Cheap International Cell Phone Service For Travelers

Cheap International Cell Phone Service

Cheap International Cell Phone Service

Travel Tips

How do I use my phone while traveling overseas? There are a few options for travelers to keep in touch on the road with international cell phone service.

I’ve had a lot of questions about how to use a cellphone when you’re traveling. So I thought I’d talk about the different ways you can use your phone to stay connected anywhere in the world. It’s easier than you think!

Why would I even want a working cellphone while traveling?

First of all, I’m not on vacation. I run this blog as a small business. Local tour operators, clients, and public relations people need the ability to contact me. Staying active on social media is a major part of my business model too.

While I’d love to tell you that wifi is fast and cheap everywhere, that’s just not the case.

A working cellphone allows me to call locals for meetups, get directions, or ask for recommendations. I can call a guesthouse to inquire if they have availability for the night. I can check on bus schedules, pull up Google Maps if I’m lost, get help in an emergency, and much more.

International Roaming

If you have a cell phone plan with a major carrier in the US, you can usually continue to use your phone while traveling overseas. Keeping the same phone number and everything. While this is extremely convenient, it can be ASTRONOMICALLY expensive.

These companies (Verizon, AT&T) charge ridiculously high fees for international roaming, and you can easily return home to a phone bill that costs more than your whole vacation did!

But if you’re traveling overseas for a short period of time (a week), and don’t plan on using your phone much, it might be the best option. Just make sure to keep the phone in “airplane mode” when not in use, otherwise you can rack up big fees without knowing it.

It’s wise to call your provider to make sure the phone will even work at your planned destination, and confirm how much their international plans cost if not included in your regular service.

International Cell Phone Service

A whole new industry has sprung up around using your cell phone overseas, due to the ridiculous rates many mobile carriers charge for international roaming. You can now purchase “global” or “international” sim cards that allow you to use your cell phone at reduced rates around the world.

One example is to rent a mobile hotspot device like Tep Wireless, which uses a special sim card and agreements with cell service providers around the world.

Global sim cards or mobile hotspot rental are best for travelers who are visiting many different countries in a short period of time.

For example, GAP year students or those traveling on a round-the-world ticket. It doesn’t matter how many countries you visit, you’ll keep the same phone number, have access to voice, texting, and data, but spend a lot less on your cell service.

Pay as you go and only put money on when you need it. But keep in mind you must have a GSM carrier unlocked cell phone for the SIM card to work.

If your phone is locked to AT&T or another provider, one option is to buy a separate cheap unlocked international phone to use for your trip.

Local SIM Cards for Travel

Conveniently Recharge a Local SIM at Convenience Stores

Local SIM Cards

If your phone is already unlocked (which means you’re able to use SIM cards from different cell companies), then it’s possible to buy a local SIM card when you arrive at your destination country and use a local pre-paid cell phone plan.

This is by far the cheapest option out there, especially for longer-term travel. It usually costs $2-$10 to buy a local SIM card — which you can then refill with extra minutes or data on demand.

The downside to local SIM cards is they can be confusing sometimes.

It took me a while to figure out why my prepaid minutes would magically disappear in Central American countries. Turns out they were only good for a week before they expired! Every company will have it’s own special rules to learn, which might be difficult if you don’t speak the language.

Before I buy a local SIM card, I try to research which company has the best coverage for the particular area I’ll be traveling in. You can go online and ask other travelers who’ve been there recently, or wait until you arrive and ask locals which provider they prefer.

What’s My Current Setup?

At the moment I travel with a factory unlocked iPhone 6 I bought without a contract (which means you have to pay full price for the phone, as normally the phones are subsidized by AT&T or Verizon).

When I’m visiting the United States, I use a Net 10 Wireless prepaid SIM card that gives me unlimited talk & text plus 3GB of data for around $50 a month with no contract.

If I’m going to be living in a foreign country for a few weeks or months, I’ll pick up a local SIM card and buy a pre-paid cellphone plan there, giving me a local phone number and internet access.

EXAMPLES:

In Mexico I use TelCel. The sim card costs about $10, and I pay about $25 a month for voice, text, and 3GB of 4G data.

In Thailand I use TrueMove. The sim card is free, and I pay about $30 a month for 14GB of 4G data.

Every country will have their own providers. I generally like to go with the most popular one — which is easy to find by simply asking locals when you arrive. If you run out of minutes or data, simply buy more at any convenience store or shopping center. Easy & cheap!

Why can’t American cell companies be more like the rest of the world? ★

Traveling Somewhere Soon?

Don’t forget travel insurance! I’m a big fan of World Nomads for short-term trips. Protect yourself from possible injury & theft abroad. Read more about why you should always carry travel insurance here.

READ NEXT: My Complete Travel Gear Guide

How do you stay in touch on the road? Drop me a message it the comments below!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.

Any Questions Or Comments?

Thanks for leaving a comment, I appreciate your feedback. However please use your real name only and treat everyone with respect. Lets have a meaningful conversation!

