Staying connected with today’s world is critical. Our smart phones are an extension of our body, as we use them to capture memories and share them with our network. The phone serves such a function to all of us that we would be lost without them. But when we wish to travel the world, crossing multiple coverage networks, we are hit with a message from our carrier outlining the appalling charges that will be applied to our account, should we continue to use our device. With the last warning, our phone is branded with the letter R, indicating that we are now roaming.
We are attached to our devices
Depending on your current carrier, they may offer certain specials for international packages or add-ons that will reduce the overall costs of maintaining communications while abroad. Freedom Mobile offers an add-on for $8/month that significantly reduces the rates of roaming fees in over sixty countries. Otherwise, they offer packages for specific destinations – like the U.S. – where you can pay $15/month and receive unlimited text and 1 GB of data while roaming in the continental U.S., Alaska and Hawaii.
Plan ahead if you wish to set-up your phone with an international roaming package. Depending on the carrier, they may wish to replace your SIM card for one that is capable of connecting to the international networks of your destination. Call ahead and ask them what your options are, and find out how long it would take for the changes to be set up. Also, make sure to call them back when you return to your home network. Even if it is before the end of the month, sometimes they can retroactively refund you a fraction of the cost of the plan.
Roaming charges can be reduced or eliminated with specific packages from your current carrier.
If you have an unlocked phone, it may be economically viable to purchase a pre-paid SIM card at your destination. You can now purchase a SIM card that is compatible with data, a feature that was once impossible for digital nomads. Very often, if you purchase a card that is pre-loaded with $30 or more, the card itself is free. The benefit of using a pre-paid card is that you will know exactly how much you are willing to spend, and you will not be charged any additional fees above what you spent. Some travelers find it annoying that with every changed SIM card, their phone number changes, and so they have to inform everyone who would want to contact them.
Be careful, as some phones are only compatible with frequencies pertaining to specific continents, such as the Americas, Europe, Africa, etc. Be sure to check that your phone will be able to connect to the cell-phone towers. If not, you will not be able to use that device at your destination, even after purchasing the SIM card.
Finally, if you are looking to completely circumvent paying fees, the best way is to turn on the airplane mode feature on most smart phones, and take advantage of the massive network of Wifi Hotspots that can be accessed for free around the world. Nearly every coffee-shop like Starbucks, or fast food joint like McDonald’s offers free Wifi to its customers. Simply drop by and tap to connect to the free hotspot (and agree to their terms and conditions) before taking full advantage of the internet.
Using the public Wifi at Coffee shops is a very common practice.
Some people may find it inconvenient to sit in a crowded public location for a long period, only taking advantage of the free internet. The seats are sometimes uncomfortable, or it may be too loud to take to friends through Facetime or Skype. Very often, local libraries are now offering Wifi in comfortable sitting areas, where not only can your bring your phone, but set-up a laptop. If you are travelling very light, there are usually computers that can be used for a period of time at no charge.
No matter how you decide to go about your travels, there are ways to skirt around those exorbitant fees. However, should you find yourself with a ridiculous bill at the end of your travels, be sure to give your carrier a call and see if they can reduce the charges. It is likely they can give you a significant decrease if you promise to continue being a good client.