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7 Tips to Save Your Cell Phone During International Travel


Part of what I love about international travel is seeing a new perspective, and interacting with people from different cultures.

As Americans, we are often sheltered in our understanding of the world, and our role in it.  Traveling internationally as cultural ambassadors and seeking to understand local customs helps us better understand who we are, and better appreciate the blessings that we have in our lives.

Experiencing new countries’ cultures has helped me connect with people by finding common ground.  After traveling through Istanbul and Kusadasi in Turkey, I was able to connect with a Turkish hotel clerk in Boston.

It was wonderful seeing his eyes light up when I mentioned that I had been to his home country, and truly enjoyed my experiences there.  Over the years, I have had similar connections with many others.

Why do Americans not travel internationally as much as people from other nationalities?  It may be that our country is so large and diverse, and so blessed with natural resources, that many do not see a need to journey beyond our borders.

It may be fear of the unknown.  It may be fear of flying, or of terrorism and instability in foreign lands.

Knowledge and information can help with fear of the unknown.  In this blog series, I will share first-hand traveler’s tips that are especially helpful for international (as well as domestic) travel.

 7 Tips To Save Your Cell Phone While Abroad

Staying connected while traveling internationally is vitally important.  While many people travel with their smartphones, smart travelers know how to avoid a several-hundred-dollar surprise from their cellular company when they return home.

1.  To avoid ALL international charges on your cell, keep it in airplane mode until you return back to your home country.

While it may be difficult to unplug from constant data streaming, your smart phone will still work with Wi-Fi to make voice over internet (VoIP) calls.  I use Apps such as Skype, Vonage, and Google Voice.  You can still iMessage and check email in airplane mode through Wi-Fi.

2.  Add an international plan to your cell phone package before you travel to get better international rates.

You can add a specific country or region a month at a time for discounted calls, texts, and data while you’re away.  (Remember to cancel the plan when you return home).

3.  If you take your phone off airplane mode: turn off the Data streaming on your cell to avoid expensive data roaming charges.  Use Wi-Fi to download information as needed.
4.  Take advantage of free Wi-Fi, but be cautious of unsecured Wi-Fi networks.

Avoid banking and financial transactions on unsecured Wi-Fi networks since others may be able to steal your information.  Internationally, free Wi-Fi is available at many airports, Starbucks and McDonald’s.

5.  Get an international SIM chip for your unlocked phone.

Pre-paid SIM cards with a local phone number can be found in airports, newsstands, and local convenience stores once you arrive in a country.  With the money you save on calls and texts, you can afford an extra macaroon or special momento.

Unlocking an iPhone / other cell phone may not be an easy task.  Your cellular carrier (i.e. AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile) will likely not support your request to unlock your phone from their network.  Plan ahead: if you get an international SIM, it will not work in a locked phone.


6.  Make sure your phone will work with the cellular band specifications in the country you will visit.  (Tri-Band phones, Quad-Band phones – it could make a difference).

When our cell phone broke while in Naples, Italy, we bought a simple unlocked cell phone for 30 euros to use with our international SIM chip.  It works great in Europe, but doesn’t pick up reception at home due to the difference in band signals

7.  When traveling with a companion, have a backup communication plan if you are separated.  It may be helpful for each of you to have a phone and communicate by text if separated.

This can avoid unnecessary stress in finding each other as you are trying to return to your cruise ship from Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen.  Just a hypothetical situation.

I would love to hear your thoughts on international travel!

Do you have any tips on cell phone use, and staying in touch while you’re away?  Please share a comment below!

6 thoughts on “7 Tips to Save Your Cell Phone During International Travel”

    1. Hi Lisa! Thanks for sharing! Yes, you are absolutely right about these cell phone tips being useful on cruise ships as well. When you leave port, you are on the Mobile at Sea network that charges really high rates because they are on the ship’s satellite system. Great point!

    1. Thanks so much Kirsten! Also, we have learned that T-mobile has free international cell phone data on their networks. Really has transformed our reliance on random wi-fi!

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