121 Comments

  1. I use T-Mobile. Its about 50 bucks a month and gives me everything I need while in the US. Abroad in 140+ countries, I have free data and texts and .20 cents calls. Its worked great for me everywhere I go. You should check it out.

    1. I’ve been thinking about giving it a shot, but I’ve read that international data is only 2g/3g. Local sim cards often give me 4g. For all the social media stuff I do (Live Facebook, Instagram Stories) I really need that speed if possible. What’s your experience been like?

      1. Even though it’s 2g/3g speeds, in my experience the internet is still decent. That all depends on the country of course. Texting and voice calls seem about the same as at home. I still do buy local sim cards if I’m in the country for longer then a week or two. But it’s nice to have Tmobile if I’m only in the country for a short time, then I don’t have to worry about tracking down a local sim card.

  2. Last month, i went to Costa Rica, with my wife for 2 weeks, we had troubles for make calls, so we used whatsapp video call using the hotel wifi service , and works perfectly, we spent 0 dlls. Maybe for the next trip i’ll buy a sim card, greetings from Mexico.

  3. I see a lot of people suggesting that Verizon is not a good choice for world travel. Some even suggesting that Verizon’s CDMA phones will not work for world travel. I can tell you that Verizon was great for world travel. First their phones do use CDMA while in the U.S., but also use GSM when traveling outside the U.S. They have several options, but my favorite was the Travel Pass. This charged me $10 per day for unlimited minutes, messaging, and data. Well the data came out of my domestic allowance so not really unlimited, but there were no “roaming charges”. $10 per day might be a bit steep for longer vacations, but $140 for a two week vacation was a small price to pay to not have to get a new SIM and new number in each country.
    I see that this is an older post with comments going back as far as 2013, but since their are also more recent comments I thought it best to add some new information.

  4. Hi there. Thanks for the great post.

    I’m confused about how to handle the times when I’m back in the US. I have a CDMA (Verizon) phone but it seems that buying prepaid SIM cards is not an option without a monthly ongoing fee. Is that correct? Meaning, I can’t buy a SIM for $10 like you can in other countries, use up those minutes/text/data and then not worry about it until I come back into the US and need to refill it. Am I wrong? What would you suggest?

    1. It’s CDMA only? What kind of phone?

      The rest of the world uses GSM, so yeah it might be an issue. Either swap your phone for something that can handle both (like the iPhone 6 & 7) or get a 2nd, cheaper unlocked GSM “world phone” to use when you travel.

    2. Diana, daughter and I had Verizon phones for 5 years that we used with PagePlus. They are a CDMA phone service that uses Verizon towers. But cheaper than Vzn for sure. about $30 a month. We needed to switch over to GSM phones, though, so now we use TPO or Lycamobile. Lycamobile is amazing for low users like grandma. I have a little backup phone that I put a $10 card on over a year ago and it’s still working!!

  5. Hello,
    Thank you for all the great info! However, I am still unsure of our specific needs. We are Canadians that will be travelling to 30 countries in a one year trip of a life time with a budget. Most of our stops will be a week or less, so does it still make sense to purchase local sim cards? Our two main needs are to access data while we are travelling so we may find transportation and or accommodations. Obviously we will use Wi Fi when ever possible, but for the odd times we may need it on our phone. Our other need is to keep in contact with our family back in Canada, as we will be leaving behind two needy young adult children. LOL. My local cell phone plan is about to expire and have to decide whether to renew before we leave or just get an unlocked phone and by sim cards. What to do !

    1. Darren,

      I am a T-Mobile subscriber in the US and I found that T-Mobile provides a 2 G service in most countries and to my pleasant surprise, this worked very well during my trip to Canada, Europe and India this year. I used data for maps, Wifi calling ( Whatsapp) , texting where possible and when absolutely required to talk used the 20c/min calling plan.
      Must say worked out very well. More than pleased.
      Regards
      Ramesh

  6. I was told my phone will not work when I first came to Canada, so I just borough a new phone along with a sim card. Later I found it was not the case lol.
    Anyway it could be frustrating try to figure out how to do it, maybe its easier just to use skype or something like that.

  7. I am going to Rome for 2 weeks, leaving over labor day. I have MetroPCS with an LG Android can I get a SIM card for it or should I just buy another cheap phone through telestial?

  8. Hi Matthew!
    I am going to be living in Belize for about five months and I was wondering if you have any particular carrier to recommend for a phone plan? Unfortunately the main U.S. carrier prices seem very expensive. What should I do? Can you help me? Thank you!
    Maria

  9. Hi, My friends and I are traveling to Europe, London, Paris, and Rome. Any ideas on where to buy a sim card, will that same sim card work in all three countries or do I have to buy a sim card for every country?

    Thanks

    1. It may be too late for this answer but for any solution you must have a phone that
      — is unlocked
      — operates on the same bands/frequencies that are used in the country/countries you’ll be traveling
      — uses the same technology found in those countries: eg t-mobile, att use GSM – the technology most easily found in Europe. Sprint, Verizon, and others use CDSMA – leave the phone at home, buy one when you land

      Also, make sure you understand the conventions for dialing European numbers – eg drop the leading 0, within the country, how to call a number across the border.

