Finding the Best Phone Plan for International Travel
From local SIM Cards to international cell phone plans and beyond, here’s what you need to know when it comes to staying connected on the road with Remote Year.
Whether you’ll be using your maps app in Mexico City or calling your best friend from Cape Town, you’re probably starting to think about the best ways to use your cell phone while traveling with Remote Year.
You may want to take advantage of your existing cell phone plan or opt for a new monthly plan with international service. Whatever solution fits best for you, advance planning can keep international roaming charges from popping up on your phone bill.
To help you sort through all the options, we’ve put together this guide to finding the best cell phone plans for traveling internationally. Let’s dive in!
Your Cell Phone Needs Abroad
The first step to finding the best phone setup that works for you is determining how you plan to use data throughout your travels.
Do you need a basic data plan, with access to apps like Whatsapp and social media?
Will you need high-speed data for streaming video content, gaming, or serving as a hotspot?
How important is international calling on your phone plan?
Is your cell phone compatible with international SIM cards?
Do you need to keep your existing phone number to connect with family, friends, or clients back home? If so, you may want to upgrade your current plan.
Once you’ve determined your cell phone needs, you can assess and compare cell phone plans.
Keeping Your Existing Phone Plan
Many telecom providers have phone plans that work outside of their home countries, and some carriers may have free coverage in your continent or region. For example, some North American plans cover the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, while European plans can sometimes cover anywhere from Portugal to Turkey. Talk to your provider about what works for your coverage, as some plans have international travel benefits included.
Here’s what Remote Year travelers have learned about keeping their existing phone plans while traveling:
Sam, from the United States, wanted her clients to be able to reach her while she was traveling with Remote Year. She decided to switch her provider to T-Mobile so she didn't have to think about ongoing phone service throughout her year-long Journey. She finds it helpful when traveling to different countries because she doesn’t need to purchase a new SIM card in each place to stay connected.
Local SIM Card
While you may not always be able to make unlimited calls or have unlimited data, local SIM Cards can be a great hassle-free way to stay connected while on the road. Many local providers offer reasonably priced plans and a variety of data usage allowances to best suit your needs and allow you to send text messages through apps like Whatsapp and social media messenger. When it comes to international calling and replicating traditional phone calls, many travelers opt to switch to data-based voice calls or voice messages.
If you decide to swap your SIM card, your existing phone number associated with your home country will be removed. Whether you own an Android, iOS (Apple), or Google operating system, you’ll want to make sure that your phone is unlocked and compatible with a new SIM.
What Remote Year can do to help navigate local SIM cards
During your travels, you can opt to purchase a local SIM card through the Remote Year Marketplace, which will be delivered to you upon arrival by our on-the-ground City Teams. You can also always purchase your own SIM card independently of Remote Year once you have arrived in your destination.
Tips when using local SIM cards:
Port your number to Google Voice - Only available to U.S. citizens, Google Voice ports your U.S. number from your current provider (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, etc.). By using Hangouts app on your phone, you can make and receive calls as usual, for free (as long as you are on wifi or have a local SIM card with data). This process needs to be done in the US, takes about 48 hours to process, and costs $20.
Skype - Remote Year participants from most countries are eligible for a Skype subscription. This allows you to receive and make calls and texts via Skype on your smartphone and computer. For U.S. Citizens, you can also work with Google voice to connect the two platforms.
Line2 - Line2 serves as a phone provider that delivers calls and texts to any device, anywhere in the world, using data. With their services, you also get a designated US or Canadaphone number. Read about Remote Year participants' experience with using Line2.
TextMe - TextMe is a phone provider that gives out a new phone number for texting and making calls, at only $6 per month.
Google Fi - A provided Google service,Google Fi, is preferred for those with an Android operating system. Users access Google Hangouts while on wifi. For iOS users, you’re now in luck, as Google Fi works on iPhones, however, iOS is still in the "beta" phase.
How Remote Year participants have traveled with local SIM cards:
ELKE - HOLLAND
Elke utilized apps like Whatsapp to stay connected to family and friends back home, as she did not need to be reachable on her usual Dutch number. For personal and work calls, Elke used both Zoom’s video conferencing software and her Dutch Skype number. By opting for the Remote Year’s SIM Card service, she was able to utilize each platform through the card’s data.
JOHN - USA
John needed to be reachable by clients through his US phone number, so he signed up for the Remote Year SIM Card service. In each city, his data connected him to both Google Voice and Skype, where he had a ported Verizon Wireless number before leaving the USA. To avoid paying double for his phone bill, once he ported over his telephone number, John canceled his plan.
ZOE - AUSTRALIA
A veteran of long-term travel, Zoe typically purchases local SIM cards once she gets to a new destination, whether that’s at the airport, a convenience store, or a phone shop. Zoe uses the data to stay connected on apps like Whatsapp, Slack, and Google Maps. On the few occasions where it’s taken a day or two to find a SIM card, she uses an affordable international Vodafone plan.
KAARINA - CANADA
Kaarina wanted to keep her Canadian cell phone number during Remote Year, so she ported her number to Fongo for $5 per month. While the quality of her calls depends on the internet connection, through free wifi and local SIM Cards, she was able to keep her Canadian number.
JENNA - USA
Jenna is from the US and doesn’t need to be reached via her US phone number for work. She also didn’t want to change her SIM card every month, so she decided to use Google Fi for her complete phone needs. Now, she never pays more than $60 per month for unlimited international data.
As you can see, there is no one-size-fits-all plan when it comes to picking out the perfect international phone plan for you! While we’ve covered a lot of great options for you to consider, this is not a comprehensive list of all of the international phone solutions that exist.
We know staying connected to work, family, and friends throughout your travels is important, and if you still have questions, we’re happy to help! Just send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll be in touch!