They can be prorated by dates. I use my phone for everything but downloading videos. That I save for wifi!
The one big hassle with this is that you will still receive constant texts and emails warning you that you are using excessive global roaming and it could be expensive. They have not yet coordinated the purchase of the plan with the turning off of these warnings and this can be disconcerting on the road. But overall the plan is a great solution for those who don’t want to wait for wifi. Other companies have similar plans. http://www.verizonwireless.com/wcms/global/plans-and-pricing.html I do not use voice or text abroad but there are rates for that as well.
It is easier than ever to stay connected at affordable rates when traveling. Just a little basic research with your company and you are ready to go!
5 thoughts on “How to Use Your Smartphone when Traveling Abroad”
Great info Jeanne! Now I just need to plan another trip somewhere!
T-Mobile has a fantastic feature in their plans that allows unlimited and data texting when traveling through more than 100 countries. Although 4GB drops to 2- or 3GB, it’s invaluable for sharing on social networks. The plan launched last October and I had a chance to try it out on my last two trips abroad. I can’t say enough how fabulous and convenient my phone became especially when Wi-Fi was no where to be found! Convert your smartphone into a hotspot and voila, you have internet connection for your laptop and tablets!! I returned home and the only additional charge I had on my bill was $1.15. T-Mobile is the way to go, my apologies to Verizon. 😉
Forgot to mention one more thing, phone calls were only $.20 per minute if you had to call someone but more importantly, the comfort of knowing you’re connected 5,000 miles from home is bliss!
I generally buy a minimal data plan (AT&T) for my iPhone and then try to only use the local wifi. I have also bought Italian SIM cards and carry an inexpensive phone for texting in Italy with my Italian friends as that seems to be the preferred way to communicate. I think in the end I spend more on the Italian SIM cards!
Thanks for your comment. With it now becoming legal to unlock phones in the States, bringing your regular phone and buying local sim cards is becoming a very good option.