      That said, although you might be able to use the same SIM in all countries you visit, you might need to do something each time you cross a border. I would not recommend making a call in one country and finishing up in another as might happen when traveling by train or bus/”coach”, else the call could finish up using expensive roaming rates.

  10. Hello fellow, more experienced vagabond!
    Do you know of other options to handle NOT having a consistent phone number? I read your answer to another question about someone traveling for work that sort of fit my situation, but toll free forwarding sounds too complicated for my simple vagabonding head and my thin wallet. Cost is a strike against a global SIM, too.

    My phone is an unlocked iPhone 6. I’m getting by just fine in life this way – with no permanent number, except for some pesky websites that unfortunately, I need to book travel and get email.

    These sites want to verify my identity and the only option they give is to send a text to my phone. Gone are the days, apparently, of answering simple questions to verify identities. It’s getting frustrating – because my number changes with countries, or, I don’t even have a number sometimes.

    It’s creepy how more and more sites want a phone number – even Facebook is pressuring me to ‘secure my account’ with a phone number.

    Thanks in advance for any further guidance you can give on this, and for listening to my rant.

  11. Seems like a number of options to look all for making calls in other countries not being the home country – where phone numbers are based.

    Apologies if answered already but ;;;

    We will be traveling back to the U.S. From Thailand (home) for a three week period. Would like to keep communications open (if need be for work) and of course to have the ease and a availability of a mobile phone for a number of calls needing to be made within the country.

    Even with this being a vacation – we need to have communication access for our calls in the U.S. and to Thailand.

    Apps are not the all around solution due to needs of the communications – most needing to be actual calls.

    Any suggestions on how to make this happen – thanks for the help!

  12. My husband and I have purchased a cottage on Prince Edward Island where we plan to go every summer. We have only spent a few weeks at a time there and never felt the need to purchase cell phone coverage before. I will say PEI is like a world all its own – it doesn’t have all the other amenities found in the rest of Canada or even the rest of the maritime. So I don’t know if you can recommend any cell coverage there or not, but I’d appreciate any information you might have. BTW, if you haven’t made it to PEI, you’ve got to go – it is fabulous!

      1. I don’t doubt your word Keane, but I am surprised. I know the high-speed internet situation there is still developing. Fiber optic was supposed to be on the entire Island by now, but that is nowhere close to happening yet. Prince County, where our cottage is located, is mostly covered by a WISP, and the reports on the reliability of it are varied. But regarding the cell service, since you know about it, what company is the best for visitors? We will be there 3-4 months.

        1. My son will be visiting friends in PEI for just over a week, leaving next week. I am curious what kind of cell phone coverage I should get him for his week in PEI.

  13. Hi

    I plan on traveling to the Dominican Republic for 2 weeks, im looking for a cell phone plan or international travel program, where i can used my same number to call and text. Do you guys have any opinion please, i dont want a expensive bill

  14. I am planning on traveling overseas from the US. I am not sure how long I will be staying in each location. Starting out in Paris then seeing Germany,Switzerland, Italy and so forth. Since I won’t be staying in each place for a month at a time, what would you suggest? I will be traveling alone and will be my first time traveling. I can have my iphone unlocked or I could buy a phone to bring with me. Also, what happens if you lose your phone while traveling? I have a tendency of losing phones so this is def. a concern of mine.

  15. Going to England for two weeks. Is an unlocked iPhone (was going to get a new one anyway) and an England SIM card the best way to go? Best England plan? This always confuses me, but we would like to have googlemaps for our driving around.

  16. Hi guys, have you ever heard of chatsim? It’s a sim card design for people who travel a lot and that lets you chat free of charge and without limits wherever you are for a flat annual fee of €10.
    With the multimedia recharges you have credits to exchange even photos and videos and make voip calls. It automatically connects to the provider with the best coverage and signal around the world, more than 400 operators in about 150 countries.
    I think it’s a good and cheap solution for globetrotters!

    1. thats awesome info thanks!! I need a cell that works from Australia and New Zealand to Canada..will this one do that inexpensively as well? Thanks again!

  17. I ran across this post and thought I would chime in I currently am in the process of moving to Mexico from California. So I’ve been doing a lot of research on phone systems cell phones etc.. Living or traveling in mexico Tmobil simple plan $50 unlimited talk text and 1 gig data Will work in Mexico US and Canada plus has a Wi-Fi calling from anywhere in the world with Wi-Fi at No extra charge. They say when you’re inside of Mexico the data is the same speed but I doubt it. UnFortunately I’m switching over from Verizon with great data speed to T-Mobile which I know sucks but what are you going to do I am switching over next week. Now if you’re living in Mexico and want a Mexican telephone number USAcell from mexico will work in Mexico and in the US with no extra charges it is a AT&T co . I am going with a blue phone dual sim so I can have my US number and Mexican number on the same phone.

    I love Skype I’ve traveled all over the world and used Skype to make phone calls to the US. I also have magicJack it’s OK but a little finicky I use ITP voip service for my main house line it is much better and very stable.

