Using your smartphone abroad was once complicated and very expensive. We've all heard tales of coming back from vacation to a $2,000 data roaming cell phone bill. The good news is, international calling and texting are now a lot easier and a lot less expensive, thanks to international phone plans. Here's what you need to know to stay in touch with friends and family while you're visiting other countries.
Xfinity Mobile helps keep you connected, no matter where you are.
Only use WiFi when you fly
The least expensive way to use your phone abroad is to ditch your cellular connection entirely and rely solely on WiFi. However, this is also the least reliable option, unless you know for sure that you'll have high-speed, free WiFi everywhere you're traveling.
If you choose this route, you'll still be able to make phone calls and send messages with WiFi calling apps and services such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Skype. On an iPhone, you can also use iMessage and FaceTime to communicate with fellow iPhone users back home.
To use WiFi only on your trip, go into your Settings and toggle off the Cellular Data option when you arrive. This will turn your phone into a WiFi-only device — just like a tablet or iPod Touch. An easy way to do this on an iPhone is to swipe up to access the Control Panel, and toggle Airplane Mode on, then WiFi on.
Pro Tip: Make sure you're not still using data when you receive messages. To avoid this, go to Settings > Messages > Send&Receive and turn off your phone number as an option to receive messages.
Take your plan with you
Most cellular providers offer an option to take your US-based service with you when you travel. These international plans vary enormously, and some can be very expensive. But recently, many providers have switched from high-priced per minute/per message/per megabyte plans to more-affordable packages. For example, you can pay $10 a day (in addition to your monthly charges) to Verizon to use your regular plan abroad, and AT&T has an option to pay a $60 flat rate for 1Gb of data, $0.35 per-minute calls and unlimited texts. These flat rate packages are better than the old system, which saw some customers racking up bills in the quadruple digits. However, they're not that flexible, so you may end up paying for a lot more than you need, or not have enough.
Xfinity Mobile's international calling plan works just like its domestic plan — you pay for what you use — but with much lower rates than cellular providers traditionally charged for international “Pay as You Go” options. Just call Xfinity to add International Roaming to your account (which doesn't cost you anything to set up) and restart your device. You'll be charged per minute, text and megabyte used, based on which country you're in. For example, in France and the UK you'll pay $0.10 per minute for voice calls, $.10 per text and $.10 per megabyte for data ($100 if you used 1Gb). To give you an idea of how much data you might use, posting 30 photos to social media will use about 10 MB. Rates vary by country.
Tip: Make sure to activate your carrier's travel plan before you leave, since you won't be able to once you're out of the country.
Go native on a new country's network
If you're going to be abroad for more than a couple weeks, you may want to consider hopping on to that country's cellular network. This is easy to do, but not necessarily any cheaper. Once you arrive, purchase an international SIM card from a local carrier, activate a month's plan or “Pay as You Go” package and pop the SIM card into your phone. A SIM card (which stands for subscriber identity module) is a portable memory chip that goes in to your cell phone. Make sure to put your US SIM card in a safe place, as you'll need that once you get back home.
Some things to consider about this option:
- It only works if your phone has a SIM card and is unlocked
- You'll be given a local number and will not be using your US number, so apps like WhatsApp will need to be updated with the new number
- You won't receive any phone calls or text messages sent to your US number until you put your old SIM card back in your phone
Cut down on data
Whichever option you go with, you'll want to cut down on any unnecessary data usage while abroad. Here are a few tricks:
- Reset your data-use statistics in Settings when you arrive, so you can keep an eye on how much you're using
- Disable automatic app updating or restrict them to WiFi only
- Turn off access to cellular data for apps you don't think you'll need (go to Settings > Cellular, then toggle off the apps you don't want using cellular data)
- For iPhones, turn off cellular data for WiFi Assist and iCloud Drive (also in Settings > Cellular)
Toggle Off Apps:
Learn more about Xfinity Mobile's international calling plan, so you can stay in touch while staying on budget. Bon voyage and have a great time abroad!