How to avoid painful international phone charges

How to avoid painful phone charges abroad

It’s hard to remember life before smartphones. What on earth did we do? And life before the internet… Well, that’s a complete mystery.

Maps and navigation are among the most useful apps Travel is so much easier with smartphone maps and navigation

I travel with an array of gizmos that all need to be connected, and there’s a reason I need every one of them.

This is all well and good for domestic travel. Unless you’re backpacking in the wilderness, you can usually get decent enough service to have all your phone and iPad apps working like you need, and it’s not too hard to find wifi for the laptop. Life is good. 🙂

The problem comes in when you want to travel abroad. Staying connected like you’re used to can cost a bundle when you’re out of the country! Here’s a rundown on some options.

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Do everything through your cell phone

I have Verizon as my cell carrier, so here’s what they would charge if I want to use my phone in Italy:

Voice – $0.99 to $1.29 per minute ($5 to get lower rate)
Text – $0.50 to send a text + $0.05 to receive
Data – Pay as you go @ $20/MB or Global data plan @ $25/100MB

For a 10-day trip, I might talk on the phone for 20 minutes, send and receive 20 texts, and use 700MB of data (including phone and laptop).

Voice – $25 (20 minutes at lower rate + $5 service)
Text – $11
Data – $175 with Global Data Plan*
Total = $211

Total for 2 people = $422

* Let’s hope I planned ahead and got that global plan, because the “Pay as you go” data charges would be $1,400! Yikes! 🙁

Note: Cell phone systems vary by country, so not all cell phones will work everywhere in the world. You need to check compatibility based on where you’re going.

Use the wifi at your resort

This may or may not be a good solution for you, depending on where you’re staying. Some places have free wifi, which is wonderful. (My dream is that someday all hotels and resorts offer free wifi, just like they all provide hot water and color TV!)

On the other hand, many places charge for wifi, and often it’s charged per device, not per room. That’s where it can add up!

I stayed in a high-end resort in Scottsdale recently that charged $15.95 per day, per device for wifi access. It’s ridiculous that 2 people with laptops or iPads at an upscale resort need to pay $32 extra per day for a service that’s free at a Motel 6. Don’t get me started on that one!

Colorful sign for the Budget Motel Why is this place more likely to have free wifi than “Pricey Resort”?

Wifi at the resort can often take care of most of your needs, but if you want to have navigation, weather, and other apps available when you’re out and about, you’d still need the data plan on your phone.

Buy a local sim card

If you have a phone that can handle it, you can purchase a local SIM card in your destination country, and run your phone as though it lives there. This could lead to big savings for you, paying for all those services at local rates instead of international roaming rates.

The only problem is that a lot of phones are specifically made so that you can’t do this. You need a SIM-unlocked phone, and you might need to “jailbreak” your phone in order to do this. Apple argues that this should be illegal, and it would certainly void any warranty you have.

If you’re techie enough to handle it and want to go this route, then more power to you. If the thought of tampering with your phone and losing future tech support scares you, then stick with other alternatives.

Take your own mobile hot spot

Instead of paying your phone company for the amount of data / minutes / text messages you use, you can rent an international mobile hot spot where you pay a fixed price per day.

Mobile wifi hotspot works internationally You carry this mobile wifi hotspot around in your pocket

Xcom Global will rent you a mobile broadband device that works in 175 countries (you need to specify the countries in advance). You pay a flat rate ($15/day) + $30 for shipping. Multi-country itineraries can cost more.

You get a small mobile device that you can carry in a pocket or purse. This device then provides wifi service for up to 5 of your devices at a time. You can use 2 laptops, an iPad or Kindle, and 2 smartphones all through the same device.

Cost for a 10-day trip to Italy:
10 days @ $15/day + $30 shipping = $180

Total for 2 people = $180

It’s not exactly cheap, but it may be cheaper than the other options depending on what your needs are. If you have 2 or more people using it, the potential savings are higher.

Another benefit? You could use this system even if your phone isn’t compatible with the local cell system where you’re traveling. Just do voice with an app like Skype, and you’ve got everything going through the same mobile wifi.

Useful links:

Comments? Questions?

What do you do for connectivity when you travel? Any horror stories or useful tips you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments below!

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PHOTO CREDITS:  Map - Wesley Fryer, Motel - Brent Moore

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