Updated: 1 day ago
Are you confused by pricey data plans, SIM cards and app options for calling your loved ones at home while abroad? Look no further. Always Pack Tissues breaks down some options for you.
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International Phone Plans
If you travel a lot, this is your best bet. T-Mobile offers plans that allow you to go overseas without the need to make any changes to your account or settings. It automatically recognizes that you are overseas and will send you a text message when you arrive in the new country. The text will detail your cost per minute if you make a phone call, and for my particular plan all text messages and data usage is included.
Good for: all day availability to the internet, text messages, apps, etc.
Limitations: phone calls still cost money (at a lower rate than without a plan), data speeds are limited unless you pay for day passes or an additional monthly fee
If you are Australian, or your cell provider still thinks it's 2002, this is a good option. SIM cards are available all over the place - airports, street kiosks, etc. when you land overseas. These are meant to pop in to the side of your phone and allow you to access all the data, phone calls and text capabilities you could want, based on the SIM size you purchase. The rub is that it's essentially taking your America-based (or wherever you live) phone and turning it in to a [insert country name here] phone.
The Aussies I traveled with in Vietnam loved SIM cards and all got one. So for them, their Australian phone number became a Vietnamese phone number. They could call each other within Vietnam, text, etc but to make calls home they'd pop their SIM card out and replace with the original. Doesn't seem like they gained much there, but to each his own.
Good for: local calls and texts, higher internet speeds
Limitations: your phone now has a new number and it will not receive any calls or text messages from your home country if you need to stay in touch.
Unless for some reason you NEED to be plugged in all day every day, WiFi at your hotel, coffee shop, restaurant, and airport will provide you with everything you need. You can make video and voice calls to home, you can browse the web, check your email and Google where to eat dinner that night.
Must have apps once you have connectivity
You just need to download a few handy apps that you probably already have:
WhatsApp is globally used for making and receiving voice and video calls, along with sharing media and text messages. It works by connecting your contacts list from your phone to the app. If the user you are trying to reach also has WhatsApp, you can do a voice or video call over WiFi without issue. Texts are also included.
Another perk of using WhatsApp is that if you are sharing video or other high resolution media with someone who doesn't have the same phone as you (for instance a Google Pixel user sharing a video with an iPhone user), WhatsApp carries over the original high quality and doesn't shrink or blur in transmission.
Often times if you book a tour through Tripadvisor, viator.com or one of the other common tour companies, you'll be interacting with your foreign host through WhatsApp messages to arrange meeting points or other details of your tour.
This global app is wildly popular and a must download for any traveler.
Like WhatsApp, this tool can be used over WiFi to contact your Facebook friends or family. You can do voice and video calls, as well as message them on the go. You can share your pics and videos from your trip, too! The only downside is, you have to have a Facebook account if you want to use this app.
Good for: occasional web browsing and checking in with home
Limitations: WiFi strength, availability and cost (if not provided for free). If traveling with a group and you get separated, you have to find WiFi in order to chat again.
For just pennies a minute, you can make phone calls wherever you are. You need to build a repository of funds (we put in maybe $10 at a time to our Google Voice account) and as needed, we chip away at it.
Google Voice operates like a regular voice call. You dial the number (+country code first) and a lovely lady robot will say "You are making a Google Voice call at X cents per minute", or something along those lines. There will be a weird beeping noise, and then it will connect as if you were making a regular phone call. Note that you will still show up as a foreign number for the call recipient, so if they call you back, they may incur a charge for calling a foreign number.
Good for: situations where you need to make a phone call but don't have other means to do so such as: to a restaurant to make a reservation, if you're stuck without a taxi, or need to confirm a meeting point with a friend or guide.
Limitations: Google Voice does still use data, so you will need to understand your cell plan's data fees.
Go to https://voice.google.com/u/0/about to learn more about setting up your account.
Just Paying For It
There will be situations in your travels where you are S.O.L. and desperately need to make a phone call, regardless of the cost. Calls can be as much as $10 or even $15 a minute if you aren't careful. Be aware of the fees texted to you by your cell's data plan upon arrival to the new country. Keep your calls short, and for emergencies.
No matter what you decide, choose what works best for you for calling home while abroad.