So you’ve decided to travel abroad and now you’re wondering “what the flip am I gonna do about phone service?” You and me both. After tagging along with five different friends as they bought new SIM cards and a lengthy conversation about the merits of an International Data plan and living the Wifi-only life myself, I’ve decided that there is no one-size fits all answer to this question. However, I can at least show you the options available and provide the pros vs. cons of each.
International Data Plan:
An international data plan can be a useful, hassle free way to travel, especially over short periods of time. When it comes to living abroad for extended periods, it can get expensive quickly. Each phone service provider has a different rates and agreements, which I don’t have time to get into here, but if you’re looking to simplify your life, this is the way to do it.
- Rates can be sorted before you leave, which makes budgeting easier.
- Works with a locked phone.
- Stress-free multi-country traveling.
- You’ll need to do serious research beforehand and you’re limited to the rates offered by your phone service provider.
- International data plans aren’t offered by all phone service providers.
- Tends to be expensive.
In Summary: An international data plan might be slightly more convenient, but a SIM card (una tarjeta prepago) is usually more cost-efficient. Do your research in advance if you’re going to go with this option and make sure you know exactly what rates/fees apply and how much data you’re paying for.
I am living proof that it is completely possible to navigate life abroad without data. I’ve been in Granada for a month now and have yet to purchase a SIM card because I simply feel that I don’t need it (and, lets be real, I’m a poor college student traveling on a budget). With a little forethought the wifi-only life is a valid option.
- Cheapest option.
- Works with a locked phone.
- Free wifi is everywhere in Granada: host family/apartment, school, plazas, restaurants, libraries, etc.
- Makes life difficult when traveling alone or leaving Granada for day trips.
- Can be inconvenient at times.
- No googling directions if you’re lost. :'(
In Summary: If you’re broke, don’t mind the idea of not having 24/7 access to your phone, and tend to travel with a group, you might consider living the wifi-only life. Do watch out for data roaming charges (if you’re committed, you should disable data). I’ve found that this is a perfectly reasonable way to deal with the international phone situation, although it is a good idea to buy a cheap emergency burner phone, just in case you ever find yourself stranded and in desperate need of a taxi.
Local Prepaid SIM Card:
Third and by-far most popular option is buying a prepaid local SIM card and loading data onto it. This is an affordable, efficient way to have data while abroad,
- Depends on the carrier, but is generally quite affordable (ranges from 20$ – 40$ per month in Spain).
- No long-term contracts, relatively hassle free.
- You can Google directions when you get lost!
- You risk losing/breaking your USA SIM card.
- Doesn’t work with a locked phone. If you’re using this method, you really need to pay your phone off before you travel.
- If you’re planning on traveling outside of your host country, you’ll have to buy another local SIM. This could get awkward/expensive if you’re visiting many countries in a short amount of time.
In Summary: If you can hurdle the language barrier while perusing optimum phone options and don’t mind paying a reasonable amount for data, this is an excellent way for those who really want data to get it abroad. I’d personally say it’s easier/better than the international plan route, but that of course depends on your service provider deals and travel plans.
And there you have it. Hopefully this provides at least a little insight into the messy world of international phone service and that ya’ll benefit from reading this post. Happy traveling!
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