    After i’ve used T-Mobile for a while I will give an update to my experience.

    1. Update October 25, 2015 post

      Well I’ve been living with the T-Mobile North America plan for three months in Mexico and these are my pros and cons of the system

      First of all I needed to upgrade to the family plan as 2 GB just doesn’t even come close to covering my needs so now I have 6GB

      1st Receiving phone calls and texts is fantastic and it works great.
      2nd making phone calls on the other hand can be a little tricky calling the United States sometimes it doesn’t go through and could be problematic but most of the time it’s OK.
      3rd The Mobile T-Mobile has partnered with telcel which is the number one network in Mexico so that’s a good thing

      4th The data plan that’s 4G in the US is throttled back to 3G in Mexico which is basically OK because I just use it for getting news I stream music and GPS mapping.

      All in all it’s very convenient to be able to receive phone calls and text messages in Mexico and having the data but it is rather expensive as To have any decent data I had to go on the family plan which is $100. Since T-Mobile is now on a basically a month the month program.

      I would highly recommend anybody that’s planning on being in Mexico for any length of time to give it a try and see how it works.

      Mexican cell phone plans are rather inexpensive and you get 4G data if you’re interested in saving money I have been looking at several workarounds and one of them is to get a magicJack phone number and a magicJack app on your phone and receive phone calls from the US over your Mexican data plan on your Mexico cell plan and you can also make calls on the magic jack app this is similar to Skype. That way if you want to receive phone calls from the US or make calls to the US you’re good to go. I have also found the what’s up app very useful when dealing internationally around the world with different people.

      So all in all I’d recommend the T-Mobile plan or you can try some of the less expensive workarounds.
      Good luck and enjoy

  18. A smartphone running vonage or Google voice to call back into the US. Make sure you sign up for Google voice in the US. Accounts created outside the U.S. do not seem to work the same.

  19. Hiii guys
    I am in merchant navy . I used to touch coastal of various countries . I really get irritate to buy a local simcard . It charge me a huge amount . I want to get a sim card whose data works in all countries in single plan only . Please guys suggest me a sim card that i must get in india .

  20. Really is terrible how much time my parents put into figuring the whole cell phone situation out before they went to Ireland. In the end they just left their phones at home and let their friend who going as well worry about the cell phone problem. It worked out since they found some throwaway phones and that’s probably what they’re gonna use next year, but maybe we can figure out a way to use their own. We’ll see, maybe telecom corps could just be nice and stop torturing us, it’s not a perfect world I suppose.

    1. When traveling to Ireland you can buy a sim card at the airport. You don’t have to buy a phone as long as your phone is unlocked. There are companies that specialize in sim card for travelers. I went there may 2015 and it cost me about $25-30 euros so I used it mainly to get in touch with land lords and hotel we were renting from it served its purpose.

  21. I have been living in Mexico for 21 years now. I live in Aguascalientes, in central Mexico. I have been using Telcel. However, I need to know what would be the best cell phone service in the U.S. to call Latin America when I am in the U.S. Not only do I want to be able to call Mexico from the U.S. at a low cost, but also Colombia, where my wife is from, when I am in the States and she is visiting Colombia. I can do it with Skype, but Skype can also be expensive with calling cell phones in other countries. With a regular cell phone in the U.S. I was paying $60 a month or more with Boost Mobile in order to call Latin America. This is no good for short trips to the U.S.

    1. In the US you have a free hotspot on every corner especially at McDonalds, Starbucks and other large chain restaurants. I would recommend of few items.
      First of all I travel several times between Mexico and US each year and have found that Vonage and Viber a great combined solution. First of all Vonage I pay $18 per month this is a home based wifi solution for unlimited calling and it provides 2-additional cell phones to be linked for more wifi calling. In Mexico and in the US this is great I can actually make calls anywhere I have internet and receive calls from my home line. Viber on the other hand is totally free and does a similar function but each of your calling parties must have the viber app to be free.. now I have phone and txting anywhere in the world at no cost…frankly they are both reliable…If you are looking for the best US based solution for cellular with data through a carrier then Verizon or ATT are potentially your answer.
      I hope this helps

  22. for what it’s worth, I live in Canada but just spent 6 mos. in US. I bought a BLU unlocked dual sim phone for about $200 and got a Roam Mobility plan (available only in Canada but good for use in a variety of countries). It was fabulous – prepaid for 3 months with top ups available – local and long distance calling, email and texting all in. Now if I could just find something comparable for my six months in Canada, I’d be laughing. Oh, and if I use the service again within a year, I get to keep the same number.

  23. I am moving to Peru and am looking for the cheapest way to make calls back to the US, while still being able to use a cell phone locally in Peru. I have checked into unlocking the cell and getting a local Sim, however that would allow me to make local calls in Peru but I would be charged a high rate to make/receive calls to/from the US. Any suggestions?

    1. Magic Jack.
      I’ve lived in Peru for 8 months of each year–for the past 4 years. Now–June 29, 2015–I’m living in Cajamarca for 2 months. And I plan on living in Chile and Argentina on this trip, too, and staying on in South America for a few years.

