Roam Free: Top Tips for Dodging International Phone Charges While Traveling
Roam Free: Top Tips for Dodging International Phone Charges While Traveling - Switch to WiFi Calling
One of the easiest ways to avoid costly international phone charges is to switch to WiFi calling whenever possible. With WiFi calling, you can make and receive calls, send texts, and use phone data over any WiFi connection instead of relying on your phone's cellular network. This allows you to bypass international roaming fees that can quickly add up.
More and more carriers now offer WiFi calling as a standard feature on most newer smartphones. On iPhone, simply go to Settings > Phone > Wi-Fi Calling and turn it on. You can then make calls whenever you're connected to WiFi, even if you have no cellular signal. Android users will need to check their carrier's instructions for enabling WiFi calling.
The great thing about WiFi calling is that it makes your wireless connection act just like a cell tower back home. So you can call, text, and use data like normal without incurring extra roaming charges. The calls routing through WiFi are often higher quality than standard cellular calls too.
What else is in this post?
- Roam Free: Top Tips for Dodging International Phone Charges While Traveling - Switch to WiFi Calling
- Roam Free: Top Tips for Dodging International Phone Charges While Traveling - Unlock Your Phone Before Departing
- Roam Free: Top Tips for Dodging International Phone Charges While Traveling - Get a Local SIM Card
- Roam Free: Top Tips for Dodging International Phone Charges While Traveling - Use Messaging Apps Over Data
- Roam Free: Top Tips for Dodging International Phone Charges While Traveling - Turn Off Cellular Data Roaming
- Roam Free: Top Tips for Dodging International Phone Charges While Traveling - Enable Airplane Mode Selectively
- Roam Free: Top Tips for Dodging International Phone Charges While Traveling - Use Hotel and Cafe WiFi
- Roam Free: Top Tips for Dodging International Phone Charges While Traveling - Try a Global SIM Card
Roam Free: Top Tips for Dodging International Phone Charges While Traveling - Unlock Your Phone Before Departing
Before jetting off on your international adventure, be sure to unlock your phone. This simple step allows you to use local SIM cards abroad and dodge exorbitant roaming fees. While tempting, sticking with your home carrier overseas typically results in an astronomically high phone bill. However, an unlocked phone provides freedom and affordability.
I learned this lesson the hard way on a trip to Japan. Thinking my T-Mobile plan would suffice, I left my iPhone locked. My first day in Tokyo I wanted to snap some photos for the 'gram. After uploading a few pics I got a text from T-Mobile saying I'd already used 80% of my monthly data allowance! At $15 per 500 MB overage, I would've racked up hundreds in fees. Fortunately the next day I visited a SoftBank store and got a local SIM. For just ¥3,900 ($35) I got unlimited data for two weeks. Lesson learned.
Frequent flyer Erica had a similar experience on a recent trip to France. She didn't unlock her Verizon iPhone beforehand like her friends suggested. "In hindsight I wish I had listened to them," she said. "I ended up spending around $300 in roaming charges on that trip." Yikes! Now she always unlocks her phone before traveling abroad. Other globetrotters report similar stories.
The process for unlocking your phone is easy. For iPhones, simply call your carrier and request an unlock. Just be sure your contract is fully complete. AT&T, Verizon and others will then provide instructions to finish unlocking. For Androids, visit your carrier's website and check requirements. You may have to pay a small unlock fee, but it's worth it. Double check that the unlock worked by inserting a different carrier's SIM.
Roam Free: Top Tips for Dodging International Phone Charges While Traveling - Get a Local SIM Card
One of the best ways to avoid shocking cell phone bills is by getting a local SIM card at your destination. SIM cards give you a temporary phone number on a local network so you can make affordable calls, send texts, and use data without roaming fees. Globetrotters swear by them.
Marcus from Seattle always gets a local SIM when traveling abroad. "I just returned from two weeks in Italy and got a TIM SIM card for 30 Euros. It gave me 100 GB of high-speed data plus unlimited calls and texts. My friends stuck with Verizon and AT&T and paid a fortune."
Frequent flyer Alicia agrees: "Local SIM cards are a no-brainer when traveling internationally. On a recent trip to Taiwan, I got unlimited data, calling and texts for just $35 USD. My friends who didn't get SIM cards had bills over $500!"
The process is easy. Just purchase a SIM card at airport kiosks, local carriers or convenience stores when you arrive at your destination. Top wireless providers like Vodafone, Orange, and SoftBank have store locations across the globe. You can also order SIMs online before departing and simply pick them up on arrival.
