Bringing your cell phone along on international vacation or business travel seems natural and a good idea to stay connected. However, just turning on the phone in another country could cost you hundreds of dollars if you are not careful or unaware of the onerous charges that await you.
Once you leave your US cell network with nationwide calling, generous talk time, unlimited text and data plans, you are at the mercy of overseas carriers who are going to hit you with high charges for the pleasure of using their system as a stranger. The moment you land, AT&T for example will send you a welcome message, but alert you that data will cost you $15 per megabyte which adds up fast especially with email attachments.
Here are three alternatives:
· Buy calling minutes, text message bundles and data plans from your US cell carrier before you leave but it costs more than your domestic plan.
· Purchase an inexpensive SIM card pre-loaded with minutes, text and data in the country you are visiting. Pricing and reload costs can be complicated and you no longer have your phone number because the SIM card has its own.
· Pay next-to-nothing and follow your Examiner tech advisor’s 1-2-3 Plan.
In the 1-2-3 Plan, Step 1 is easy, 2 is moderate, 3 is advanced. Only take on as much as you feel equipped to handle.
1. MOST IMPORTANT STEP. Before you leave the US, turn off cellular data for your phone. On the iPhone, go to Settings – Cellular and slide Cellular Data to OFF. The setting varies on Android, but the concept is the same. This restricts all data to WiFi including email, web and push notifications (like Facebook). Access your email and web browsing via free WiFi at many hotels, restaurants, public places (airports, train stations).
2. Incoming text messages are free overseas. You can reply by email or you can use an app like Google Voice or Whatsapp where you send texts over WiFi. I recommend Google Voice because you’ll also use it receive phone messages.
3. Phone. Set up a Google Voice account and Skype account and do the following before you leave.
- Forward your cell phone to your Google Voice phone number. There is a setting for Google Voice to transcribe incoming phone calls and send it to you by text msg and/or email. Your phone will not ring because you’ve forwarded it but you’ll know when calls have come in and get the message.
- Use the Skype app on your phone to make any international calls when connected to WiFi. There is a minimal fee of about 6 cents for each call and 2 ½ cents per minute. Preload you Skype account with $10 and you can talk for a long time. If you have to make an urgent call and can’t wait for a WiFi connection, you can still place calls directly from your cell phone. There’s a fee but in an emergency, that’s far less important.
I have used this 1-2-3 Plan while in Asia, Europe, South America, as well as Canada and Mexico. It is a very workable system and nearly free. Don’t forget to reverse all the phone settings when you get back to the US.