How to keep phone charges low during international travel
Leaving your phone off isn’t practical these days. But you won’t come home to a whopping bill if you follow these tips.
It’s a surefire way to dampen the holiday cheers: Spend a week on a dream vacation abroad, then come back to find an additional several hundred dollars on your cellphone bill.
Although some U.S. phone plans cover international travel, especially to Canada and Mexico, many don’t. Leaving your phone off isn’t practical these days. But you don’t have to pay a fortune if you follow these tips. You might find some of these steps annoying, but they’re surely less painful than an unexpected data bill. Start planning well before you leave.
Get a plan abroad
This is the most economical choice, but also the least practical for many people. With the exception of Verizon, carriers typically block your phone from other carriers’ plans until you’ve paid off the hardware, typically after two years. They might make a temporary exception if you’re traveling, but it’s on you to get that set up. You might have an old phone to use instead, or you can rent or buy a cheap one for your trip.
This route gives you a lot of data at competitive prices. Upon arrival in Bangkok, for instance, I got 2.5 gigabytes of data for a little less than $13. Two more gigabytes would have cost just $3 more.
Just visit a kiosk at the airport when you arrive, or stop by a cellphone or convenience store in town. You’ll be assigned a phone number for that country, though, so friends and family will need that to call or text. But Facebook, email accounts and messaging services such as Apple’s FaceTime should work just as they do in the U.S.
If you’re visiting multiple countries, you’ll need a separate local plan for each.
Step up your U.S. plan
Check with your carrier on an international package. For instance, Verizon offers 100 megabytes of data for $25. Ten minutes of streaming video can wipe that out. But it’ll get you email and basic messaging, and it’s much cheaper than the $205 Verizon would charge for 100 megabytes without an international plan. You keep your U.S. number.
You might find this adequate for emergencies, such as when you need directions back to the hotel. Use your hotel’s Wi-Fi as much as possible; your Instagram pictures can wait, especially if your friends are asleep anyway. For a two-week trip to Italy, I had plenty of data left after taking additional data-saving measures. Verizon even refunded me nearly $16. But I got socked with another $25 because I wasn’t careful on a separate trip to Barcelona, Spain.
This option is good for multicountry trips. You can still get a local plan for the country where you’ll spend the most time.