Traveling Internationally? 5 Tips On Using A Phone Without Breaking the Bank
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Traveling Internationally? 5 Tips On Using A Phone Without Breaking the Bank

This is a guest post by Danielle Smith, an agricultural communications student at the University of Arkansas. 

Photo provided by Zach Vega

Tuesday is Travel Tip Day

Today: 5 Tips On Using A Phone When Traveling Internationally

One of the first questions I had when I found out I would be spending a month in Belgium was how I would communicate with my group and my family at home. After some research I found that they’re many options for using a phone internationally.

Here are five tips to help you communicate when you are traveling internationally, without getting a huge phone bill upon your return

Photo provided by: Kirk

1. Purchase a Local SIM Card                                                                                                                           

A SIM card is a tiny chip that stores essential data, such as the phone number, network authorization information, and contact lists, for use in GSM phones. Buying a prepaid SIM card for a county you’re visiting means that you don’t have to pay international roaming fees. One example of a SIM card you can buy is Passport US SIM Card from Telestial. For about $29 you get a SIM card that includes a U.S. number, as well as a phone number for the country you are visiting. This allows you to receive calls from both the U.S. and the country you are visiting for a low price.

NOTE: in order to use a SIM card, you must have an unlocked GSM phone. Examples of GSM phones in the U.S. are T-Mobile and AT&T, but just because a phone is from this provider does not mean it is unlocked. For example, AT&T iPhones are locked and will not accept an international SIM. The key: read the packaging and description carefully before purchasing a GSM phone to use internationally.


2. Buy an International Cell Phone and Reloadable SIM Card Package from Telestial 

When Jeff & Janis Jones of this blog set off on their 5-month long European adventure, they wanted to have an affordable way for their families to reach them, and they wanted to be able to call each other in Europe in a wide variety of countries — from Albania to Norway. and from Estonia to Romania.  After much research. they bought two International Cell Phones from Telestial, which they still use today every time they travel outside of the U.S.  Two other the great features about these phones: they come with a toll-free number that people can reach you by calling from the U.S. Plus, the SIM card is tied to your credit card, and automatically reloads in increments of $25.

Best of all, calling rates are around $.29 from many companies around the world and you don’t have to change SIM cards when you change countries.


3.  Skype

Skype is a free video calling program that can be used anywhere there is Internet access. This option is the most affordable and offers a great way to stay in touch with friends and family while abroad. Skype works from computer to computer, from an iPad with Wi-Fi, or from an iPhone to any US number as long as you have Wi-Fi. (There’s a charge for the last option unless you are calling a toll-free number, but it’s  minimal compared to other phone options.)


4. iPhones — Get a Plan Before You Leave the Country, Or Keep the Phone on Airplane Mode

To use your iPhone outside the U.S., one option is to pay AT&T’s international roaming rates. If you sign up for the AT&T World Traveler plan ($6 per month, but you can stop and start it as needed), you pay $0.99 per minute for calls sent and received while traveling internationally. Without the World Traveler plan, the charge is $1.29 per minute.

To avoid a nasty surprise of a large international roaming data bill, keep your iPhone in the airplane mode for your entire trip.  You can still use free Wi-Fi to keep up on your email when in many hotels, restaurants, cafes and airport.


5. Vonage

Vonage Companion turns your laptop or netbook into a phone. You can make and receive calls to your U.S. Vonage number without additional expense (depending upon the Vonage plan you choose).

The wrap up on using phones internationally:

  • Try to use free programs like Skype whenever possible.
  • Talk to your local phone provider about international plans and cost before leaving the country.
  • Decide whom you will need to talk to the most: people at home or people who live in the country are visiting.

What tips and tricks do you have about communicating with people while traveling internationally?


A native of Stilwell, Kansas, Danielle plans to return to the Kansas City area upon graduation.

Danielle  is currently working as a social media intern with VentureTime Travel. When she isn’t working or in classes, Danielle enjoys traveling the world with her fiancée Will.

Learn more about Danielle here.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Janis December 4, 2012, 7:55 am

    We use # 2,3 and 4 of your strategies above. We carry international phones from Telestial for inexpensive calling when overseas, and as an easy way for our families to reach us if necessary. We also leave our iPhones in the airplane mode and only use them to check email, Facebook and other social media and news sites when free Wi-Fi is available. Finally, we rely on Skype –especially on our iPhones for calling into teleconferences or 800 numbers – such as a U.S. airline to change flight plans when out of the country.

  • Rachel Foxwell December 6, 2012, 9:31 am

    Great options, even for people like me who do not own an iPhone. Thanks for the great advice!

  • Danielle Smith December 6, 2012, 9:44 am

    Does anyone else have any other services they use when traveling internationally?

  • Marilyn O'Hearne June 22, 2014, 5:26 pm

    I signed up today with Tmobile’s new Simple Choice plan and will use Skype and Viber when possible for calls. This works in 120 countries; no roaming, low rate for international calls

  • Marilyn O'Hearne June 22, 2014, 5:27 pm

    Also on Tmobile using Pandora or Itunes does not count toward data usage

  • Janis June 22, 2014, 7:04 pm

    Thanks for sharing your insights, Marilyn! During our latest trips overseas, we’ve relied on Skype for making all of our calls through Wi-Fi from our iPhones. The cost is only 1-2 cents per minute.

    Have a fantastic trip!