Phone Off: Exploring Abroad

can I turn off my phone while traveling abroad

Yes, you can turn off your phone while travelling abroad. In fact, it is recommended to turn off cellular data and data roaming to avoid unexpected charges. However, you can still use your phone for other purposes, such as taking photos, using apps offline, and connecting to Wi-Fi. If you need to stay connected, there are alternative options, such as purchasing a local SIM card or signing up for an international plan.

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Airplane mode

To turn on Airplane mode on an iPhone or iPod touch, open the Control Center and tap the Airplane Mode button. On an iPad, go to Settings > Wi-Fi or Settings > Bluetooth. For Apple Watch, press the Side Button to open Control Center and then tap the Airplane Mode button. On Windows, select the Network, volume, or battery icon on the taskbar, then select Airplane Mode. Alternatively, select Start > Settings > Network & Internet > Airplane mode.

Remember, when using Airplane mode abroad, you can still use Wi-Fi and Bluetooth by turning them on manually. This can be helpful when connecting to Wi-Fi hotspots or using Bluetooth devices during your travels.

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Roaming charges

When you travel outside of your mobile network's coverage area, your phone will connect to a foreign network. Your mobile network provider will then charge you for any data used, including sending text messages, accessing the internet, or making calls. These charges can be significantly higher than your usual rates and can quickly add up.

How to avoid roaming charges

Before you travel, it's a good idea to contact your mobile provider to understand their roaming rates and any international plans they offer. Here are some options to avoid roaming charges:

  • Turn off data roaming: This will prevent your device from connecting to foreign networks and incurring roaming charges. You can usually do this in your phone's settings.
  • Use Wi-Fi hotspots: Connect to free Wi-Fi in hotels, restaurants, and public spaces to call, text, and use data without incurring roaming charges. However, be aware of security risks when using public Wi-Fi.
  • Purchase a daily roaming plan or add-on: Many providers offer daily roaming plans or add-ons that allow you to use a set amount of data, minutes, and texts for a fixed price.
  • Buy a local SIM card: Purchasing a local SIM card will give you a local phone number and access to data, calls, and texts at domestic rates. This option may be more affordable, but it requires an unlocked phone.
  • Use an eSIM: An eSIM is a digital SIM card that can be purchased and installed on your device before you travel. eSIM plans are often prepaid, so you don't have to worry about surprise roaming fees.
  • Use calling apps: Apps like WhatsApp and Line allow you to make calls and send messages over Wi-Fi, reducing voice roaming charges.
  • Minimize data usage: Be mindful of data-intensive activities like streaming music or videos. Turn off automatic downloads and push notifications for non-essential apps to reduce background data usage.

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International plans

International phone plans allow you to use your phone service while abroad. This process is called international roaming, which means you can use a domestic phone plan while connected to a foreign network. Depending on your carrier and plan, international data may be offered for free, available for a daily fee, or purchased in allotments as needed.

Google Fi

Google Fi's Unlimited Plus plan is the best phone plan for international travel. It costs $65/month and includes:

  • Unlimited 4G LTE data in 200+ countries
  • Unlimited texts in 200+ countries
  • Calls for $0.20/minute
  • Free calls to 50 countries when you’re in the U.S.
  • Unlimited mobile hotspot
  • 100GB of Google Cloud storage
  • 5G access (with a 5G-compatible phone)
  • 50GB of high-speed priority data per month
  • Free 1-year subscription to YouTube Premium

T-Mobile

T-Mobile's Go5G Plus plan is a good option for travellers, offering:

  • 15GB of high-speed data in Mexico and Canada
  • Texting and Wi-Fi on any flight where internet is available
  • Data in 215+ countries at no extra cost
  • The first 5GB of data used will be high-speed data (with 5G speeds supported where available)

T-Mobile also offers International Pass options for travellers who want high-speed data during lengthier stays overseas. A 15GB International Pass provides high-speed data and unlimited calling for 30 days for $50.

Verizon

Verizon's Unlimited Ultimate plan is a good option for frequent international travellers, offering:

  • "Full international connectivity", allowing you to use talk and text for free when overseas
  • 10GB of high-speed data every month that can be used in other countries
  • 60GB of mobile hotspot use in the US
  • Unlimited talk and text from the US to Canada, Mexico and "one additional country of your choice"

Verizon also offers a $100 monthly International Monthly Plan, which includes 250 minutes of talk, unlimited texts and unlimited data (data speeds decrease after 20GB in a month) in more than 210 countries.

AT&T

AT&T's Unlimited Premium PL plan is a good option for those travelling to Latin and Central America, offering:

  • Unlimited talk, text and data at no extra cost in 20 Latin American countries
  • Talk, text and data coverage when travelling in Canada and Mexico
  • Unlimited texting to 120+ countries

AT&T also offers an International Day Pass for $12/day, which includes unlimited talk and text and data governed by your plan in 210+ countries.

US Mobile

US Mobile's Unlimited Premium plan is a good budget option, providing services in over 180+ countries for $50/month. It includes:

  • 5-10GB of international data per month (depending on destination), with more available for purchase if necessary
  • Unlimited calls from the US to over 200 supported countries
  • 100GB of premium high-speed data, including access to the fastest 5G speeds
  • 50GB of hotspot data per month

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Wi-Fi hotspots

Choose the Right Hotspot Device

Portable Wi-Fi hotspots are compact, lightweight devices that fit easily into your purse or pocket. When selecting a hotspot device, consider factors such as battery life, size, display features, and compatibility with different cellular signals (GSM or CDMA). Some popular options include the GlocalMe G4, Huawei E5577Cs-321, and Netgear Unite Explore AC815S.

