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When traveling internationally, many cellphone providers charge high rates to cover roaming fees. Sending a text or checking emails quickly becomes a costly expense for travelers.

Many people think that the only ways to avoid paying massive bills is to leave their cellphones at home. But if the thought of living without your smartphone while you travel makes you want to scream, don’t despair.

Many cellphone providers offer affordable options to help you stay connected no matter where you are in the world. Learn about the following five ways prepaid phones can save you money when traveling.

5 Ways Prepaid Phones Can Save You Money When Traveling

You Can Pay As You Go

If you plan to make only one or two calls while traveling, a pay-as-you-go plan is likely all you need. You simply pay a fee for each call you make and text you send.

Keep in mind, however, that roaming rates apply. These rates typically depend on the travel destination and can quickly add up over time if you use your phone more than only a few times.

Travelers who don’t use their cellphones often find pay-as-you-go plans more than meet their needs.

Pexels Money

You Can Use Prepaid Plans

If you plan to use your cellphone for more than a few calls or texts while you travel, you may want to consider prepaid phone plans.

These offer affordable rates for a variety of different services, making them an attractive option for international travelers who want the freedom and flexibility to use their cellphones when they like.

Prepaid phone plans from a provider such as T-Mobile can be an attractive choice. You can choose from a variety of hassle-free prepaid plans to find one that meets your individual needs.

Rates vary depending on the countries you plan to visit and the features you select. Tailor-made for travelers, T-Mobile’s Tourist plan includes 1,000 minutes of talk, unlimited texts, and 2GB of 4G LTE data over a three-week period.

Alternatively, for $15 per month, T-Mobile can upgrade to the 10GB No Credit Check Family, T-Mobile ONE Prepaid, and Simply Prepaid plans to include international talk and text.

You’ll Be Able to Use a Local SIM Card

If you have a cellphone that supports a GSM SIM card, you can purchase a new SIM card from a local cellphone provider when you reach your destination.

Before you leave home, have your own cellphone provider unlock your phone so that you can use it with international SIM cards.

Most providers charge a fee for this service, but if you travel a lot, the money you save on roaming fees by getting a local SIM card makes the convenience worth the price of paying to unlock your phone.

Sim card phone mobile

Photo credit: Flickr user smjbk

You Can Connect to Wi-Fi

If you don’t need a constant cellphone connection, Wi-Fi is an affordable solution. Today, many hotels, cafes, and airports offer free Wi-Fi access.

Other places often provide pay-as-you-go Wi-Fi services. They charge a small fee for a specific number of minutes or hours online.

Send emails and texts or phone home through a Wi-Fi calling service such as Skype, GrooVe IP, Google Voice, and Talkatone.

You Can Access a Portable Wi-Fi Router

For travelers heading to more remote destinations, finding places that offer Wi-Fi is sometimes a challenge. A good alternative is to invest in or rent a portable Wi-Fi router. This acts as a portable hotspot where-ever you travel.

Simply charge up the router, insert a SIM card, and use it to connect as many as 10 devices to the internet at the same time. As long as your destination has solid network coverage, getting online is easy.

Companies like Rent ‘n Connect rent portable wifi with unlimited internet that you can either pick up from the airport or  have delivered to your hotel. Rent ‘n Connect is now proving portable wifi in Turkey, Europe, and the UK.

As with your cellphone, make sure your provider unlocks the router in advance, allowing you to replace the SIM card as needed.

Computer mobile cell phone devices

Photo credit: Flickr user lukew

If you travel frequently, access to cellphone service is not optional, especially if you need to stay connected with friends and family back home.

These five options above are some of the many ways prepaid phones can save you money when traveling internationally.

TECHNOLOGY WE RECOMMEND FOR TRAVELING WITH YOUR PHONE↓

Apple iPhone 7 Unlocked 

Portable Battery Charger & External Battery Pack

Universal Travel Adaptor

Megan is an Australian Journalist who has been travelling and blogging since 2007, with the main aim of inspiring others to embark on their own worldwide adventure. Her husband Mike is the American travel photographer behind Waking Up Wild, and together they have made the world their home.

Committed to bringing you the best in adventure travel from all around the globe, there is no mountain too high, and no fete too extreme! They haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on their list.

If you enjoy getting social, you can follow their journey on FacebookTwitterYouTubePinterest and Instagram.

    22 Comments

  1. I’ve never thought to buy a prepaid phone before, but I might for my next trip now! That’s a huge advantage that you can use a local SIM card, as that’s always my struggle.

    • Glad we could give you some ideas for your next trip – prepaid phones are pretty cheap, and they’re so easy to pick up. I have a little collection at home of local SIMS from everywhere we go :D

  2. I’ve never really found myself in one place long enough to worry about getting a local phone or SIM, as I just try to embrace it as a chance to get away from my phone for a bit! However, I’m now set up with international roaming on my phone, which will definitely come in handy when I need to quickly pull up something like a map or restaurant recommendation and don’t want to hunt around for wi-fi.

    • Disconnecting is definitely a way to embrace the moment and not worry about racking up a crazy phone bill. Though if you’re only visiting for short amounts of time and do think you’ll need to use your phone most providers have great international phone plans you can organize before you leave. Telstra for me in Australia has something like $10 a day for international data which is a lot cheaper than if I was to use data overseas normally :)

  3. I love the idea of paying as you go. We actually do this in the States as of the moment because we aren’t sure or weren’t sure how long we were going to be here and didn’t want to sign up for a full plan. Plus, we already had unlocked phones! And having access to our phone is super important as we are always working from the road.

