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A traveler's guide to taking a smartphone abroad

A traveler's guide to taking a smartphone abroad
Image courtesy of Dreamstime.com

Whenever a new year begins, many people make the resolution to get out and travel more. For some, that means exploring their state, or other cities around the country. But, for others, that means going overseas.

If you're pulling out your passport for a trip this year, you might not think about your cellphone usage until it's too late. But that can cost you a pretty penny. What many don't realize is that their phones are not intended to be used on other networks.

Before you pack your bags for your next adventure, we've got some tips to help prevent your cellphone bill from becoming too outrageous. With these pointers, you won't come home to an unexpected surprise of international overage charges.

1. SIM Cards and international plan options

The first thing to do is to check with your mobile provider about options for international travel. Verizon Wireless, for example, has a trip planner that lets you check for coverage in the city you're planning to visit. AT&T offers international plans that you can purchase before your trip. With AT&T Passport, you can pay a one-time, per device fee up front to cover your international trip.

If you own your cellphone, you can also contact your mobile provider and ask that they unlock it before you head out. Unlocking your phone simply means that it's no longer limited to use with just one provider.

Once your phone is unlocked, you can purchase a temporary SIM card from a mobile carrier in the location you're visiting. This does require a bit more research but will give you normal use of your phone while you're abroad, just under a different phone number.

2. An app to avoid roaming charges

Roaming charges are the primary reason your cellphone bill adds up so quickly. It's like when you go to a doctor who isn't covered by your health insurance. You'll still have access to the service you need; however, you're going to have to pay more for it.

That said, if you can avoid roaming, you can avoid those pesky charges. An app called Roamer will help you do that. With this great app, you can keep your U.S. telephone number and make all the calls you need when you're in the far corners of the world.

It works by forwarding your calls to your number while you're overseas. When you download the app, you need to set up this call-forwarding feature, but don't worry. There are easy-to-follow instructions that will walk you through every step to get your phone set up in minutes.

Roamer is available for over 200 countries so you're sure to get in touch with those you hold dear. Each country you're trying to reach has a different rate, so be sure to check prices on the app before you go calling your abuela in Mexico, or your college roommate in Sweden.

3. Messaging apps

If you're headed to another country, we recommend that you ignore your existing phone and messaging services. The Roamer app can help you take calls, but what about messages? 

For that, it's a good idea to use communications apps that don't rely on a mobile network. Apps such as WhatsApp and Telegram are good options for instant messaging since they only require a Wi-Fi connection to send and receive.

If you find it easier to video chat while you're on the road, Duo and Skype let you connect face to face. 

Of course, if you're relying on public Wi-Fi to meet your messaging needs, there are some security concerns you'll need to keep in mind. Click here for public Wi-Fi safety tips, and two other security mistakes you need to avoid while traveling.

More travel tips to help you stay safe and save money:

The best way to capture and share your travel experiences

Skip the security line at the airports

Hotels of the future will blow you away

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