If you plan to use your cell phone to make calls, text or use data while abroad, you should have an international plan set up or purchase a local SIM card once you arrive on tour. Otherwise, using your phone internationally can lead to a large bill upon return due to roaming fees and data usage.
International phone plans
First, check if your current plan already includes international coverage in the countries you'll be visiting. If this isn't included in your everyday plan, you can look into purchasing a plan through your phone carrier. Upgrading an existing phone plan is the most convenient way to use your phone internationally, but this is also considered the more expensive option. (Although, some find the prices to be reasonable!) We recommend visiting your phone provider's website or contact them for more information.
Local SIM cards
Local SIM cards are the most affordable way to use your phone on the go during your tour. Most international airports have an official phone company kiosk either before or after baggage claim where you can purchase a SIM card. We recommend doing this, because these kiosks are reliable and it may be difficult to find a time and place to purchase a SIM card during your tour.
When purchasing a SIM card, please follow these tips:
- In order to use a SIM card, your smartphone must be unlocked. An unlocked phone isn't linked to a specific phone carrier and can be used with any carrier. If you aren't sure if your phone is unlocked, contact your phone provider before your departure.
- You must show your passport when purchasing a SIM card, regardless of where you're buying it from.
- If you're traveling to multiple countries during your tour, clarify if the SIM card will work in all those countries or not. The same SIM card will work in most European countries.
- Make sure your SIM card works. Have the salesperson help you install it and check that it's working properly before you leave the airport.
- Write down your new local phone number. You'll now have a different phone number for family and friends to reach you on.
- Don't lose your old SIM card! You'll need this tiny card in order to get your U.S. or Canadian phone number back, so be sure to keep this somewhere safe and easily accessible for when you want to turn your everyday plan back on.
Using free Wi-Fi
The easiest way to avoid roaming charges and international fees is to use your smartphone with a wireless internet connection. Your hotels will have free Wi-Fi (sometimes limited to common areas) and you'll be given the password when you check in. If you plan to only use Wi-Fi during your tour and don't want to be charged any international fees, you should keep your phone on airplane mode and only turn on your Wi-Fi. With this option, you don't need to pay anything extra and you can still check in with your loved ones once you return to your hotel at the end of the day.
Check out our blog post about 7 tips for using your cell phone abroad!