We’ve all had that dream about packing everything up and moving to a different country, but if you’re actually doing it there’s a lot to consider. In addition to possibly having to learn another language and culture, there are logistics like securing safe housing and transportation, and what about your Android?
Maintaining the relationships you still have in your previous country will probably take on a whole new level of importance and difficulty, and your phone can be your lifeline. You probably don’t want to change your phone or your phone number.
But the process isn’t always straightforward, and there can be many variables. You might be locked into a contract with your current carrier; international roaming fees can be a potential nightmare; some phones are incompatible with certain LTE bands and frequencies, and even the voltage requirements for charging could be different.
But you probably need your Android now more than ever—to get directions, exchange rates, transportation information and language translation. So what is the best way to have the best of both worlds? Let’s explore options.
Will My Android Work?
Before we launch into steps you can take to enable your Android to function in your new country, let’s make sure that it’s even a possibility. Did you purchase your Android as a locked phone?
When your phone is locked, it’s tied to a specific carrier, and you can’t walk into a new foreign carrier’s business and simply ask to switch. So is the solution to unlock your phone, as we’ll discuss next? It’s depends, because unfortunately it’s not the only consideration.
It also matters which cellular technology your carrier and/or phone uses—GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) or CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access). GSM is the most likely to work internationally; because your phone can only work on a network using the technology it’s designed for, and most of the world uses GSM.
In terms of switching to a different carrier, it can literally make the difference as to whether you can simply switch to a different SIM card (as with GSM) or whether a completely new firmware has to be flashed (as is often the case with CDMA). AT&T and T-Mobile have consistently offered devices that are GSM. If you have gone through these carriers in the U.S., but are now moving, you will probably find it easier to switch countries but not phones.
Additionally, the phone will also have to work on the same radio frequencies of the country’s standards. If the Android you purchased is a world phone, it’s bound to be a lot more likely to work in other countries.
If not, or if you don’t know, you might want to check your phone’s frequency and make sure it matches your destination country. The Samsung Galaxy and Google Nexus series tend to work in many countries, but again, it can depend on the country and the phone.
However, the range of frequencies, number of phones, and even number of countries you could be moving to is so large that listing all of the possible combinations is incredibly difficult (if not impossible).
Many countries now support 4G LTE or at least 3G. If you intend to stay with your carrier, you will need to contact them to activate international calling, and there will have to be a roaming agreement with a carrier in your new country. But even if so, is this the most practical arrangement long-term? Most people would say no. It tends to be more expensive.
Will it Be Easy?
Some changes in location are much more likely to be an easier transition than others when it comes to keeping the same phone. For instance, if you are moving from one country in Europe to another within the same continent, it’s likely that you will be able to make this work.
Moving from Europe to Africa or Asia, except Japan or Korea, also carries decent odds of success. You will want to talk to local residents or carriers and/or even try some carriers/plans first before making any sort of commitment.
Just because you have a phone that is GSM doesn’t guarantee that your phone will work; it just makes it more likely. Alternatively, if you do have a CDMA phone, you shouldn’t necessarily count it out.
Research the country you are moving to, its leading carriers, and your phone’s characteristics and hope for compatibility. Voltage requirements may differ from what you are used to. You may need to bring or purchase a power converter for your charger.
Are you in a contract with a carrier? If so, you might have to pay a cancellation penalty, which can be painful. It never hurts to ask if the fee can somehow be waived, although, in most instances, this is not an option.
However, if you have extenuating circumstances or your contract is almost up, you might stand a chance. Another option is to see if you can find someone who is willing to take over the rest of your contract, which is what services like Cellswapper do.
My Phone is Locked—How Do I Unlock it?
The simplest way is to ask your carrier to unlock it. You will have to meet all of the carrier’s qualifying criteria. Some carriers provide apps to assist with this process. Others will give you a code to use when you insert your new SIM.
If you can’t fulfill all of the criteria, and the carrier won’t unlock your phone, you can also go through an online third-party, but it does usually cost some money. Examples of some trusted sites include cellunlock.net and mobileunlock.com. Some cell phone stores also provide this service.
If your Android has a SIM card, not only can it make it easier to keep your Android in a different country, but you can also save significantly. As long as you can work within some constraints regarding minute and data usage, a prepaid plan can also help to keep costs down.
You can obtain prepaid services for as low as or less than $10 per month, and that can be increased to $30-$40 per month for data. This may very well be your cheapest bet for switching countries, but not phones.
You can buy an international SIM before you leave or when you arrive. So what’s the downside? Usually, you won’t be able to keep your current phone number, although some companies, such as Brightroam offer the ability to forward calls from a U.S. number to its international counterpart. Other ways to circumvent this problem are discussed in the next section.
Travel SIM Cards like MaxRoam
MaxRoam works in more than 200 countries, and it’s really pretty easy to set up. Voice and data rates tend to be the best in European countries, with savings of up to 90% on global roaming.
Your phone most likely meets requirements to be eligible if it’s less than five years of age unlocked, and has a regular or micro SIM slot. Still, with any of these plans, watch for apps using data in the background and shut that off, because 10 cents per MB will still add up.
There are actually several options to port your current phone number. Google Voice offers this for a one-time cost of $20. If you go this route, create your Google Voice account in the U.S. before you leave, or you will need to use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) on a U.S. connection abroad.
The Google Hangouts app can be used in conjunction with Google Voice. Keep in mind that Google Voice calls are only free to U.S. numbers; otherwise, you have to add money to your Google Voice account.
Vonage, Ooma, Skye, and Magic Jack VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) are a few other options. If you opt to use Vonage, you can go with the Vonage Extension Plan and associated app, or you can use Vonage Mobile app, but you must have access to Wi-Fi, or data usage rates may apply.
In fact, the point of using any of these VOIP options is to use the Internet instead of your data plan, so if you don’t have reliable access, this may not be the best option for you. However, many of these, including Vonage, do offer virtual phone numbers as an additional benefit. Skype offers call forwarding.
Similar to Vonage, Ooma and Magic Jack both have mobile app options. Ooma requires a high-speed Internet connection. Magic is currently running an offer for unlimited calling to the U.S. and Canada for one year at a price of $35.
If you intend to keep your phone number, plan ahead with these services and don’t cancel your current phone service until your number is ported. Some carriers, like T-Mobile, will allow you to seasonally suspend your account for a period of time without actually canceling it.
WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Viber
When it comes to texting or messaging, you are apps you can easily use as long as you have access to mobile data or Wi-Fi. WhatsApp is free (although they don’t make any promises that they won’t test business-to-consumer message tools when you download the app but claim it’s not third-party ads) and works across a slew of devices, country codes, and telecom infrastructures.
Facebook Messenger does work well for your instant messaging needs, but its reliance on Facebook connections can be a little too revealing for some. Viber is free to use for calls and messages, provided that the recipient also has Viber, and that you have access to Wi-Fi.
Now you know whether it’s plausible to switch countries; but not phones, or at least what you will need to know to figure it out. International calling cards are another option, but they usually aren’t the cheapest.
If you have specific questions, we can help you on a case-by-case basis. We hope you find this advice on how you can move abroad and still keep your Android to be useful.