The 10 Best Tips For Using A Cell Phone During International Travel

Traveling abroad? Use these tips to stay connected without going broke

A man wearing a backpack and taking a photo with his smartphone while traveling internationally.

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iPhones and Android smartphones will work in any country you travel to, but their functionality can be limited depending on your current mobile plan, whether you want to rent a SIM card or portale Wi-Fi devices upon arrival, and how well you prepare your apps before your departure.

Here are 10 things you need to know to save some money and get the most out of your smartphone when traveling internationally.

01
of 10

Confirm International Texting, Calling, And Data Fees

T-Mobile employees in a branch greeting customers.
​T-Mobile

By far the most-important thing you need to do before traveling abroad is to check with your service provider about their current policies relating to international cell phone use and what your current contract already allows.

Global roaming functionality used to be an extra feature that users would have to manually opt into using for an additional fee. This has now changed and many cell phone service providers such as Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile now activate international texting, calling, and data features automatically as soon as the handset is used in a foreign country.

This activation usually incurs a pricey fee that's recharged on a daily basis and can get very expensive if you're planning to travel for a long period of time. Metro PCS' World Calling is another popular service many people use for making international phone calls while traveling.

Mobile providers frequently update their international roaming services with new prices, features, and payment options. Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile each have dedicated pages on their official websites that detail their current options. However, you may have signed up for a contract that was created before the current model launched so the updated information on their sites may not apply to you. The best advice for cell phone usage when going abroad is to talk to a customer service representative over the phone or in person about your specific mobile phone contract.

02
of 10

Check If Your Smartphone's Unlocked

A locked smartphone.

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If you're planning to use an international cell phone plan with your current provider while traveling overseas, you don't really need to worry about whether your smartphone is unlocked or not. If you're thinking of renting a SIM card once you arrive at your target destination though, this bit of information is incredibly important.

Having a locked phone means that it can only be used on one specific provider's cellular network and this means that you won't be able to use that phone in a country where that network doesn't exist. If your phone is unlocked, you can use it on other cellular networks both in your home country and abroad.

03
of 10

Rent A SIM Card For International Cell Phone Use

A SIM card on a finger.

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SIM card rental allows you to use all of your phone's features, such as phone calls, text messages, and cellular data, by swapping out your current SIM card for one that's native to the country you're visiting.

While using another SIM card, your phone will be unable to receive texts or calls to your regular phone number as the SIM card will give your phone a new number. Due to this side effect, it's recommended to tell friends and family to contact you via email or a chat app like Facebook Messenger while you're traveling.

SIM card rental is available in most regions and can be done at specialized stores in major airports and at cell phone company branches. Renting a SIM card is generally much cheaper than paying for an international roaming service, especially for those planning to travel abroad for several days or weeks.

04
of 10

Rent A Portable Wi-Fi Device Instead

Huawei E5577s-321 150 Mbps 4G LTE Mobile WiFi Hotspot

Huawei

If you don't need texting or phone calls while traveling overseas and you think you'll be fine using your smartphone's apps for communication and navigation, a popular alternative to rental SIMs is a portable Wi-Fi device.

These Wi-Fi devices are about the size of a deck of cards and can be carried in your pocket or handbag. They broadcast a strong Wi-Fi signal to which you can connect your smartphone and other devices while traveling.

Such devices can usually be rented at airports and in telephone service provider stores. Some tourist information buildings also offer them to travelers.

05
of 10

Invest In A Quality Battery Pack

Man charging his phone with a USB cable and battery pack.

Maskot

Odds are when you're traveling overseas, you're going to be using your phone a lot more than usual to navigate and to take photos and video. Your phone will also likely be going longer without chance to recharge and all of this extra usage will use up its battery power a lot faster than normal.

To prevent you from ending up with a dead phone while on the road, some good advice for smartphone owners is to invest in a good quality battery pack that can hold a significant amount of power. These typically feature at least one USB slot which can be used to recharge your smartphone, tablet, or other electronic accessories. A quality battery pack is a solid addition to any travel tech kit.

While most battery packs can be charged by being plugged into a wall, a growing number also boast solar panels which lets them be charged by the sun. These can be useful when traveling anywhere really but they're particularly practical for travelers that go camping.