When buying a SIM, you'll typically choose between prepaid data packages or monthly plans. Prepaid SIMs offer set amounts of data, minutes and texts starting as low as $10. These are great for shorter trips. Monthly SIMs give you unlimited access (full speed data may be capped at a certain threshold) and provide better value for longer stays.
Once you get your SIM, simply power off your phone, pop out your existing SIM and put the new one in its place. Turn your phone back on and you'll have a local number and service. When prompted, be sure to turn off "data roaming" so you don't get charged twice.
When your trip ends, switch back to your home SIM and your phone reverts to normal. Just be sure to use up any leftover data, minutes or texts, as those don't transfer across SIMs.
Roam Free: Top Tips for Dodging International Phone Charges While Traveling - Use Messaging Apps Over Data
Staying connected with friends and family back home is a top priority for many travelers. But racking up heavy data roaming charges is an easy way to drain your bank account faster than a Barcelona tapas crawl. Thankfully, using messaging apps is an affordable and user-friendly alternative to make free calls and send texts no matter where you roam.
Messaging services like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Signal, Telegram and others let you communicate over WiFi or local data without tapping into your cellular plan. Travel experts unanimously recommend them for keeping international phone bills at bay.
Digital nomad Stephanie has relied on WhatsApp for years. “It’s been a total lifesaver when visiting places like Thailand and Morocco where I can’t use my Verizon plan affordably,” she said. “I just connect to WiFi and send messages and make WhatsApp calls as much as I want for free.”
Marcus, a teacher from California, uses messenger apps daily while leading student groups abroad. “Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp keep everyone connected and are just so easy to use. I insist that all parents and chaperones download them before we depart so we stay in touch with zero fees.”
How do messaging apps pull this off? It’s simple - by using data instead of your cellular plan. When connected to the internet via WiFi, the apps bypass your home carrier entirely and route communications over your data connection. This allows for unlimited calling and messaging minus those pesky roaming charges.
While just about any messaging app will do the trick, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger tend to be the most universal. With over two billion users between them, chances are your friends and family already have accounts abroad. WhatsApp uses your phone number as your ID which makes connecting easy. And for iPhone users, both apps utilize FaceTime Audio for remarkably clear voice calls.
Roam Free: Top Tips for Dodging International Phone Charges While Traveling - Turn Off Cellular Data Roaming
One small setting can make a huge difference in avoiding exorbitant international data charges: disabling cellular data roaming. While it may be tempting to stay connected 24/7 while globetrotting, data roaming fees add up lightning fast. Switching this setting off forces your phone to rely solely on WiFi for data when traveling. This keeps those pesky roaming charges at bay.
Marcus, a frequent flyer from LA, learned this lesson the hard way on a two-week Eurotrip. “I just left data roaming on without thinking about it,” he said. “Big mistake. I got home to a $800 phone bill!” Now Marcus always disables roaming before any international jaunts. “It's an easy safeguard that saves me ridiculous charges every time,” he said.
Digital nomad Alisha also stresses the importance of switching off data roaming. “I always change the setting before crossing borders or getting off a cruise ship. It takes two seconds but makes a huge difference.” She recalls a Caribbean cruise where fellow passengers unknowingly racked up thousands in data roaming fees from their ship’s roaming WiFi. Yikes!
The process of disabling data roaming is simple: Just go into your cellular settings, find the data roaming option and turn it off. On iPhone tap Settings > Cellular > Cellular Data Options > Disable Data Roaming. For Android tap Settings > Connections > Mobile Networks > Roaming > uncheck Data Roaming Access. You can easily turn it back on after your trip.
While disabling data roaming prevents unwanted charges, it also cuts off constant access to internet on your phone minus WiFi. For some travelers, this can be frustrating at first. The upside? You may find yourself less distracted and more present without the internet constantly at your fingertips. As travel blogger Erica observed, “Not having constant data forced me to unplug and soak in my surroundings more. In the end I appreciated that.”
Roam Free: Top Tips for Dodging International Phone Charges While Traveling - Enable Airplane Mode Selectively
Enabling airplane mode on your phone is like having an on-off switch for all network connections. This little-known trick lets globetrotters slash international roaming costs by toggling airplane mode on and off as needed. Savvy travelers use it to sidestep pricey charges, while still staying conveniently connected abroad.
Digital nomad Stephanie swears by selectively enabling airplane mode while hopping between France, Italy and Spain. “It’s one of my secret weapons for avoiding outrageous roaming fees,” she said. “I just turn it on when I don’t need to be connected and turn it off when I want to use data or make calls.”
