The answer is yes, you can use your other half—your iPhone—abroad. But here are a few tips for making sure you have money for something other than international roaming.
First, call your carrier and inquire about their particular packages for out-of-country travel. For instance, AT&T will charge $60 a month for 300MB of data and 1GB of WiFi when you’re visiting more than 150 countries, or nearly $20 for 1 MB of data in its pay-per-use plan. But for T-Mobile customers, international data and texting in more than 120 countries is free with the carrier’s Simple Choice plan.
You can also take measures to limit your data use while abroad. With Apple’s iOS 7 operating system, you can actually choose to turn off data to specific apps. For instance, you can choose to just use data for Google Maps rather than for all your apps, which will save you some cash.
If your carrier charges high fees you don’t want to pay, you have a couple of options. You can turn off data roaming under the Settings app and travel the old-fashioned way: unplugged. However, you might have to employ an archaic tactic or two, like asking a local a question or carrying a paper map.
If that seems way too weird, you can contact your provider and ask that they unlock the SIM card slot on your phone. Some providers, such as Verizon, now come unlocked—but you should check to make sure. That way, you can purchase a prepaid SIM card in-country for a nominal fee and enjoy the local network (and all your must-have apps) without worrying about racking up an enormous bill. This will also work for iPads and iPad Minis.
A few caveats: SIM cards come in different sizes now—the latest iPhones use smaller nano-SIMs; “ancient” iPhones run on micro-SIMs. You should also note that inserting the new SIM card will give you an international phone number, so keep that in mind when texting and calling. And friends trying to contact you via your U.S. number, FaceTime included, won’t be able to reach you. Email and iMessage, however, won’t be affected.
By the way, don’t forget to pack a plug adapter. Your global roaming savvy will all be for naught if your iPhone is dead.