06
of 10

Buy A Modern USB Power Adapter

TESSAN Eurpoean and Hong Kong power adapter with USB and traditional outlet sockets charging a laptop, iPhone, and iPad..

TESSAN

A traditional power adapter with old-school power sockets for your chargers and laptop is a necessary purchase if you want to keep your electronics charged while traveling. If you're planning to buy a new adapter though, it's worth investing in a modern model which has at least one built-in USB port.

A USB port in an adapter will save you a lot of space when packing as USB cables generally take up much less room than cables with wall plugs on one end. USB charging cables will also likely work with more than one of your devices so you won't have to bring a separate cable for everything you own.

07
of 10

Pre-Download Media For Long Flights

A woman watching downloaded videos on her smartphone while traveling internationally.

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When using your cell phone for international travel, you're bound to experience significant periods of time when you have access to neither a cellular nor Wi-Fi network and accessing online content will be almost impossible.

Because of this, it's a good idea to download some content before you travel so you have something to keep you entertained during your flight or after you arrive in a foreign country. The Netflix smartphone app lets you download many of its movies and TV shows, while the official YouTube apps have the ability to download your favorite videos if you're a YouTube Premium subscriber.

If you're not a subscriber of YouTube Premium, there's still a way to download YouTube videos to your device for offline viewing.

Other good options for offline media include the first-party digital stores for iOS, Android, and Windows 10 devices, all of which allow for the downloading of movies, songs, podcasts, and TV series. Spotify is another good choice for podcast downloads and music downloads, though you'll need a Spotify Premium membership to download songs for offline listening.

08
of 10

Pre-Download Maps For Offline Access

A woman using offline maps on her smartphone while traveling internationally.

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Unless you're paying for a global roaming package when going overseas, you'll likely be arriving at your target destination with no online functionality on your phone. This can make looking up travel information on your maps app very difficult or in many cases impossible.

Some airports do offer free Wi-Fi but many don't. The airport's Wi-Fi shouldn't be relied upon either, as once you leave the airport and get in a train, bus, taxi, or Uber, your smartphone will go completely offline again.

Fortunately, many map apps allow for the downloading of maps for offline viewing before you get to your location. Google Maps supports such a feature on both Android and iOS devices while the native Maps app on Windows 10 laptops and tablets also contains this functionality.

While a lot of the location data can be downloaded in map apps, most of the public transport information won't function when offline. A good alternative is to download the local public transport app for your target destination before you go. Many of these apps work completely offline and also feature some useful information on the transport services available.

09
of 10

Set Up Cloud Services On Your Mobile Device

A man and woman using Google Drive and the cloud to sync files between a computer and a smartphone
Google Drive can save data to the cloud and sync files across devices.

Westend61 / Brand X Pictures

 

Having your smartphone lost, broken, or stolen during international travel is always a possibility. Fortunately, experiencing any one of these bad situations doesn't have to be as devastating as it once was due to a variety of cloud services that can back up all of your photos, videos, and app settings to the cloud for access on another phone, tablet, or computer in the future.

The iPhone and Android smartphone first-party cloud services, iCloud and Google Drive, are usually installed and enabled by default on their respective devices to save your data to their respective servers but there are also some third-party options that you may want to check out as a backup.

Dropbox and Microsoft's OneDrive two popular alternatives to the native smartphone cloud options but there are a number worth checking out. Most cloud services can work alongside each other to back up your data so if you reach your data limit on one, you can rest assured that one of the other services has picked up the slack.

10
of 10

Prepare For App Content Changes In Other Countries

Woman watching Marvel's Daredevil and anime on Netflix on iPad while in bed
Netflix lets you stream and download series and movies for watching anywhere.

 Netflix

While many apps and services can function abroad, many travelers discover that some licenced content on their cell phone's apps changes slightly despite the same app and account being used as back home.

For example, a variety of music playlists may be available in the Fitbit Coach and other fitness smartphone apps when using them in the United States but you may find your song selection to be more limited when traveling to New Zealand. Once Upon a Time and Frasier may be on your Netflix list back home, but when traveling to Australia you may find that they disappear from the Netflix app completely.

The changing of content within apps isn't necessarily always a bad thing, though. While some of your favorite shows may become unavailable in Netflix when traveling to Japan for example, you'll also gain access to a lot of great Japanese films and anime series that you wouldn't be able to watch with your Netflix account back home.