TravelTravel Advice

How Do I Avoid Huge Cell Phone Bills When Traveling?

(Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Throughout the pandemic, we'll keep publishing news to help you navigate the state of travel today (like whether travel insurance covers the coronavirus), as well as stories about places for you to put on your bucket list once it's safe to start going more far-flung.


If receiving a post-trip mobile phone bill has you practicing newly learned swear words in foreign languages, here are a few tips for keeping your bill out of the cuss-worthy category: 

Sign up for a global plan with your current provider.

Most carriers offer plans for international long distance, data, and messaging service that can be tacked on to your bill month-by-month. Of course, to be effective, your cell phone will need to be compatible with other countries' systems. (Most of the world uses GSM technology. Two U.S. carriers use CDMA, although it’s becoming commonplace for phones to have dual systems. Your carrier will be able to tell you if your phone is eligible.)

Turn off data roaming.

Your phone will likely prompt you to do this when you first turn it on abroad; if not, put it in airplane mode to keep it from continuously searching for a signal. Also turn off notifications for applications, voicemail, and automatic email refreshes. Plug in to local Wi-Fi hotspots to connect to the Internet and use apps. 

Rent a local mobile hotspot.

Because connecting to Wi-Fi anywhere has inherent security risks, buy a dedicated hotspot connection. Once connected to WiFi, you can make international calls with services such as Skype.  

Buy a disposable phone.

Do your best impersonation of an international man (or woman) of mystery by picking up a pay-as-you-go phone from a provider after your arrival. It might not be a smart device—although the availability of smart phones is growing—but it will allow you to make calls home and to confirm in-country travel plans with ease. 

Get a local SIM card.

To leverage this option, your phone will need to be unlocked. Once it is, you can purchase a destination-specific, pay-as-you-go SIM card with minutes. A technical note: Look for an international provider that supports the same cellular frequencies, or band (3G, 4G, etc.), as your phone. 

Purchase a purpose-built travel phone.

Companies such as OneSimCard and Telestial do the leg work for you by selling internationally compatible devices equipped with travel-ready voice, data, and messaging plans. 

Our mission to inspire readers to get outside has never been more critical. In recent years, Outside Online has reported on groundbreaking research linking time in nature to improved mental and physical health, and we’ve kept you informed about the unprecedented threats to America’s public lands. Our rigorous coverage helps spark important debates about wellness and travel and adventure, and it provides readers an accessible gateway to new outdoor passions. Time outside is essential—and we can help you make the most of it. Making a financial contribution to Outside Online only takes a few minutes and will ensure we can continue supplying the trailblazing, informative journalism that readers like you depend on. We hope you’ll support us. Thank you.
Contribute to Outside
Lead Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto
More Travel