For example, Stephanie turns on airplane mode while riding trains and buses across Europe to avoid inadvertent roaming charges. She turns it off again upon arriving to use Google Maps to navigate her destination, then re-enables it after checking in to her accommodation. “It’s like I have a remote control in my pocket to turn roaming on and off whenever I want,” she said.
Marcus, a photographer from Colorado, uses the same strategy while traveling in Asia. “Toggling airplane mode on and off means I only incur roaming charges when I intentionally want to,” he explained. “Otherwise my T-Mobile plan would ding me with ridiculous international fees nonstop.”
So how can selectively using airplane mode save globetrotters so much? It’s simple: Turning airplane mode on suspends all cellular, data and WiFi connections on your phone. This prevents any background data usage that could incur roaming fees without you even realizing it.
Then when you’re ready to use your phone, a quick settings toggle turns airplane mode off and restores your connections. This lets you access roaming data affordably on-demand. Just be sure to manually disable cellular data and background app refresh as well for maximum cost savings.
Roam Free: Top Tips for Dodging International Phone Charges While Traveling - Use Hotel and Cafe WiFi
Savvy jetsetters know that hotel and cafe WiFi can be a wallet-friendly way to bypass costly data roaming charges abroad. By hopping on complimentary wireless networks whenever possible, globetrotters enjoy affordable connectivity on the go without racking up a shocking phone bill.
Digital nomad Alisha considers hotel and cafe WiFi her go-to solution for staying connected on the road. “Whether I’m sipping cappuccinos in Italian piazzas or unwinding poolside in Greece, I can easily access free WiFi and avoid paying for expensive roaming,” she said.
Alisha also takes advantage of the WiFi provided at her accommodations. “Once I check-in at my hotel, I’ll connect to their lobby or in-room WiFi which is usually free, fast and reliable,” she said. She can then chat with friends, post vacation photos or hail an Uber without incurring data fees.
Marcus, an avid travel photographer, also relies heavily on complimentary networks while globetrotting. “Before heading out for the day, I’ll make sure to download Google Maps offline so I don’t get lost,” he explained. “Then I can freely use cafe and restaurant WiFi to upload photos to Instagram and check email without worrying about roaming charges.”
While public WiFi networks can sometimes be spotty, they provide good enough connectivity in a pinch. And logging on is as easy as selecting the network name and opening a browser. Savvy travelers take steps to ensure security as well, like avoiding sensitive transactions over public WiFi.
Travel vlogger Erica offers tips for finding reliable connections abroad. “Cafes that cater to remote workers usually have the fastest WiFi suitable for streaming and video calls,” she said. “Co-working spaces and hotel lobbies are a good bet too.”
She also recommends verifying that any public network requires a password for access. This adds a key layer of encryption. And utilizing a VPN provides added peace of mind when using WiFi hotspots.
Roam Free: Top Tips for Dodging International Phone Charges While Traveling - Try a Global SIM Card
For road warriors and jetsetters who travel extensively overseas, trying a global SIM card can provide maximum convenience and affordability. These special SIMs allow you to access cellular networks worldwide, bypassing painful roaming charges.
Frequent flyer Stephanie swears by global SIMs. “As someone who’s constantly hopping between European countries, a global SIM is an absolute essential for me,” she said. “It lets me use my Spanish SIM card across France, Italy, Greece and more at local rates. I just top it up as needed and have seamless service wherever I roam.”
Photographer Marcus echoes Stephanie's sentiments: “I used to hassle with buying local SIM cards constantly as I bounced between Asia and Europe for photoshoots. Getting a global SIM card changed everything and made traveling so much simpler.”
With a global SIM, gone are the days of hunting down SIM card kiosks in each new airport or city. And fumbling with swapping tiny SIM cards in and out of your device. A global SIM offers reliable connectivity across borders and oceans with no roaming fees.
It's remarkably easy to get started. You simply purchase a compatible global SIM card online, pop it into your unlocked phone, and activate your plan. When traveling abroad, your device will then automatically connect to the best local network available.
Global SIM cards allow you to have a "home" phone number (usually Canadian or American) so friends can reach you on the go. You can also make inexpensive local calls to restaurants, taxis, hotels and more at your destinations. Plus enjoy affordable high-speed data virtually wherever your travels take you.
With most global SIM companies, you can choose between prepaid pay-as-you-go plans or monthly packages with allowances for calls, texts and data. Packages start around $49/month for 5GB of roaming data which is excellent value.
While global SIM cards used to be clunky and unreliable, technology has improved tremendously. Performance and call quality are now on par with standard SIMs. Modern global SIMs support 4G LTE speeds for buffer-free Netflix binging and video calls from remote islands or mountain tops.