How to Use Your Smart Phone While Traveling

Here are some ways to use a cell phone on your vacation.

Sign up for an international plan

The easiest way to use your phone abroad is signing up for an international plan through your current provider. These plans can sometimes be expensive but are often worth it in terms of convenience; and some providers have started offering free international calls and texts in certain regions. It’s nice to call your provider and be done with it, especially if you plan on using your phone sparingly.   

Get an international SIM card

If you think you’ll want the flexibility to post pictures to your Facebook page, use navigation, send some text and make calls then your best bet is purchasing a pre-paid SIM card in Europe (or online) for your current smart phone (A SIM card is a small chip in your phone that stores some of your account information and allows you to access a carrier’s network).

While it’s a great option, you have two take two steps before your phone is ready to accept an international SIM card.

1. Check with your carrier if your phone is GSM-capable

There are two types of cellular networks in the US, GSM and CDMA. If your phone comes from T-mobile or AT&T, it’s probably GSM-capable which means you can use an international SIM card in it. If you got your phone from Verizon or Sprint, your phone may or may not be GSM-capable (if it’s not, than you can’t use an international SIM card).

2. “Unlock” Your Phone

To use your current phone abroad with a European SIM card, you have to call your provider to unlock your phone (unlocking your phone means allowing it work with any SIM card, not just the card of the carrier you bought the phone from).

Want to use your an international SIM card in your smart phone? Make sure it's GSM capable.

Once you’ve completed the two steps above, you have several options for buying a new SIM card. You can purchase one before your trip from an international provider like World SIM or Telestial or wait to purchase one in your destination. Buying one from an international provider can be a bit more expensive than cards you can purchase at your destination but usually have the added advantage of working in multiple countries.

That said, if saving money is your main objective it’s hard to beat the savings that come with purchasing a SIM card once you reach your destination. The only downside to purchasing a SIM card once you reach your destination can be the language barrier. Looking for a cell phone provider in a touristy area can ease the barrier and the shopkeeper can usually help install the card.

Get a pre-paid phone

Consider purchasing a pre-paid phone in Europe. While you can’t surf the web, these phones usually cost between $20-$30, come preloaded with minutes and are easy to reload.

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