5 Ways to Avoid Expensive Phone Charges When Traveling

By Amanda Meadows on 4 June 2015 1 comment

So, you're planning that long-anticipated international vacation, and you're eager to get away from it all. Guess what? You're probably still going to need phone service. Here are five easy ways to avoid roaming and phone charges while traveling abroad.

1. Use Your Provider's International Pass

This may be surprising: Your mobile carrier might have a great international package that, if compared to only using international data when you need it, is a much better deal. Without a special international package you could be paying several dollars per megabyte of data — which these days feels like nothing — so it adds up fast!

T-Mobile is known for having a really good international mobile passport that has converted some smartphone users who can't bear to part with their email or social media when away. Ask your carrier. With some haggling, you might even be able to bring down already-incurred charges if you buy the package last-minute.

2. Turn Off Data Roaming

When data roaming is "on" in the U.S., it simply makes use of any cell towers in the area, which is usually of no extra cost to the user. However, once you go outside the U.S., your carrier knows right away you're abroad, and the charges from international cell towers start to rack up immediately.

Learn how to do it correctly.

  • With an iPhone, go to "Settings," then turn off "Airplane Mode."
     
  • On Android phones, select Wireless & Networks > Mobile Networks > uncheck Data Roaming.

This will ensure you won't incur extra roaming charges. You can still run Wi-Fi while on Airplane Mode. A bonus benefit? Your phone's battery will last longer because it's not using as much power on data — more juice to take photos!

3. Do a SIM Card Swap

The classic SIM card swap still works, especially if you don't have an iPhone. The drawback to this, of course, is that you also get a new phone number temporarily until you put your original SIM card back. If this works for you, it's the easiest way to get full use of your phone while overseas.

If you have a GSM unlocked phone and want to buy a prepaid SIM card, a company called Telestial Passport has a good SIM card meant for lots of data usage.

4. Use Facebook Messenger

All your friends are on Facebook all day anyway, right? Another great alternative to using phone service, Facebook Messenger makes itself most useful when traveling internationally. Use the app to communicate with your colleagues, traveling buddies, or friends and family back home.

Download the instant messaging app well in advance and make sure you are Facebook friends with everyone you need to contact while abroad.

5. Try Google Voice

Deciding to go the "Airplane Mode with Wi-Fi where available" route? Google Voice and Google Hangouts will be huge boons to your trip. Google Voice is an almost entirely free method to call any phone domestically and internationally — it's only one cent to call the U.S. from anywhere.

Google Hangouts, formerly known as Google Chat, is a great way to touch base with coworkers and friends. Nearly everyone is on Gmail and Hangouts, so it's very easy to find someone to IM instead of texting. Download the app well before your trip to give yourself enough time get used to it.

How else do you avoid international phone and roaming charges?

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Guest's picture
juggler314

all of t-mobiles plan include free international data roaming (to most countries) as well as reasonable calling rates (only 20 cents/minute). Their plans are generally considered cheaper than the other big carriers although the network is not as widely covering.

I've been to several countries, walked off the plane with my phone, used data, texted and come home to the exact same bill I would have if i hadn't left the country.

It's a game changer...to not even mention it is kind of weird...there are no contracts so you could even just sign up for a month if you have an unlocked phone...

Guest's picture

Buying a local sim card while on holidays is the best way to save money on calls and data. In case that you can not obtain a local sim, then the next best thing is to use a VOIP provider to make calls home.