By Arielle Pardes for WIRED.
You’ve bought your plane tickets, booked your Airbnb, stocked up on tiny shampoo bottles. The only thing separating you from that summer jaunt to Mexico or the Bahamas or the south of France is the plane ride, and setting up your phone to come along with you.
Sure, vacation should be the time to power down, disconnect, and focus on the people in front of you. But that doesn’t mean giving up the option of getting directions from Google Maps or documenting your exotic meal on Instagram. Using your phone abroad used to be complicated, expensive, or both, but it’s getting easier and easier. Here are a few options for bringing your smartphone abroad.
Level 1: Go Wi-Fi Only Good news: You can go “off the grid” and still update your feeds by using your phone in Wi-Fi mode. Just toggle off cellular data or leave your phone in airplane mode from the moment you board the plane. Then, just practicing asking: “Excusez-moi, quel est le mot de passe pour le Wi-Fi?”
Level 2: Take Your American Plan Abroad If you need better connectivity to, say, hail a Lyft from the Acropolis, simply add a global package to your current service. It’s shockingly easy. For example, AT&T offers a service called Passport, which gets you 200 MB of data and unlimited texting in more than 200 countries for just $40 tacked onto your current monthly plan. (Calls abroad still cost a buck a minute, so talk quickly.) Verizon offers a similar service, Travel Pass, that costs $5 a day to extend your plan to Mexico and Canada and $10 per day for service in more than 100 other countries. How much data you need depends upon how active you plan to be online. Posting 30 photos to social media costs about 10 MB; each web page you visit costs about one. Downloading apps like Whatsapp lets you send texts and make calls without racking up minutes, and disabling “automatic refresh” on email and other apps helps avoid blowing through your data allowance.
Level 3: Talk Like the Locals Flexing that unlimited vacation policy and staying abroad for more than a week or two? Consider replacing your SIM card and using a local service provider. First, make sure your phone is unlocked. You can do this by swapping your SIM card for another one and confirming that your phone still works, or simply calling your service provider. The FCC requires that providers unlock all devices so you can use them on any network, so simply ask your provider for an unlock code. One caveat, though: That rule doesn’t apply if you’re locked into a contract or you haven’t paid for your phone in full.
A local SIM usually replaces your domestic phone number with a local one, so apps like Whatsapp or WeChat remain the simplest way to talk with friends back home without the whole “new number, who dis?” routine. You will, however, be able to call the local pizza place for a delivery or add your new international friends on Facebook without spending the extra coin on calls, texts, and data usage.
Luckily, almost all smartphones will work plugged into outlets between 100 volts and 240 volts, so you probably don’t need a voltage converter to charge your phone. (If you’re not sure, you can find the voltage printed on the bottom of the phone.) All you need is a simple plug adapter to power up just like you would back home. Just make sure you have enough battery for all those travel foodstagrams.
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