So, you're getting ready to travel internationally and you're not sure whether you need to get an international phone plan or what it's going to cost to ensure your phone is connected while you're there.
In today's digitally connected world, many of us appreciate having a phone as a navigation device, translator, or even a handy tool to share travel photos on the go as you enjoy your trip. While it's nice to unplug from time to time, many travellers still feel the need to have access to a fully operational phone even if they're intending to unwind during their travels abroad.
Depending on where you're going and how intense your itinerary is, you'll want to evaluate if getting an international phone plan meets your needs. If you're planning on lounging on a beach or relaxing at a resort, you can often get by simply relying on the hotel's complimentary WiFi to check emails and do basic tasks.
If you need to make calls, you can use free services like Facebook messenger, Google Hangouts or even Facetime on Apple phones that allow you to use data to make calls.
If you're worried about the availability of using a navigation app like Google Maps, you often can plot out your course using your phone while you're hooked up to Wifi and the app will still be useable as you move to a new location.
If you decide you'd benefit by having an international phone plan during your travels, you'll want to do some research on your cell phone provider to see what options are available outside of Mexico and Canada.
Some providers do a package plan, while others have daily rates that cover a certain amount of phone data with contracted partners. Be aware, you'll need to communicate the dates you'll need coverage and be sure that your provider is aligned on coverage for dates in local time at your destination, not local time where you are currently based. International plans can go from $5 a day to upwards of $25 a day, so be sure to do your research.
Additionally, you'll want to check your previous phone bills before you leave to understand your current usage and ensure you've purchased enough of a package to cover your needs.
If you've paid for an international plan and it has a data cap, you'll want to be mindful about your data consumption and still use WiFi whenever possible to keep your usage in check. One trick to ensure you're not eating up your data: turn off push notifications and automatic synching. Does your phone regularly alert you when you have new emails? If yes, that means your phone is constantly using small amounts of data to keep your inbox updated.
If you didn't purchase an international phone plan, you'll want to be sure you select the option to "turn off cellular data" on your phone before you take off, and leave your phone in airplane mode when you arrive. You'll still be able to access WiFi, but you'll have ensured your phone isn't racking up expensive data without your knowledge.
You also have the option to purchase a hotspot before you leave. If you don't know what a hotspot is, it's a small device that emits WiFi and can be purchased for as low as $50 online. You also can look into purchasing a SIM card at your destination, but this depends on how long you are traveling and where you're headed.
You've probably heard horror stories from other travellers who didn't realize how roaming charges are incurred -- usually through checking social media and watching movies on their phone while abroad -- sometimes racking up bills as high as $16,000.
If you made a mistake and didn't realize you were using data outside of your plan, you often can make some headway by calling your cell phone carrier and negotiating for a lower rate. While this tactic isn't a sure bet, it doesn't hurt to give them a call and work towards a win-win solution, as this tactic has been reported to work for a variety of consumers. So, it doesn't hurt to call and negotiate!
Before you leave for your next international trip, you'll want to do your research to ensure you have the right plan for you and that your phone settings reflect the plan you've chosen -- being cautious of any apps running in the background that can eat up your data without you realizing it.
With a bit of research and checking to ensure your phone is functional, you should be all set for a fabulous trip, free of any unexpected fees in the process.