      I still have my original Magic Jack which I purchased about 4-5 years ago, up on Whidbey Island, just north of Seattle. When I’m here, I buy a cheap, everyday phone at Radio Shack. In fact, I JUST priced them at Radio Shack here in Cajamarca. The truly cheap models are 37 soles or so. ‘About US $11.

      I call my son in Wisconsin whenever the mood strikes me–and talk as long as I want. I just pay a basic fee to Magic Jack ($39.95?), and an extra $3 because I picked the number I wanted when I signed up.

      Here’s the GREAT thing, to my way of thinking (and because I run a business in the U.S., too): When someone calls your MJ number in the states, say, and they leave voicemail, YOU GET A NOTIFICATION via email, AND … A-N-D, you can listen to the voicemail message that’s included in the email from the comfort of, say, Cusco Coffee in Arequipa. How much more convenient does it get?!?!?

      PS And I have a very, very cheap phone I bought from Claro (for … 40 soles?!?) and then I just recharge it as needed; it’s exceedingly easy to put money/time on your phone. I use it for local calls, emergencies, etc.

      ‘Hope that helps, but you’ve probably already have all this figured out! LOL

      1. if you install the MJ app on your smart phone you can get the calls on your phone to. if you are connected on local Wi-Fi then it’s free.

        I find Google voice to be the best option. Not only will it work on your smart phone, it also works on your computer. you can call anywhere in the world for cheap compared to most other providers. calls to US n Canada are free and your credit does not expire like calling cards. vonage is another great frre app, you do not need a calling plan, for your smart phone for free calls to other vonage app or phone users and cals back to the US. Whatsapp, fb messenger, and many other apps all allow free calling to others using the same app around the world.

      2. Yep, I concur with Michael. I too have a small business, but I’m living in Medellin, Colombia. I’ve had the same Magic Jack account (phone number) for 8 years now and it works like a charm. I don’t even use the plugin device, I have the app on both my iphone and my android, and as long as I have good internet it works. 3g data works well too. I also bought a JoinVIP phone as backup, it works well too. Today with so many options it’s pretty easy… when calling friends I usually use Facebook phone or WhatsApp phone calls. Oh… and there’s also Google Voice which let’s you make free calls to the U.S. It’s great!

        1. Hi Andrew,
          Do you travel back and forth from Colombia to the US? I split my time between the US and Colombia and I have two phones – one for Colombia and one for the US. The thing is I am always changing phone numbers so my first week consists of me having to send messages telling people it’s me and this is my new number for the next few months. I have an unlocked iPhone now and will be swapping out sims when I return to Colombia. I would like to have one phone number I can keep and use in both countries; in you experience is that possible? I will look into magic jack now. Thanks for the info.

  24. Hi again Matthew, I was inspired after my frustrating morning to do my own research into Dual SIM phones after your recommendation of the LG Optimus one. I ended up buying this ZTE Blade S6 on PC Advisor’s review – Runs the latest Android OS and looks very much like an iPhone 6!

    I have never ever owned my own smartphone, always crunking along on my Nokia 8310 from early 2000’s plus an iPod touch that’s unreliable and fragile – so this is my first step into a brave new world and will be perfect for my travels for the rest of this year to Brussels, California and Mauritius. I hope!!

  25. Hello, I’m moving to Italy. I’ll be there for a couple (4-5) years… Can you recommend a service plan and a websites with those plans? Thank you!!!

  26. I will be leaving the U.S. for a round the world trip this week, which will include several countries and continents over the next year. I am trying to determine if the T-mobile simple international plan ($50 per month) is better to maintain my U.S. number or if you recommend a global SIM card … or even picking up local SIM cards along the way. Traveling solo and being dependent only on wi-fi does not seem like a safe option for me. Thank you!

    1. If you’re spending a month or longer in a country, I’d recommend getting local SIM cards. Pay as you go is really pretty cheap in most countries, $20-$40 a month for the SIM, voice, & data. You can even top up weekly (I buy 1gb per week). If you weren’t traveling for so long, T-Mobile would be a better option I think.

  27. I have an unlocked Blu T176 cell phone with two sim card slots. Here in the States I use a T-Mobile prepaid sim card. Last week I traveled to Honduras and immediately purchased a Tigo sim card to use while in country. In the meantime I noticed that my T-Mobile card had switched over to Claro. I called my son’s Tigo phone and it appeared to have worked. Yesterday I returned to the USA and I noted that my Tigo card now read AT&T. My question is, if I were to use the Claro (T-Mobile) in Honduras or the AT&T (Tigo) here in the States, would I be charged the outrageous roaming fees I hear about?

  28. I am currently in California and am going to start working out of Mexico (Cabo) and possibly other parts of the world eventually. I need to have a consistent U.S. type cell phone number that clients can reach me at. Is there a certain service or set-up that will allow me to have one cell phone with one consistent phone number where people can reach me and I can reach them at a reasonable rate no matter where I am? Each new sim card in each country gives you a new phone number which would not work for me… Thanks for your help!

