Depending on the nature and length of your trip, staying connected can be really helpful. Whether you need to contact friends or family who are out of the country, look up directions, or use your phone to check into your hotel, it's worth asking whether you should get an international SIM card. But how exactly do international SIM cards work, are they the cheapest option, and are there other options?
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How much does it cost to use your phone plan abroad?
According to SmarterTravel:
On AT&T, international usage costs with no plan in Europe are as follows:
Phone calls: $2.00/minute (no charge for incoming calls)
Texts: $0.50 per text and $2.05/MB (no charge for incoming texts)
It’s estimated that using international data, a one-minute phone call using WhatsApp (if you’re not connected to WiFi) would cost you about $1.50. Using Google Maps uses about $12 every 10 minutes.
Because of these numbers, it’s totally worth it to get your cell phone situation figured out before you head out the door if you plan to use data for information, Google Maps, phone calls, texts, social media, or anything else.
The ability to sub out your SIM card for an international card depends on your phone. You can only really switch your SIM card when your phone is unlocked. Check with your service provider prior to your trip to see if your phone can be unlocked.
An international SIM card is a SIM card that you can purchase wherever you’re from and take with you.
A local SIM card is a card that you buy in the country that you’re visiting. You can often find them at the airport (though they will be more expensive there), and at shops around the city.
A few options of where to get a SIM card are Telestial, WorldSIM, and KnowRoaming.
There are also other options in regards to staying connected through data and cell service while you travel.
GlocalMe is usually cheaper than buying a SIM just for the data package. It also provides WiFi to your laptop if you need it.
This is a good option for a longer trip, like if you’re a student or you have a teaching gig in a different country. This way, you can have a cheap way to stay connected with people that you work with or need to contact within the country, as well as a way to call local numbers if needed. You can then use your computer or smartphone with WiFi to stay connected to friends and family back home.
Most accommodations, cafes, and other places when you travel will have a WiFi connection you can use if you need to.
Google Fi is a cell service provider just like Verizon or AT&T, and it automatically gets you data at the same rates as in the US anywhere in the world. You can sign up for a data plan or for an unlimited plan. You can use your same phone number, and you can use an unlocked phone. When you use this plan internationally, it works the same at it does domestically. You can switch your plan month to month through the app, if you change your mind about how much data you want to be using. This isn’t always the cheapest option, but it is a great option for backpackers or travelers who are moving from country to country often and don’t want to have to deal with constantly changing SIM cards or having very unpredictable connection.
It's not always possible to completely disconnect when you travel, but if you can, it's definitely the least expensive and most convenient option! Unplugging will allow you to look up from your phone and ask the people around you for directions, recommendations, or help. Get lost, explore more, and have conversations.