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Mobile devices have made travel so much easier. Your smartphone doesn’t just help you keep in touch with family while you’re overseas; it will also help you plan your trip, understand the local metro, translate important signs and phrases, and help you find a great place to eat.

But before you use your phone overseas, you’ll want to make sure that you’re not racking up global-sized roaming charges or fees.

Times Have Changed

When cell phone plans were still in their infancy, overseas travel meant shutting off your phone or even leaving it at home. Carriers commonly charged exorbitant fees to receive calls or texts overseas — which meant you could run up a massive bill from just turning on your phone when you landed and receiving a flood of “bon voyage” messages from friends.

Now that both smartphones and overseas travel have become more common, you’ll find lots of reasonable options for overseas phone service. Here’s why getting an international data plan is the best option for most people.

How to be a spontaneous traveler

SIM Cards Are Inconvenient

You’ll read a lot about using international SIM cards if you read travel blogs. This is an option that makes sense for backpackers who are traveling the world on a budget. This system requires you to carry an unlocked phone and buy a prepaid data card after you land in your destination.

Those cards can be quite cheap, especially in third world countries that are popular with backpackers. But if you’re not counting every penny on your trip, SIM cards probably aren’t the best solution for you.

Replacing your SIM card means no one can reach you at your usual phone number, and who wants to waste precious vacation time hunting down providers and comparing SIM card deals?

Wi-Fi Is Limiting

Another cost-effective option is to turn off data for your phone altogether and only use your device with Wi-Fi. This is a clunky solution for most travelers, and a risky move if you need to use your phone for emergencies or receive calls from family members back home.

Unless you’re on an extremely tight budget, you’ll want to have at least some international data available, and having access to large amounts of data will help you relax and enjoy the full convenience of carrying a smartphone.

Laptop and phone

International Data Coverage Is Affordable

Ask your carrier about the features of your current service. You may be pleasantly surprised to learn that your data plan already includes a lot of international features. If you carry a T-Mobile Simple Choice or ONE unlimited plan, for instance, you can use unlimited LTE data and text in more than 140 international destinations at no extra charge.

If your plan doesn’t include international roaming, ask your carrier for advice on either adding a short-term international option or upgrading to an updated plan that includes international service.

Choose the Right Phone

While you’re looking over your plan, consider whether you have the right phone for travel. Make sure you’re running the latest OS so you have up-to-the-minute security features, and keep in mind that if your phone takes superb photos, you can leave your camera behind.

A cutting-edge phone like the ZTE MAX with an unlimited international plan from T-Mobile provides a combo that will save you a lot of headaches on your trip.


Compare and Save

Everyone’s phone usage patterns are different. Will you do most of your research in the hotel, where you have access to Wi-fi, or do you use data to look things up on the fly? Do you prefer to get your information by reading articles, or do you prefer how-to videos? Do you tend to type out texts or send photos?

Patterns like these will impact your overseas data usage tremendously, so it’s important to analyze your personal data needs and then choose the plan that’s right for you.

Planning an overseas trip involves a lot of planning, packing, and juggling of details. Don’t let solving your phone problems be a hassle. The simplest solution is to talk to your provider about your travel plans and let them recommend the best plan for you.


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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.

Follow their journey on Facebook, TwitterYouTube, Pinterest and Instagram.


  1. International data plans come in so handy. Even if you think that you can wifi everywhere you go, you find yourselves being and extra coffee here for wifi service that ends up being more expensive than a plan would have been. Plus, I feel more secure trusting my data plan than an open wifi socket in a foreign land. Great post Megan.

    • Absolutely – much more secure too than when you’re connecting to public hotspots in random coffee houses and other networks you randomly find. We rely on our connection nowadays for so much especially when we’re on the road, that it can prove to be a pretty big burden if you’re stuck without data on your phone.

      Glad you enjoyed the post Jenn & Ed :)

  2. I’m travelling to Canada, NZ, Oz, and possibly Asia in the next 12 months. I know my mum will be wanting to get in touch with no matter I am.

    • Absolutely, I’m the same, I like touching base with my family as we continue traveling to let them know we’re safe and just generally check in :)

      Sounds like quite the epic trip coming up for you – have a great time!

  3. Being online and connected is certainly very important these days. We travel with our kids and it helps keep our sanity when the kids can play there games like mindcraft and roadblocks.
    I believe our carrier virgin mobile has international data packs that we used

    • Absolutely Mark – I can definitely see how it’s perfect for keeping both kids and adults equally sane! Yes, I believe Virgin Mobile has some pretty good options for international roaming packs :)

  4. I can’t agree more. Data is so important nowadays, it’s better to have a reliable one with us all the time.

    • ABsolutely Chloe :) Happy travels!

  5. I have T-Mobile and its been very helpful in all of my travels. I can text my friends and family, navigate most cities and access the internet (although often with slower speeds). In Mexico, I even called back home for free!

    • They have really fantastic plans – glad to hear you’re also a fan! Happy travels :)

  6. I Three in the UK and this is the best investment I made for the last two years. It only costs me £18 a month and gives me free roaming worldwide.

    • The UK has some of the best international data plans in the world – really leading the way there!

  7. Hi Meg,

    You seem to be confusing international SIM cards with local SIM cards. In most cases, you can only get a local SIM when you land in your destination, and in most cases, you’ll have to register – that’s the time-consuming bit. Most international SIMs can be ordered long before you travel, giving you the time to inform friends and family of your new number.

    There are a few other benefits to an international SIM. Firstly, while telcos are getting much better at offering a range of countries in their roaming plans, they tend to go either for their local neighbours, or countries that are high on the list of top tourist destinations. If you stray off the beaten track, there are still some destinations with insanely high rates, especially for data. International SIMs aim to offer a low rate for as many countries as they can.

    Another benefit is not just that it works in several countries, but on several networks in those countries. So if you’re in an area of patchy coverage, you can just switch to another network. Not something most roaming plans can offer.

    Finally, because most international SIMs are pay-as-you-go, you cannot run up a massive bill. While I’m sure most people are savvy enough not to let this happen, if your phone gets stolen, you might end up facing an insane bill in just a few hours – and getting that bill dropped by a telco is not an easy feat without a good deal of media coverage.

    Things are getting better for roaming, but we’re not quite at the stage yet where you can take off anywhere in the world and rely on your regular roaming plan not to bankrupt you. You should still take a bit of time and effort to check rates carefully. Sorry!

    • Hi Nick, thanks for sharing your feedback and knowledge :) Yes, by saying international SIM, I mean local SIM cards that operate on local providers in the country you’re visiting. My apologies for the confusion.

      Definitely recommend that people take the time and effort to research the packages from their provider – everyone’s phone usage patterns and trips are different, so some trips may be better off using a local SIM, and some may be fine with international roaming :)

      For instance in Australia we have a pre paid roaming package with Telstra for $10 a day. But each provider will have different international packages and rates – so definitely needs research to make sure you don’t send yourself bankrupt!

      Good point on the implications of having your phone stolen with an open plan!

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