  29. Hi Matthew A family member is travelling to USA from Australia. Confused about phones, Will a Nokia 208 work? Or an older phone?

  30. I have been texting someome that is visiting Cabo San Lucas and i live in California they bought a plan for their trip bit that also work for me if we have.different carriers?

  31. hi Matthew, I live in ontario canada and a friend of mine in Washington is sending me her old iphone 4 from verizon as she now has the 5s. The problem I’m having is that she says it doesn’t have a sim chip. So how would I go about unlocking it and putting it on a canadian provider

  32. Hi Matthew,

    These post is great and wonderful to read through the variety of questions and your comments. I am still shaking my head about something though.

    I travel to Turkey a few times a year and I’m usually there for about 2 weeks ish.

    My clients in the US have my US number on my iPhone 4S via ATT. I’ve had this number for decades now and pretty much everyone knows it that I do business with.

    Needless to say they are most likely going to call my US number, which rings to me in Turkey no problem…however, as you can imagine even with prepaid plans with ATT it still gets expensive. Occasionally I’ll run into situations where a conference call is necessary with a US client, staff or partners.

    I am looking for option(s) to keep my costs low when I am in Turkey. Thanks for your feedback.

  33. Hi Matthew I am an American coming home to Portland Oregon for 3 weeks from my home in Thailand. My local smart phone is GSM capable but the company told me(I Mobile) it will not work with USA sim cards.
    What do you advice me to do? Can I buy a cheap cellphone with prepaid minutes/ Rent one? Get a deal with a local provider that gives me the phone with a monthly service charge and cancel? (too good to be true I know)
    Thanks .

  34. With Smartgroschen app, you can make cheap phone calls to all mobiles and landline in the world from your smartphones and tablet without sim card. You can try Smartgroschen phone calls to mobiles and landlines, because at start you get 0,50 euro gratis!

  35. Thanks for all the advice. I’m a “newbie” at this. The only cell phone I have is a Tracfone.I believe, according to them, that is ILLEGAL to change out their sim card. Is this true? We can call TO foreign countries, but NOT from them. We will be visiting several European countries over 3 weeks and want to be able to call home on occasion. I see where one can buy cheap phones and sim cards on line, but you still have to be signed up with a phone company, right? Rental cell phones seem to be quite expensive. Any suggestions? Thanks-Joel

  36. I’m going to USA from Europe for a month. I need to know what’s the best option to have a cell phone plan with good 3G coverage, no contract and that I can use on my phone, because I don’t want to buy another cell phone. Can you help me? Thanks!

  37. I have been wrecking my brain trying to figure out why my minutes kept disappearing here in Panama!!! Like many other things here, it can be difficult to get a straight answer. You just saved me years of therapy. Hahaaa! Thanks :)

  38. I am having a very difficult time figuring out the best way to connect with people back home. I will only be in costa rica for a month and don’t want anything expensive. If I put my phone in airplane mode while not using it will I rack up any unnoticed fees? I thought about just using Skype when connected to wifi, but this local sim card thing is interesting. Do you have any suggestions for a month in costa rica?

    1. If you just want to call family/friends once a week, Skype or Google Hangouts will be the cheapest & easiest. You can buy $5-10 worth of credit on Skype and be able to call mobile & landlines at .02 a minute (http://www.skype.com/en/rates/). Calling computers of course is free.

      Many of these international sim cards don’t work in Costa Rica actually. I think they have strange mobile laws.

      You won’t get charged if you put your phone in Airplane mode, just make sure to turn on WiFi.

      1. Hi Matthew,
        Do u know if hangouts use my talk minutes especially internationally and if say I get a new phone and activate my hangouts account on said new phone, would all say the photos, the texts, the archived stuffs, whatnots will STILL ALL be there/transferred/didn’t lose anything on new said phone??? Because when I got new phone recently, Tango app kept all of those old stuffs for me but Viber didn’t.

        Thanks for us reply,

  39. Hi Matthew. I am moving to Isla Mujeres in June (2014) for 13 months while my daughter attends school. I have a local Mexican cell I use locally when I am there and I use TelCel, but I need people in the US to be able to call me on a US number while I am abroad, and I need to be able to return their calls …I am going to be working (online and phone reservations for a house rental company)… which is the best/least expensive way to go? I guess I don’t understand what having a GSM Unlocked phone and using a global or local SIM card does… can you give me any help??? Thanks a TON! Beck

  40. Hi Matthew, thank you for being our expert. I’m going to Paris in a couple of weeks , for 10 days with my two daughters. We want to be able to communicate with each other, and with other local people in Paris . We want to be able to use the internet to find our way around the city, read local blogs etc…, we want to use our phones to take and send pictures and post to facebook etc. and also make a call or two to our 93 year old grandma in the US , who is sending us on this adventure. We are on a tight budget. Would you kindly walk me through? Right now we are on an unlimited family plan with ATT in the US I have read your blog and I still don’t know how to do this. Here is what we have. We do have 2 old iPhone 4S and one really 3G ,that are just sitting in our drawers.. how do I unlock these phones that are no longer in contract with ATT. Do I just walk into an Att store and ask them to unlock them? And finally , what SIM card do I put in for Paris and what plan do I get? Sounds like it’s cheaper to do so once I get to Paris? Where do I go to get this done once I land in Paris ? I’m going to be in the 3eme. Arr. Thank you so , so. much for your help.
    Tania

