Even in the midst of your adventure abroad, you’ll still want to find an inexpensive, efficient way to connect with friends and family back home, as well as reach out to new friends in your host country. Is it better to stick with your existing device and phone number or should you purchase a new phone and use a local plan?
A note on roaming charges: Unless you have a good international roaming plan with your existing service provider, you may want to turn off data roaming on your phone to avoid heavy data roaming charges. Once you arrive, you’ll have many options for staying connected:
Purchase a SIM card under a local plan to use with your current phone.
Local plans mean local rates. Getting set up with a local phone number can be cost efficient and convenient if you are abroad for more than a few weeks. Before traveling you’ll need to confirm whether your phone is already unlocked, or if your service provider can unlock it for use with a foreign SIM card. Ask your provider if they can put your current plan on hold (or at least reduce your service to a minimum) so you don’t incur the full monthly charges while you travel. Once your phone is unlocked, you should be able to switch out your current SIM card for a local one wherever you travel. Speak with phone service providers or support staff for your Working Abroad program regarding local plans and rates, such as pay-as-you-go or monthly plans.
Some InterExchange Working Abroad programs provide a local SIM card and phone number when you arrive.
Purchase a local SIM card and a cheap phone.
In most places, you can still find some relatively cheap devices; they won’t be fancy, but you can use them with a local SIM card while you travel. This might be a good option if you can’t unlock your current device for use with foreign SIM cards. In many cases, you can easily find a cheap phone and sign up for a local plan at the same store while abroad. An alternative might be buying or renting a cheaper unlocked phone before you travel.
Add international features to your existing phone service.
Depending on your service provider, this could be an expensive or inexpensive option. Upgrading options are usually in increments of $10 or $20 per month for each add-on. Ten dollars may get you texting and data in many countries, but with other service providers, it could add up to more. Call your current provider for their international roaming options. Your phone will operate off a local network when you travel so the quality of service can vary, but the convenience of keeping the same phone and SIM is worth it for many people.
Use your current device for WiFi only.
If you aren’t concerned with being connected all of the time, you might consider using your existing smartphone only to connect to WiFi when it’s available. Apps like FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Skype, Whatsapp, WeChat (for those in China especially), Facebook Messenger, and many more make it possible to text or speak for free with a WiFi connection.