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Nowadays it seems like every other passenger is peering into a smartphone while at the gate or just after boarding. So much happens on these marvelous little machines—flight times, notifications, restaurant searches, hotel reservations, maps, etc.—that most people wouldn’t consider leaving home without one. When traveling abroad with your smartphone, though, there are a few things you may want to take into consideration before you switch it on at your destination.

Make sure it works abroad. Sounds pretty basic, but not all phones are made to roam on international cellular frequencies. All cellphones use one of two universally accepted operating standards: GSM or CDMA. The former is pretty much available worldwide, but CDMA coverage is more restricted. Consult your phone provider’s website to make sure yours will roam without problems.

Sign up for an international service plan. Before leaving home, call your carrier and activate international service. Even though your phone might be GSM compatible, you will still need to activate this or you won’t be able to receive or make calls. This activation is free—but it’s just about the only thing about international usage that is. Megabytes of data, for example, can cost as much as $20 per, so you’ll want to make sure you’re on some sort of international data plan as well as an international calling plan, especially if you’re looking to browse websites, receive and send email plus attachments, use mapping apps and more.

WiFi is your friend. That said, you can neatly sidestep a lot of the costs of international usage by sticking with WiFi—and that includes phone calls. Let’s start with data: there are hotspots both free and paid all over the world, and you can sign up for services such as Boingo that give you up to 2,000 minutes of WiFi access around the world for $59/month (they also have an unlimited plan for the Americas). The best way to take advantage of WiFi and not incur data charges would be by shutting of data roaming (which still allows texting and phone calls), turning off cellular data (you need to turn that back on when you get home), setting email to manual so you just check it when you have WiFi (turn off push notifications while you’re at it), or just staying in airplane mode (no data, no texting, no calls, but you will be able to use WiFi). As for making phone calls, there are several services that use WiFi enabled phones, bypassing cellular completely. The most well known is Skype, but there are several other alternatives to consider.

What about texting? If you have a reasonable data plan or can jump on reliable WiFi, take full advantage of digital messaging applications like iMessage (only iPhone to iPhone), WhatsApp or Viber (here are some more alternatives).

Do you have any tips and tricks for keeping your smartphone bill under control when you travel? 


Photo credit: Ed Yourdon via photopin cc

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