The Dirty Little Secret About Using Data While Traveling Abroad
It’s no secret that not all mobile carriers treat roaming an international data the same way. While some companies have plans specifically focusing on traveling abroad, others are perfectly happy to let you sit and rack up roaming charges. These charges can range anywhere from an extra $20, to a couple hundred showing up on your bill.
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Some companies, like Verizon or AT&T, have started implementing travel passes. The pass lets you use your data abroad for up to $10 a day per phone line. If you’re taking an extended vacation or a trip out of the country, $10 a day is a ridiculous fee to pay. If you don’t pay it, it sounds like you’re out a phone, but let me tell you a little secret about that.
You have other options. You don’t need to use these passes, even if they’re pushed into your face as your only option. Not every option I’m about to tell you is applicable everywhere, but you’ll be happy to know about the ones that are.
Method 1: Buying a Different SIM Card
Before I get into this option, know that you need to unlock your Android before you can use an international, or foreign SIM card. If when you bought your Android, it wasn’t specified it was unlocked, then it’s a locked device. This means that unless you, or someone else, unlocks it, this option won’t work on your Android.
For example, we’ve talked about how to unlock the Samsung Galaxy S3, and then the Galaxy S6 Edge. If your phone isn’t unlocked yet, and you aren’t sure what the impact of the process is, we have a great write up that takes you through the whole thing.
Once your phone is unlocked, there are two different types of SIM cards you can use. You have a choice between a prepaid SIM card in the country you’re traveling to or an international SIM card.
That major difference between the two is that while a prepaid SIM card is cheaper, you don’t keep your old phone number while using the SIM card. If you use an international SIM card, you get to keep your old phone number, but these are more expensive and have fees involved depending on your carrier.
If you don’t mind using a different phone number during your time abroad, a prepaid SIM card is usually the best option to ensure you only spend money upfront, and don’t get hit with hidden fees later.
However, if you plan on spending more than a week traveling internationally, it’s better to purchase an international SIM card to use alongside your local one when you’re back home. Note that there are some international SIM cards that have a low flat rate. It’s up to you which card you choose, but if I had to recommend one, it would be a card from Lycamobile.
Lycamobile SIM Card
Method 2: Switching Carriers or Plans
This sounds a little drastic, but if you plan to travel out of your country regularly, it’s better to switch to a carrier that better handles traveling abroad. I can’t vouch for everything about them, but T-mobile has one of the best international policies when compared to most big carriers.
If you’re sticking with the same carrier, see if your current carrier has different plans available that are more travel-friendly. If you’re on AT&T and Verizon, you’re probably out of luck if you plan to travel regularly.
However, T-Mobile isn’t the only carrier that handles data abroad differently from ones like AT&T and Verizon, but they’re one of the most highly rated. Switching to T-Mobile isn’t as easy as just swapping SIM cards, especially if you’re stuck in a contract, but it’s a much more attractive option than a $10 a day pass.
See what other carriers are available in your area, and if they offer a plan like T-Mobile’s or better for your own travel needs. Your data is just as important abroad as it is local, so don’t settle for less with international plans.
Method 3: Disabling Mobile Data for Wi-Fi
If your carrier is going to charge you an arm and two legs for your mobile data, sometimes it’s better just to turn it off. You won’t incur charges as long as your mobile data isn’t active, so switching to Wi-Fi only while abroad is an inexpensive, if not limited solution.
If you’re worried about not being able to make phone calls, VoIP services are great for calling, and sometimes even messaging over Wi-Fi to other phones. As long as the Wi-Fi itself is free, you’re free to use it with your phone, even while in another country.
Method 4: Buying a Prepaid Phone
Instead of slotting in a different SIM card and worrying about any problems that come along with that, sometimes it’s easier to just buy a prepaid phone. If you buy a prepaid phone while abroad and use it in that country, you’ll only spend what you put down, and won’t have to worry about international fees.
In most cases, this is more expensive than buying another SIM card, but it’s practically hassling free and leaves you with one less matter to worry about while you’re traveling. If you buy a prepaid phone that’s reloadable, you can even keep it to use on your next trip in the area.
Method 5: Discovering Project Fi
Project Fi is essentially Google’s answer to the woes of frequent travelers without a good data plan. We’ve already done a great write up of it here, so if you want to know if it’s truly the option for you, take a look at that.
Project Fi isn’t for everyone, not by a longshot, but I highly suggest you read about what it can do for you while traveling abroad.
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At face value, Project Fi sounds amazing, if you’re one of the very few people who can actually use it. Over the years Project Fi has only very recently been available to the public, and even then it’s limited to a very small number of devices. The number of compatible Android devices has gone up since its public release, but it’s still small.
As of right now, compatible Android devices are the:
- Nexus 7 – K009 (2013 US LTE)*
- Nexus 9 – 0P82300 (2014 US LTE)
- Galaxy Tab S – Model SM-T807V (2015)*
- Pixel XL Model G-2PW2100 (North American version)
- Pixel Model G-2PW4100 (North American version)
- Nexus 5X Model LGH790 (North American version)
- Nexus 6P Model H1511 (North American version)
- Nexus 6 Model XT1103 (North American version)
If the small compatibility list wasn’t enough, any device with an asterisk beside it needs a nano SIM to micro SIM adapter to use Project Fi. If Project Fi is an option for you, I implore you to give it a shot, even while it’s still in its early public stages.
Those $10-day passes may look like your only options, but now it isn’t a secret that they aren’t. Some of these options are more drastic than others, but each one will save you enough money on your trip to pay for your next one.
If you know a great way to save money on data abroad, or need help finding another way yourself, please leave a comment down below!