Gone are the days of your phone not working while you are in Europe. It is not only possible, but also quite convenient, and at times necessary, to use your phone while traveling internationally. Here we provide some tips and info based on our experiences.
Note: We wrote this assuming that you, the reader, have a relatively current model smart phone, and have a plan with a wireless carrier that supports international calling and data. Call your carrier or check their website to check for your specific phone.
Do you need to add an international plan?
International plans for cell phones vary widely by carrier, and individual carrier plans vary based on how long you’re staying. There are short-term plans with data, text and voice options for around $10/day. Some carriers offer the option of paying a one-time flat fee for the month you’ll be there. With most plans, you can schedule them in advance to turn on automatically on the day you leave home, and to automatically discontinue on the day you return. It can get pricey, but on recent travels we’ve found it to be a huge time- and hassle-saver to just go ahead and pay for these plans. We were glad we did it.
How much data will you need?
If you decide go with one of your carrier’s international plans, you will need to estimate how much data you will need. For some carriers, you will use the data that’s currently included with your domestic plan (i.e., if you have unlimited data, you can pay the international fee and have the same unlimited data while traveling). Other plans are based on amount of data used. Often carriers will estimate your needs based on current usage. This is almost guaranteed to be an underestimate, unless you constantly walk around your home neighborhood with Google Maps navigating, and are continually searching for info on things you stumble upon, or nearby food and attractions (read: bathrooms!). One advantage to having lots of data is the ability to use Google Translate to interpret signs and written information pretty much in real time. This is super helpful for signs and schedules in train stations, for example. Be aware that using GPS, streaming videos, and visiting websites that load a lot of ads will use up data very quickly. Also be sure to change your phone settings so that apps are not updating in the background and using up all your data under the radar.
Lots of places like restaurants and coffee shops have free wifi. While you can use that to supplement your data plan a bit, in our experience the speed, reliability and security is often lacking in most public places. Places like hotels and AirBnBs are typically fine, but who wants to hang out there all day?
How do cell phones work overseas?
When your airplane lands and you first turn your phone on internationally, your phone will connect to the local carrier service. Be warned – you could incur roaming fees at this point. While some services offer free roaming, some do not. For those carriers, close attention to be sure your roaming is turned off. Each carrier will provide specific instructions to be sure you don’t incur unexpected charges. You may have to reset your phone to clear some of the carrier data and allow your phone connect to the international towers. We often had to do this when crossing country lines on trains. Once you’re connected, usually you will experience uninterrupted service just like you’re used to in the States.
Once you’re connected, enjoy the freedom you have to check bus & train schedules for updates and delays, find reviews for the great looking restaurant you just passed, and send lots of pix back home to mom!
We have presented information here that compiles tidbits from several different sites and from our own experience. Our hope is that our work will save others countless hours of searching to find the answers they need. Please remember that we cannot make any guarantees or promises regarding the accuracy, reliability or completeness of the information. This website is for informational purposes only, and not a substitute for professional advice. Travel safely!
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