    1. Hi. Matthew Also, what plan would you suggest I get with what I explained I wanted to use the phones for. Thanks Tania

  41. Hi Matthew!
    My boyfriend will be travelling to Hong Kong, Beijing, Philippines, and Vietnam on a 24-day business trip in 2 weeks. I gotta tell you, figuring out his Visas was easier than trying to find affordable communication while he is overseas. He will need data, text, and reliable calling, but we are struggling to figure out the best (and cheapest) solution. We have an older smart phone that we can unlock, but also looking into phones as well. T-mobile seems to have some decent options-have you any experience with them? Basically, he needs to be able to text and also call in an Emergency. He will try to connect to wifi at his hotel for Skyping and other calls. I like the idea of the global/local SIM combination and he just bought a SIM converter. I feel like we are about 80% there, and just need to find a service and pull the trigger. Any thoughts you have are greatly appreciated! (I will post what we went with and how it worked when he gets back to help others in the decision too)
    Thanks!

    1. Hey Catherine

      It sounds like I’m in the same boat, leaving soon for Thailand/Vietnam needing especially to be able to text locally in-country. I have NO cell phone at all, so my options are entirely open, but like you, want the most affordable option. Maybe renting a phone in-country might work? I’m seeing evidence that Trac Phones don’t allow Int’l texting, so that option may be out. I’m so out of the loop on mobile phones and my head is spinning with all the recent phone jargon. I don’t really like the Skype option due to Skype’s Terms of Use policy. Suggestions?

  42. Good information, to the point. I traveled all over Central America most of 2013 and I found it confusing when it came to the cell phone situation. Now I am shopping for a cell phone in Canada with the thought of using it in Costa Rica or Nicaragua if I have the good fortune of being able to afford going back there for another extended stay. Thank you for the info, excellent.

    1. Hi Denis,
      I’m from Canada also but am heading down to Nicaragua for 6 months + next year. I have an iphone and am looking for a clear answer on whether I have to keep my carrier here as well as getting a phone card or if I can use my phone down there with calling card only? Could you let me know please? Happy travels :)

  43. Matthew, thanks for the post. One thing I’m curious about and haven’t been able to find much info on is Latin American international plans. Is using buying a Mexican phone and using it in Guatemala, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, etc.. just as expensive as just using my American phone? I’m planning a trip from Mexico City to Quito Ecuador. I need to stay connected to the web for work, but I don’t want to have to buy a SIM card every time I enter a new country. What are my options?

      1. Yeah, the mifi device was kind of what I was thinking. I just said sim for brevity’s sake. I was hoping to have it figured out before I left, but that would make it less of an adventure! Thanks for the reply.

  44. Hi Matthew,

    What would you recommend for international calls if I’m spending 3 months in central america?

    Thanks
    Bijan

  45. I live just across the border in Mexicali Mexico, I need to have a phone were my employer or other people can contact me, with this said so they dont have to call international in case of an emergency. Is there a good american carrier for this, or what can be my options? I do have a mex cell, but i just use it for the local calls here in mex, also have my home phone where i can call the us for free, calling is not what is important, i just want to have a cell that i can be reach at when i’m in mex. Hope if you can help…

  46. Is this to be able to call that specific country or to be able to call out of that country. I am leaving to Mexico and want to keep in contact with people in the US. If I am in Mexico how much will I get charged to call to the US? Thanks

    1. The sim cards allow you to use a phone while you’re in another country. Every company has different international calling rates, it depends on them. My calls from Mexico to the US were pretty cheap if I remember correctly.

  47. Thank you so much for this information i will be leaving to Mexico and was worrying about calling. Where do I get an unlocked phone from or how do I unlock my phone?

  48. I have a friend who’s mother is in Africa, and he desires to call her. He has a cell phone but was not provided a SIM Card. What does he need to do to purchase a SIM card and from what company? None of the providers such as Verizon, T-mobile, US Cellular, etc. offer any plans without paying $.20 per minute?

  49. I will be leaving in 48 hrs to Southeast Asia. I have a contract with Verizon with iPhone 5. Do I need to contact Verizon or can I just get a Nano Sim card when I get where I’m going? I will only be texting as far as I plan. What is the cheapest way. I am a techno illiterate.

  50. ok, so i loved your article, but i have a few questions, since you have a lot more experience than me… my husband lives in Guatemala City, and he has a phone number there (Claro sim card); but he travels a lot to Costa Rica (Kölbi sim card); Nicaragua (Claro sim card), Honduras (don’t know the name of the company), Panamá City (Movistar sim card), and El Salvador (Tigo sim card) and obviously he has a local phone number for each country, so here comes the million dollar question, do you know if there is a way to communicate via Viper or Whatsapp using just one number, or just one account; or does he have to have one of each for each phone number he gets across the countries? He uses pre paid cards to call everywhere, including Guatemala… Is that possible? or do you know how?