    • I do the same in Australia – get the same monthly credit but enjoy knowing that I have flexibility and am not locked into a full plan. Unlocked phones are where it’s at :D When we head overseas it’s so easy to throw in a local SIM, and a much cheaper way to access data that way :D

  4. Great tips Megan! Sprint usually offers me free data when I travel abroad but it is usually slow. (like 2g) So I have been debating on getting a burner phone that allows me to use a Sim Card with a pre-paid plan like you mention.
    I dont make too many calls but the texting and data benefits would definitely be a great benefit for us on the road.

    • Thanks Eric – Spirit sounds like it’s good as a backup, but I swear that slow data is worse than no data half the time lol!

      Even if you can get your phone unlocked so it will take local SIM cards it’self, otherwise a cheap burner you can use when you’re overseas is a great option :)

  5. These days I mostly depend on wi-fi services of the hotels and other public spaces. Whatsapp lets me speak to anyone around the globe so you hardly need a phone. However, if you need data services on the go, I take a temporary pack for the visiting country that lets me use the phone as a local number and well as some limited data to use. Not really cheap, but very convenient as you retain your base number & can receive calls like in your home country.

    • I’m the same – luckily a lot of hotels are starting to embrace free WiFi, which is why we love our big brands like Marriott, and many cafes, and even city centers now are offering it. Staying connected is such a huge part of our lives now, and the access to information on the go can be a lifesaver when you’re traveling.

      I like the idea of retaining your base number with an international pack from your home provider. If you’re happy with the pricing, it does sound the most convenient way :)

  6. Seems the plans and utility vary from country to country. But yes, a service like this is necessary when you are travelling. Hotel Wi-Fi is fine but I spend long duration outdoors… and also in many remote areas I don’t find hotels with Wi-Fi.

    Thankfully things are pretty affordable nowadays in India. (80-90GB data per month + Unlimited calls etc for $5-$10 by various services… price war going on)

    • Yes they do vary from country to country :) But I totally agree, while a lot of places are now very well connected, and some city centers even now have free WiFi as you’re exploring, it doesn’t help when you start exploring remotely. And that’s usually when you need data the most, in case of emergency.

      Glad to hear that data is affordable in India; competition is fabulous for keeping consumer costs down!

  7. I have tried all of these and found the local SIM to be most beneficial. However I am a big fan of being non contactable when I am away (and to be fair rarely have my phone on at the weekend anyway) and just allow people to get in touch on Facebook. Sometimes though it is a real pain not having my phone to hand (usually because we are lost)

    • Disconnecting is definitely a way to embrace the moment and not worry about racking up a crazy phone bill. I try my best to leave the phone alone when I’m out exploring, but it’s definitely nice to have data for access to information when you find yourself lost! We fortunately had data last year while in Venice and it was instrumental for figuring out how to find the hotel again haha!

  8. Those are useful tips for travelers. I have found that it is easier to buy a local data Sim. And use it for voice calls. Also. Specially true in Asian countries. Did not know though about getting a phone unlocked for travel. I thought it was always OK to use another Sim. Or maybe that is the case in India

    • Yes getting your phone unlocked is a great idea, especially if your preference if buying local data sims. It’s so easy to throw in a new SIM card that way without having to fuss around with a burner phone. Definitely OK to use another sim in your phone :)

  9. This post is for me! Thank you so much Meg. This is actually a life saviour! There are times I wish there were no boundaries in the world like when I saw my roaming bill when I traveled first internationally :P pay-as-you-go plan works but often when you love social media and want to be up to date a prepaid plan is a winner! T mobile looks like a super convenient option and the best part is that you can connect to wifi routers as well! I never knew about the unlocking phone option.

    • Glad the post was helpful for you! Ah yes I think we’ve all been there, our first trip overseas and coming home to a massive phone bill! I think mine was $200 when I came back from one of my first trips!!

      Prepaid plans with international data are amazing, or go for the local SIM if you’re there for a decent amount of time (though remember to unlock your phone); I find that anything over a week is usually beneficial for having a local SIM. Absolutely re being able to connect to WiFi routers – also a great option for having data overseas.

      Happy travels!

  10. This is a great overview of different options travelers have for staying connected while on the road. It’s amazing to think how much has changed in the way of phones and internet service since I started traveling over a decade ago. We are so lucky that we can remain connected to friends and family around the world so easily now! We typically get local SIM cards to put in our smart phones here in Asia and rely on wifi. When we’re in the US we do pay as you go, since that’s the cheapest and easiest option. We’ll have to look into T-Mobile’s prepaid phones next time we’re in the States. Thanks for the info!

    • Thanks Jen – it really is amazing to think about how advances in technology have changed the way we travel; now we rely on data for everything, where-as a decade ago we only had guide books. And yes, we’re very fortunate that it’s so easy to stay connected with home. Definitely helps to curb the homesickness travelers may have faced in the past!

      Local SIMS are fantastic, I love them when I’m spending more than a week somewhere. Pay as you go is definitely the cheapest option for the US; T-Mobile has some great plans :)

  11. Hi Megan,
    These are some great tips! Lately I’ve been buying local SIM cards whenever I arrive in a new country. For the most part it works great and is usually pretty cheap. I definitely see the appeal of a portable Wi-Fi router, though. I might try that on my next trip.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience Wendy, local SIM cards are definitely a great option, I usually aim for the same if we’re in a country for more than a week. WiFi routers though are excellent too, was such a life saver for us in Venice last year being able to switch it on when we were lost and access Google maps :D!

      Happy travels!

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