Traveling Internationally with Your Phone? Here’s What You Need Know

Woman checking her phone in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany.Bojan Milinkov / Shutterstock

Does the idea of ​​leaving somewhere without your phone leave you terrified? Well, here's what you need to know about international travel with yours.

All phones do not work automatically

A few years ago, traveling with your phone was a bit more complicated, and this may still be the case if you use an older phone. There are two 3G standards: GSM (used by most countries in the world, and AT & T and T-Mobile in the US) and CDMA (used by Russia, Verizon and Sprint). Some older phones were either GSM or CDMA, which meant that if you traveled abroad, you had problems. Fortunately, most major smartphones, such as the iPhone XS, the Samsung S10 and Google Pixel 3, now work everywhere. If you are using a phone older than five years and you are concerned that it is not working, contact your service provider for help or search for the model number online.

The biggest problem now is that not all phone plans support roaming by default. You often have to register the first time you go abroad. The carriers can say that you have agreed to the exorbitant rates, which we will look at in a moment.

If you have never taken your phone abroad (or if you have only taken it to Canada or Mexico), it is worth checking if roaming is enabled if you plan to use it. Contact support or review the terms of your contract for defined international fees.

Roaming costs can be expensive

Default roaming charges tend to be ridiculous. We're talking $ 2.00 per minute for calls, $ 0.50 per text, and (the most horribly all) $ 2.00 per MB of data. So, watching a five-minute video on YouTube would cost you around $ 500 and just opening Instagram could be around $ 20. As you can see, using roaming charges by default is a terrible idea.

Verizon's Pay and You Go roaming rates.

Fortunately, most operators now offer international roaming packages or additions to existing plans. For a daily or monthly rate, you can get much more reasonable roaming charges. For example, Verizon's TravelPass costs $ 10 per day and allows you to use your standard call, SMS, and data allocation (up to 500 MB at high speed, then unlimited at a slower speed). While it's still expensive, it's far more reasonable than the default roaming rates. As long as you stick to your benefits, you will not go home with unexpected bills.

If you travel a lot, you have two good options:

Sign up for Google Fi. Rates are the same in more than 200 destinations. At $ 10 per GB, it can be expensive at home or if you broadcast a lot of videos, but if you travel a lot, the savings are senseless.
Get an unlocked phone (or ask your carrier to unlock your current) and buy local SIM cards. Even if you only stay a few days, not having to worry about exceeding a set data limit is fine.

You are more likely to lose it

Traveling is difficult on your phone. You're much more likely to drop it, lose it or fly it in a hectic and unfamiliar environment than when you just go home. You must be very careful and take extra measures to protect it, especially if you are prone to breaking phones.

Before you travel, take the following steps to protect your phone (and your data):

Save it. The phones are replaceable, but your child's first birthday photos are not. Your data is much more important than the physical phone, so make sure they are fully backed up. If you have an automatic backup, now is the time to make sure it works. Follow these links to learn more about iPhone and Android backups.
Get a case. The new smartphones look great, but they are not always practical without a case. The back of the iPhone XS window is charming but expensive, and the edge-to-edge screen does not leave much margin of safety if you drop your phone. A decent housing can help protect your phone from damage.
Think about it. This is sometimes not as easy as it seems. You might not be covered for what you believe to be, especially with travel insurance policies. For an insurer, a misplaced phone does not usually mean that you have left it in your hotel room or in an airplane; it means that an airline has misplaced it. There may also be claim size limits, high deductibles and compelling claim requirements. Be sure to check the fine print if you decide to insure your phone or purchase travel insurance and expect it to be covered.

This is the most useful thing you can do

Young woman taking a picture of the Eiffel tower with her phone.Song_about_Summer / Shutterstock

So, yes, the roaming charges are ridiculous, and it is possible that your smartphone is stolen, but the galley is worth it. A smartphone is one of the most useful things you can bring on a trip because it does all the usual things on a smartphone. This allows you to stay in touch with your friends and family; you can stay on top of your job and after a long day, you can gorge on some Netflix shows.

But your smartphone is also useful for lots of things specific to the trip:

Navigation and move. Your smartphone makes it much easier to travel to an unknown city. Google Maps can tell you which directions to follow on foot or in transit to where you want. Uber and Lyft can call a trick that will not scam you. You can search for local train and bus schedules or buy tickets online. I do not know how I would navigate new places without my phone.
Keep all your information in one place. Your smartphone makes it easy to access confirmation numbers, addresses, and everything else you need from your email account. No printing is necessary! This is especially useful if you are coordinating a trip with multiple bookings.
Check in for flights and make reservations. Now, when traveling by plane, your smartphone can be your boarding pass. It saves trees and makes your life easier. You can also make reservations on short notice for flights and accommodation. And as you can search for offers, this can help you save money on hotels.
Stay on top of things at home. Working remotely blurs the line between vacations and work time. Your phone keeps you up to date no matter where you are. If you work a few more days while "working from home", your phone helps you keep the illusion of being in the office.

These are just the four things that immediately appeared in my head. There are many ways for your smartphone to improve your travel: it's a camera, a search tool and a communication device.

Because of its great utility, it is likely that you will drain the battery more often in your absence. Make sure you have the right adapter to charge your phone in your destination country. This is also worth investing in an external battery so you can drink juice on the go.

My smartphone never came out of my pocket when I travel abroad. If you take yours with you, consider our tips before and during your trip.

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