In a world where we’re constantly connected to the Internet, it’s hard to imagine traveling without staying in touch with friends and family back home. But while it seems easy enough to just pick up the phone and dial (or if we’re being honest—upload those photos to Facebook or Instagram), using a U.S.-subscribed phone in an international country can lead to a large bill upon return, due to roaming fees and data usage. Here are our tips for avoiding extra costs—and staying connected—no matter where you are.
Consider purchasing an international phone plan
Some mobile phones don’t have a network connection outside of the U.S., but for those that do, you’re likely to be charged roaming fees for accessing data and making calls while abroad. Check with your provider to see if your current plan allows for international calling, and if they don’t, see if you can activate international calling, rent an international phone, or purchase an unlocked phone (with an international SIM card) for use on your trip.
Check the voltage and converter requirements for any country you’re visiting
The last thing you want to do is blow a fuse when you’re trying to charge your phone or upload photos, so make sure to read up on your destination’s voltage requirements and outlets before purchasing a voltage converter or outlet adapter. If you’re traveling to multiple countries, consider a universal outlet adapter, which ensures your electronics will fit in the appropriate outlets in multiple countries.
Turn off data usage on your smartphone
Reduce data roaming charges by updating your smartphone’s settings to check for email and wireless connections manually, rather than automatically. That way, you can check and send emails when it’s convenient (ie. when you’re using free Wi-Fi at the hotel). Also, you’ll want to make sure your phone is set on “airplane mode” when you’re in the air, to keep your cell phone from roaming and draining the battery.
Sign up for Skype
Skype is one of our favorite ways to connect with friends while we’re abroad, and you can make video calls for free or international calls for a small fee. You can even get Skype for mobile, so you can video chat loved ones without lugging around a laptop.
Take advantage of free Wi-Fi
The easiest way to avoid roaming charges and international fees is to use your phone with a wireless internet connection. Most hotels are equipped with Wi-Fi, and sometimes all that’s required to sign on is a password that you can get from the front desk.
Have an iPhone? Use Facetime to make calls
There’s no better opportunity than when you have a few moments of rest in your hotel to Facetime with friends. The benefit of Facetime is that it only requires a Wi-Fi connection.
Use a prepaid phone card
If you’re just planning to make a few calls to loved ones back at home, one of the easiest things to do is purchase a prepaid phone card. You can find them almost anywhere, and it’ll allow you to make calls from a local telephone or pay phone in the country you’re visiting. Just make sure you pay attention to the fine print and rules for using a prepaid card, as you might still be charged roaming fees if you try to use it with your U.S.-subscribed cell phone.