Utilise Hotel and Restaurant Wi-Fi

Hotels and restaurants often provide free Wi-Fi for their customers. This can be a convenient and budget-friendly option, especially in big cities and tourist areas. However, be cautious when using public Wi-Fi and consider using a VPN to enhance your security.

Consider a Travel Router

A travel router can improve your connection and security when plugged into a public Wi-Fi hotspot. It allows you to set up a private network, bypass encryption, connect more devices, and increase your signal range.

Get a Local SIM Card

If you need more consistent internet access, consider purchasing a local SIM card from a phone carrier in the country you're visiting. This option often provides cheap data plans and flexible options. However, keep in mind that setup can be tricky, especially if you don't speak the local language.

Manage Your Data Usage

Monitor your data usage to avoid unexpected charges. Some apps, like My Data Manager, provide notifications about your data consumption and allow you to limit mobile data usage. Additionally, disable background data usage for non-essential apps to conserve data.

Use Wi-Fi Calling and Messaging Apps

When connected to Wi-Fi, you can make calls and send messages without incurring roaming charges. Utilise apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Skype, or Google Voice for Wi-Fi-based communication.

Combine with Other Connection Options

Combine your Wi-Fi hotspot with other connection options for a more comprehensive solution. For example, if you're travelling by car, consider a built-in car hotspot or a portable 4G LTE/satellite internet plan for more consistent coverage in rural areas.

Remember to research the specific Wi-Fi hotspot options available in your destination country and plan accordingly. Safe and connected travels!

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Data usage

Understand the Costs Involved:

Before your trip, research the data roaming charges for your specific carrier and plan. International data roaming charges can be extremely expensive, and it's important to know what you're getting into. Understand the rates and any available packages to make an informed decision.

Turn Off Data Roaming or Use Airplane Mode:

To avoid unexpected charges, it's recommended to turn off data roaming on your device. This will prevent your phone from connecting to foreign networks and incurring roaming fees. Alternatively, you can enable airplane mode, which disables all wireless communication functions, including data. However, remember that airplane mode also turns off your cellular connection, so you won't be able to make or receive calls or texts unless you're connected to Wi-Fi.

Utilize Wi-Fi:

Take advantage of Wi-Fi networks whenever possible. Connect to secure and trusted Wi-Fi hotspots at hotels, cafes, and airports. This will help you stay connected without incurring data charges. Be cautious when using public Wi-Fi networks, as they may pose cybersecurity risks. Avoid sensitive transactions or sharing confidential information on unsecured networks.

Purchase a Local SIM Card:

Consider buying a local prepaid SIM card when you reach your destination. This will allow you to access local data plans with better rates and avoid roaming charges. Make sure your phone is unlocked and compatible with the local networks.

Buy an International Data Roaming Plan:

If you prefer to stick with your current carrier, look into international data roaming plans. These plans can be expensive, but they will limit your data usage and provide some cost control.

Monitor and Restrict Data Usage:

Keep a close eye on your data usage by using built-in monitoring features on your device. Set data alerts to notify you when you're approaching your limit. Restrict background data usage, especially for apps that aren't critical during your travels. This will help you stay within your data limits and avoid excessive charges.

Optimize Your Apps:

Apps can be significant data drainers. Disable automatic app updates and set them to update only over Wi-Fi. Choose data-saving options within apps whenever possible. Close apps that are running in the background but aren't in use to prevent unnecessary data consumption.

Download Offline Content:

Before your trip, download maps, navigation apps, and any other content you may need. This will reduce your reliance on data while travelling. Offline mapping apps like Google Maps allow you to download maps for offline use, making it convenient to navigate without an internet connection.

Use Data-Saving Features:

Most mobile operating systems offer data-saving modes. Enable these features to minimize data usage. Restrict background data usage for specific apps, especially those that sync or update automatically.

Take Advantage of Offline Capabilities:

Many apps offer offline capabilities, such as music and video streaming services. Download your favourite songs, playlists, or shows before your trip and enjoy them offline without using any data.

Plan Ahead:

If you travel frequently, consider a long-term strategy. Research international data plans, local SIM card options, or investing in a portable Wi-Fi device. Planning ahead will help you find the most cost-effective solution for your specific needs.

By following these strategies, you can effectively manage your data usage while travelling abroad. You'll be able to stay connected, avoid unexpected charges, and fully enjoy your travel experiences without worrying about data overages.

Frequently asked questions

Yes, you can turn off your phone or put it in airplane mode to avoid any unwanted charges.

Yes, you will still be able to use your phone's camera if it is turned off or in airplane mode.

Yes, you can use Wi-Fi on your phone while travelling abroad without incurring additional charges. However, be cautious of open Wi-Fi connections as your data can be stolen.

To avoid roaming charges, turn off data roaming and cellular data. You can also use a prepaid data plan or a local SIM card.

To avoid additional charges, you can forward your personal phone calls and messages to your work phone. You can also set your phone to no roaming and keep it in airplane mode during your trip.

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