International Phone Usage

Like most travelers, we've found our mobile phones to be invaluable internationally. Things have changed quite a bit, and it's now very easy to setup your phone for international usage. There are some tricks and things to know:

Will Your Phone Work Outside of the US?

Not all phones are capable of international usage due to only having radios for the US frequency bands. Others have radios capable of many or all international bands, but are "Locked". This article covers the differences with phones and carriers for international usage. 

Mobile Phones use a small card called a "SIM" to identify the phone and store small amounts of data.

The SIM sets several attributes:

  • Carrier
  • Country code
  • Phone Number
  • Sometimes address books and similar data

Swapping the SIM is very easy, and if you pick up a foreign SIM in country the shop will change it for you and make sure it is working. 

Foreign or Tourist SIMS

International carriers have responded to the wide usage of mobile phones while traveling and now typically offer SIM cards with tourist oriented pre-paid plans which offer many advantages:

Pro's

  • Much lower net data costs while overseas (Literally 50 or 100x cheaper than data on your international roaming plan from a US carrier)
  • Unlimited text reception (the norm in Europe)
  • Moderate local text/calling. (50 minutes, 50 texts is common, sometimes unlimited depending on the plan)
  • Free EU roaming, no surcharges in an EU or EC country. You use the data/minutes/texts on your SIM card plan
  • 4G access (with the better tourist SIMS, at least 3G with the budget ones)
  • Some plans do not restrict usage of your phone as a hotspot to enable tablet or laptop usage
  • Use Whatsap, FB Messenger, or Google talk/hangouts to make VOIP voice calls to the US

Con's

  • Your number will change, and will be an international number (Normally not an issue outside of work. Folks either use VOIP or just call the international number)
  • Limited or no calls back to the US without adding credit. (Which is normally easy, I just added 10 Euro's of credit on our recent trip which enables calls and texts to the US)