If you travel abroad and have cellular service through your home carrier, you need to consider your international data options in order to avoid spending a lot of money needlessly. Each cellular provider has slightly different pricing and coverage so you must figure out which will work best for your needs. When roaming outside of your home country, there are only three viable options: an international data plan from your home carrier, the use of a local SIM for each country you visit, or an international data SIM card with multi-country coverage.
There are several factors to consider in making a decision on which option to pick because they differ in pricing, difficulty levels, logistics, duration of the plan, and coverage.
In brief: You continue to use your current phone and mobile number while you are overseas.
Best for: Short stays, or longer multi-country trips.
Cost: Very High
Level of inconvenience: Low. All you have to do is contact your cellphone company and activate the plan of your choice. Make sure that international roaming is enabled on your mobile account and that your phone will work in the country you are visiting.
Things to consider:
- Cost of additional data and price-per-megabyte. Some providers make a bank by charging as high as $0.25 per megabyte
- Duration of the plan. Generally it’s 30 days. In some cases it’s 14 days
- Determine whether your plans are limited to a certain data speed (2G, 3G, 4G) and offer access to all cellular networks and speeds
- Does your carrier provide a warning message that you are reaching data allocation limits and how much you are going to be charged for exceeding those limits
- Whether your phone will work where you will be traveling. Some carriers, such as Verizon, only support CDMA service and are not compatible with GSM networks
Summary: Although it is perhaps the easiest way to stay connected abroad, it is the most expensive as well. Unless you plan on very limited phone usage, international data roaming costs can be outrageous.
In brief: Buying a local SIM card in each country to use in your phone from home.
Best for: Trips of any length where you will spend more than a week in each country, and for heavy call and data usage
Level of inconvenience: High. Purchasing and activating a local SIM card can get extremely difficult in some countries. Do some research on purchasing SIM cards in the countries you are planning to visit.
Things to consider:
- Establish that your phone is not locked to your home carrier. Trying to unlock your phone in a foreign country can cost you a lot of blood sweat and tears.
- SIM size. Generally SIM cards come in 3 sizes: standard, micro and nano. Make sure that SIM will fit in your phone before buying it.
- How much data you will require. Don’t be tempted into buying a SIM with the largest amount of data you can find. Considering that most of them are valid only for 30 days (or less) you may end up letting your unconsumed data go to waste
- Data validity. Generally your SIM will expire after 14-30 days.
- The number of countries you’ll be visiting. Carrying a pocketful of easily losable SIM cards is not the best solution.
Summary: It is no secret that the costs of local SIM cards are slightly lower than any of the alternatives, but the process of acquiring such SIM cards from local vendors can be challenging at times to say the least. If you are not new to international traveling and spend a lot of time on the go, you should consider other international data roaming options.
International SIM cards
In brief: Purchasing a new international data SIM card that will work in every country you visit
Best for: Short or long trips to multiple countries, especially if you travel often.
Level of Inconvenience: Low. International SIM cards are all about convenience. They provide solid coverage in the most traveled destinations across the globe. Some of them ( e.g Keepgo Lifetime data SIM) are good for a year (or longer). They can be delivered straight to your home, office or hotel, tested before your trip and ultimately they will save you a lot of time overseas.
Things to consider:
- Make sure that your phone is not locked to your current service provider. If necessary, you may try and get your mobile handset unlocked or opt for a mobile WiFi hotspot.
Summary: If having a solid mobile internet connection and being able to use the Web everywhere you go is important to you, international data SIM is your best choice especially if you spend a lot of time on the go and don’t want to deal with the challenges of getting local SIM cards in each country. Let’s face it, there is nothing more convenient than being able to use your phone right after landing in a new destination.
Depending on your situation, there are a few other mobile data solutions that are worth mentioning:
- If you are not a heavy Internet user, consider using public WiFi. In modern day and age it is available almost everywhere. Keep in mind that WiFi speeds vary from one place to another but considering the low cost, it’s worth a shot
- If you are going on a short trip to a single country and don’t mind the hassle of collecting and returning equipment, then renting a phone or a mobile hotspot may be a viable option for you. Just make sure to check the fine print regarding deposits and damages.