Have you ever gone abroad and had the trip of a lifetime only to come home to an absolutely gargantuan cell phone bill from all of the roaming charges? If you don’t know what you’re doing and how cell service works around the world, it’s a very common (and costly) mistake. So can you use your cell phone in a different country? Well, it depends. Let’s take a look at how it works, how to tell if your plan covers international calls and/or data, and most importantly, how to make sure you don’t get hit with a massive bill when you get home.
What Is Roaming Anyway?
Roaming charges are the bane of any traveler’s existence, and If you were using a cell phone in the late 90s – early 2000s, chances are, you lived in fear of seeing “roaming” on your screen. But what IS roaming, exactly? Roaming is essentially what happens any time your phone connects to a network that is not your home network.
So, for example, if you are from the US with an AT&T phone, and you cross the border into Canada, your phone will likely connect to one of the Canadian telecomm companies’ networks (i.e. Rogers or Telus) that uses a compatible network technology. If you can see a name other than your carrier on your screen, chances are, you’re roaming. Note that if you have cellular service enabled on your phone and you go into roaming, you may still incur charges even if you don’t make a call or send a text due to background app refreshing (more on this later).
How To Use Your Own Phone Internationally
So, can you use your cell phone in a different country as it is? There are a few steps to find out. First things first, check your plan. There are some plans, such as some of the T-Mobile Magenta plans, that have international texting and data included, but international calls will usually still incur charge in most countries (albeit much lower than if you are roaming).
If your plan does not include international service, check to see if your carrier offers international packages such as AT&T’s International Day Passes, a temporary package you can add on to your plan for a fee to cover your days and countries of travel. If you have any questions, give a call to your carrier’s customer service. They’ll be happy to walk you through the options available to you through their service.
Are There Any Other Options?
What if your carrier doesn’t have any international options? What if you’re planning on staying in the other country for long enough to make temporary day passes cost prohibitive? There are a few other options for you.
Buy a Local Sim Card
If calling from international locales is important, or you’re staying in one location for a while, picking up a local SIM card may be a good option for you. A local SIM card will give you service with a carrier in the area that you can use to make calls, text, and use data. These can often be found at the airport or around major tourist areas. In many countries, you can also find one online ahead of time, like the Orange Holiday SIM Card, which is offered through one of Europe’s largest telecom companies – fantastic if you’re planning on traveling around to a few different countries, as it works across most of the continent. Do note that your new SIM card will give you a new, local phone number, so make note of that number, and remember keep your home SIM card in a safe place.
Rent a Cell Phone
None of these other options work for you? Consider renting a cell phone that works on the local network. This can generally be done at the airport or through a car rental agency.
How To Avoid A Massive Bill When You Get Home.
Even with all of your best laid plans, the way that cell phones function these days with your apps constantly updating in the background can lead to massive data charges, or eating up your allotted data way faster than intended. A few quick steps will make sure you avoid any surprises:
Turn Off Cellular Data
Traveling without international service? You should still be able to use Wi-Fi worldwide. Turn off cellular data so you’ll only get data incoming when you’re connected to Wi-Fi. Put your phone on Airplane mode as well, just to be safe.
Even if you do have international service, chances are your data is limited. So, turn off cellular data on any non-essential apps (i.e. Social apps, games, anything you get notifications for that you don’t need to get immediately). The last thing you want is for background updates to eat up all of your allotted data.
Set Your Email to “Fetch”
Your email can eat up a ton of data, so if you don’t have mission critical emails coming through while you’re out and about, set your email to be manually downloaded. That way you can just download them once you’re on wi-fi, saving that data for more important things!
Turn Off Messages
If you’re someone who’s involved in a lot of group chats, (especially group chats that send a lot of images or .gifs), consider turning off cellular data for your messages. You’d be FLOORED to learn how fast that can eat up all of your data.
This is one of the situations where an ounce of protection can provide a pound of cure. Add a quick call to your service provider to your pre-travel checklist. You’ll be happy to keep yourself connected abroad while not breaking the bank.
Have a great trip!
*Suitcase Daze is reader supported. We may earn a small affiliate commission on any purchase made through the links on the page at no cost to you. The opinions remain my own, and I only recommend products I would use myself.