How To Use Your Phone Abroad with a SIM Card
When anyone travels abroad, one of the first things they have to figure out is how they are going to use their phone abroad to connect to the internet, make phone calls, and send text messages. There are a few ways to go about it:
- Pay for an international plan through your current cell phone provider. You need to call customer service or go into a branch to get international roaming set up as part of your phone plan. Having an international plan will allow your phone to connect to any country's cell phone network. Cost: Expensive.
- Connect only to wifi while abroad. This day in age, you can connect to wifi at any McDonald's, Starbucks, public library, hostel, and even malls. Connecting to wifi will allow you to access the Internet and send messages and make phone calls over apps that use wifi, like Facebook messenger or WhatsApp. When you are not connected to wifi, it's important to keep your phone in airplane mode to avoid roaming charges. Cost: Free, but you are limited to only a wifi connection.
- Buy a local SIM card in whichever country you are in. Inserting a SIM card in your smartphone will connect you to that country's cell phone network, give you a local phone number, and allow you to surf the internet, make calls, and send text messages at any time. Cost: Varies, but many cell phone providers have very cheap plans targeting travelers.
I used to only rely on wifi to connect to the internet and contact friends and family, but I got annoyed having to constantly rely on a wifi connection. Enter the local SIM card! This confused me at first, but it makes a lot of sense now.
You already have a SIM card in your smartphone. It's a very small, rectangular card that is inserted into a slot on the side of your phone. Say you have Verizon as your American cell phone provider. Your Verizon SIM card gives you your American phone number and gives you access to the Verizon network across America, which is how you have data to get on Facebook and send text messages.
Your Verizon SIM card doesn't work in other countries. But you can buy SIM cards for other phone networks in the country you land in to connect to their phone network! Here's how:
- Your smartphone must be unlocked! Be positive that you have checked this either by checking online or calling customer service. iPhones used to be locked so they couldn't be used on international networks, but since the iPhone 5, they have been unlocked.
- Do a quick google search of "SIM card providers" and then whichever country you're in. You should immediately be able to see which phone companies have networks in that country. For example, the three largest phone networks in Aus would be Telstra, Optus, and Vodaphone, which would be the equivalent to Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile here in the US.
- Compare plans. You need to consider how much data you want (3GB, 6GB?), how much you want to spend, and the networks' phone coverage. For example, Vodaphone is the cheapest plan you can get in Aus, but it has the shittiest coverage. Telstra is the most expensive, but has the most coverage, even in the outback of Aus.
- Buy a SIM card at the airport when you land. Or instead of comparing plans, see which network has the longest line at the airport and that's usually an indicator that it is the most popular network.
- Buy a plan. The staff at the network will take your old SIM card out and insert your new SIM card. They will give you your old SIM card to hold on to. The SIM card only gives you a local phone number though. Now you have to buy a plan which includes data, phone call minutes, and text messages for a certain length of time. Once you choose a plan, the staff will "load" your SIM card with the plan. Now you're good to go!
- Buy more data as you go, if you need it. If you're in a developed country, you should be able to download the phone network's app. The app will show you how much data you have used and you can buy more using your credit card. If you're in a developing country, like the Philippines, you will have to buy "credit" by purchasing phone cards in a grocery store or 7-11. For example, you would buy a phone card for 500 pesos. You scratch off the numbers on the back of the phone card, enter it on your phone, and you have now "loaded" 500P onto your plan which you can use to buy more data or phone calls.
As for cost, it really varies. 17GB of data in Singapore cost me $22USD, but just 3GB of data in Aus cost me the same amount. 8GB of data in the Philippines cost $20USD. Certainly the cheapest plans with the most data are in Southeast Asia.
As you go from country to country, you will build up a collection of SIM cards! I think it's the easiest way to go and it gives you peace of mind because you can access the Internet at any time and make local phone calls (like calling your hostel if you get lost).
So, that's how you can use your phone abroad!