It is hard to imagine travelling overseas without your smartphone. But what is the best way to avoid those ridiculous data charges? There are plenty of ways to get full use of your phone when you're on the road.
Even the most seasoned travelers have nightmares about returning home from holidays to face a $1,000 mobile phone bill, thanks to sneaky data charges and unexpected roaming costs from overseas.
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But if you're planning a trip abroad, there's plenty you can do to minimize roaming charges. Whether it's knowing what to set up before you leave or what to do when you're on the ground, here are our tips (some of them very quick and easy) to prevent bill shock.
Check your network offers before you travel
Before heading off, check out your network provider’s website to see its roaming charges and whether it offers special deals for using your phone abroad. Some of them do.
Check with your operator what the recommended network is for the cheapest roaming charges and what network name will be displayed on your phone for that network.
Buy a local SIM card
If you travel to another country frequently, consider buying a local pre-paid SIM card for that country so you only pay the local operator’s rates for your local calls. But if you want to call home, it could be expensive as there are charges for making an international call. You might need to ‘unlock’ your handset to use a local SIM card. Make sure your phone is unlocked before you go.
Depending on who your original carrier is, you may be able to have your phone unlocked by the cell company themselves, so we recommend either giving the company’s customer service hotline a call or visiting their website. Unlocking iPhones can be done by contacting your carrier, but they will forward the request to Apple to be processed; alternatively, you can fill out an online form.
Is your device GSM-capable?
If you bought your phone from T-Mobile or AT&T, it probably runs on GSM technology, so you'll be able to insert another SIM with no trouble. If you're with Verizon, Sprint or another company, you may need to check with your carrier during the unlocking process to see if it has a SIM card slot.
As well as a phone unlock, you'll also need to ensure that your device will work on a GSM network. Most of the countries you're likely to visit (with the exception of maybe Japan and Korea) use the GSM standard for mobile devices. However, in the US carriers rely on two different types of technology - GSM and CDMA.
The local SIM is by far the cheapest solution for data. There are good deals for data bundles on prepaid SIM cards in all developed countries. It pays to do your research on what is available before you go places.
There are situations, however, when even local SIM card will not do the trick. For example, when you arrive in the middle of the night and there is no open newsagent anywhere in sight. In some countries it might be near impossible to buy the SIM card as a foreigner. It can be due the language barrier or because the local laws. Another hurdle is the activation and top-ups without English instructions.
Maybe you travel to several different countries back to back. It would be impractical to buy new SIM card in every new country.
I like to have the data ready to go whenever I travel. It is a big convenience to be able to quickly check emails or online reservations. With working data on my smartphone I am able to quickly organize transport with Uber. Often it is also priceless to check my whereabouts with Google maps to prevent getting lost.
If I am not able to get decent data deal with my home network provider or if I could not be bothered buying local SIM, my solution is:
Travel SIM Cards
Several companies now offer “travel SIM,” which you buy in advance of your trip, with known rates that are massively lower than what your home mobile provider offers.
While it is not a universal solution for every country in the world, it often provides value and convenience. There are probably hundreds of different travel SIM cards and the task of choosing the right one might be quite a chore. I have tried several providers in the past years and these days I use just this service:
This is my favorite card by far because it offers the best rates for data. With their discount data packages, the price per MB starts from as low as 5 cents for heavy monthly usage. For occasional users, the price per MB is still very reasonable 10 cents.
Data packages available:
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OneSimCard provides mobile roaming in more than 200 countries. Free incoming calls are available in 160 of those countries, and data service in more than 170. The calling rates are good too. They depend on which part of the world you are. I especially appreciate cheap rates from Asian countries such as China:
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This card also offers a unique service called Personal Extra Numbers. You are able to add multiple local phone numbers to your OneSIM international card. It gives the benefit of making and receiving calls on local phone numbers from more than 60 countries. It is awesome if you make a lot of local calls and you prefer to have your own local phone number for business etc.
There is also a dedicated SIM card called 'Europe & More' that offers even better rates when travelling in 40 European countries.
Another way how to cut the calling rates is to use the OneSimCard VoIP (Voice over IP) app to make and receive low-cost calls over Wifi, as well as to send cheap SMS. This is basically calling over internet. It might offer slightly less quality but the rates are unbeatable - starting at just 2 cents!. OneSim VoiP can be used from any Android or Apple device.
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OneSIM card costs $29.95 and comes with free international shipping. You can get it from www.onesimcard.com. I 100% recommend OneSIM but there are some other options that are also good. Check them out too, they might suit your needs better: