In our technology-savvy world, it's hard to imagine being 'unreachable.' Sometimes that's what vacations are for, escaping it all. Other times, you really do need to stay connected and remain available while you enjoy your trip. If you plan on bringing your phone along for your travels, here are the best ways we've found to do so.
Sign Up for an International Plan
The easiest way to use your phone abroad is by 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 texts and make calls then your best bet is purchasing a pre-paid SIM card in Europe (or online) for your current smartphone. (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 to 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 your phone is from Verizon or Sprint, your phone may or may not be GSM-capable (if it’s not, then 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 to work with any SIM card, not just the card of the carrier you bought the phone from).
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 in Europe
Consider purchasing a pre-paid phone in Europe if you only need it to make calls and send texts. You won't have the full functionality of a smartphone or be able to surf the web, but if you plan to bring an iPad or a laptop as well, this is a great option. Most of these phones cost between $20 and $30, come pre-loaded with minutes, and it is easy to recharge your balance.