A friend of mine messaged me on Facebook a while back and asked me for some advice on traveling with a cell phone. And honestly, I knew a few things, but I wasn’t positive with how to go about it. So I was inspired to dig into this issue the next day and I found some great information from my research. I hope this post is able to help you out if you’re one of the many people who are confused about traveling internationally with a cell phone and don’t want to be charged outrageous sums of cash to call home.
1. Get An International Plan:
You can buy an international plan from your cell phone carrier for an added price. The plan makes it a little bit less expensive to roam (and you are still technically roaming), but extra charges are still added and those charges can be upwards of one dollar per minute and a few dimes per text message, so think twice before you go this way if you plan on making a lot of calls.
2. Unlock Your Cell Phone:
This is going to be the best way to go since you get to keep your phone and avoid roaming charges, so I’ll go into more detail on this. To go about this you can attempt to call your cell phone provider and ask for them to give you the code to unlock your phone, but there is a chance that they won’t give you one. In the case that that doesn’t work, you can find tutorials online for how to unlock your cell phone, pay someone else to do it or just buy one that is already unlocked on eBay or Amazon.
What “unlocking” your phone does is frees it from the limitations that are put on it by whoever your carrier is. After your phone has its freedom from the cell phone company, you can buy a SIM card every time you switch countries and buy minutes for your phone as you go along. You can buy SIM cards pretty easily by going into a tech store or even from a newsstand on the street and then just slipping them into your phone. Some countries make you fill out a little paperwork, so don’t be alarmed if you’re asked to. SIM cards can cost anywhere between 5 and 15 USD each.
There are multiple benefits to having an unlocked phone. You can download third-party apps that are not in the app store (I’m pretty sure you can get Gameboy style Pokémon games this way), new ringtones, and you can customize the look of the phone, in additional to being able to use SIM cards.
3. Buy A Phone There:
If you aren’t very tech savvy and don’t feel like dealing with SIM cards or hassling with your cell phone company, you can always buy a cheap phone wherever you are. The rates are going to be different everywhere you go and there may be some paperwork involved, but overall this is probably the easiest way to go.
4. Rent A Phone:
Some phone carriers and rental-car companies offer the option to rent phones from them. Be wary of doing this though as there can be many hidden fees attached to renting phones that may not make it worth the effort and may end up costing you more in the long run.
5. Call From Your Hotel Room:
Even if you have an unlocked phone or an international plan, I suggest that you use your hotel room phone whenever you can as long as it doesn’t inconvenience you. This will help assure that your costs are kept to a minimum and it’s better to play it safe, than to be surprised with a large phone bill. There are also other free ways to communicate if you bring a laptop, you can e-mail, Skype, or use voice software like Ventrilo.
I’m curious what your experience with cell phones overseas has been. Did you make any mistakes or find out something that I might have missed? Leave a comment to let other travelers know!