  51. Question please; why do some people use a separate unlocked phone instead of unlocking their usual phone? What benefit is there? Also, when traveling long time, please confirm ( the obvious?) that you do not need your ATT /verizon… Contract when using your smart/ I phone w sim. Thanks!

    1. Hi Nur. Sometimes “unlocking” your locked phone requires software hacks. When updates become available, you must wait until a new software hack is created before you can update. And by hacking your phone, it’s no longer under warrantee, and they won’t service it. For those who are not technically savvy, buying one that’s “factory” unlocked to begin with is just easier.

      As for your second question, you don’t need ATT or Verizon. It’s much easier to get phone service in other countries around the world. It took me 5 minutes to buy a Vodaphone SIM card here in Spain, pop it in, and go. No contract, no games. I refill it with minutes/data when needed. Cheap too.

      Cell phone service in the United States is a huge pain-in-the-ass compared to everywhere else on the planet.

  52. We actually do 4 things.

    1 of we take a prepaid sim from our home country as a ICE. ICE-text and voicemails or actual calls to one always the same number.

    2 for local calls we’ll pick up a local sim when we stay in a country long enough to be worth it. (really Monaco is smaaaaaalllll :p )

    3 for longer chat’s with home we use SIP (aka VOIP), we’ve got an actual fixed line number which offers us 120 day’s of free calling for 10 euro, which after that 120 day’s can be used as prepaid credit to call with. it’s a pretty sweet deal. And obviously skype, hangouts and what-not to video chat.

    4… and this is the most important. unless we need to use it it’s all turned off…
    The ICE number will be turned on but that number isn’t known by anyone but by parents and siblings as ICE. It actually scares the heck out of me when it rings.
    The local sim will only be on when used or expecting a call.
    and the stuff that needs wifi… well it needs wifi which isn’t available everywhere anyway.

    Might seem like a lot but this makes it a lot easier to handle for us (and it makes anybody at home happy :) )

  53. As much as possible I buy the fastest local data SIM and use it on my portable mobile wifi unit (it’s a Huawei device that I bought online). I can then connect it to up to 5 devices – laptop, phone, husband’s phone, ipad etc.. And to answer your question, I use Skype/viber/whatsapp to make calls or keep in touch. I carry my unlocked iphone 4S with me too. I keep my Australian SIM in it in case I need to receive emergency calls. If I think I’ll need to make lots of local calls, I might pick up a local SIM for the iphone too. And if I want it all, then I have a spare unlocked iphone 3 and can use that for the local SIM, keeping my Australian SIM on my iphone 4. I’ve never really needed to use much beyond the data SIM though. It has worked a treat – for me at least! But I guess my trips are never longer than 5 weeks at most and also I guess I haven’t been to Krygyzhstan yet I guess!!

  54. Very good advice, especially about the G3 Wireless for multiple countries. I usually buy the local sim card. When we were in Costa Rica this year they sold us three cards for 2 dollars in the street – and they worked perfectly, we just had to call a number for activation and tell them our passport number. – company moviestar. Lasted us for the necessary calls on the two week trip – and Wifi was practically free and open everywhere we went.

  55. I do the same. Had a 750 Euros roaming bill once for just a short trip. Local sim cards are the best if you stay at least a few days. In India however it takes 24 hours to get the local sim card as you have to register through your hotel and can’t just buy it and use it. In the US I use and AT&T card for 25 dollars that lasts a month. I can call my home country with that and send free text messages. In the UK Libera is cheep for calling your home country (1 penny per minute I recall). I use a Polaroid PRO4611 with two simcard slots. Very useful for travelling. When people call me, don’t pick up (because of the roaming costs) and then call the number back from my local simcard.

  56. At first we thought we could live with just wifi to communicate. Turns out we ended up doing the same thing just so we can communicate to our friends more. Didn’t know traveling can really get us home sick. :/

    1. You never know when WiFi will have issues. The town I’m in now has WiFi everywhere, but the upload speeds are very slow, so Skype/Google Hangouts don’t always work great. Having a working phone as backup is worth the cost for me.

  57. Mathew – Thank you so much. I surfed for the last 30 minutes to find your post – which actually answered my question. Does TELCEL sell the SIM card? I’m in Mexico for the next 6 months….

    Plus, the links in the comments here rock. Thanks everyone for saving me the headache and finding out about this blog.

    Cate Stillman http://www.yogahealer.com Punta Mita, MEX

  58. The world is actually a worse place because a few very annoying companies insist on ridiculous pricing for international visits. I mean, I know it’s not a global conspiracy to ruin everything, but it just makes people less likely to interact across borders, which is what the world needs. Sigh…

  59. Forgot to say that I believe you need WiFi for calls that you make on Skype. If someone else finds out differently please post it.

  60. I’m going to Nicaragua in a few days and the best way I’ve found to call internationally is using Skype (from my IPhone) for calls and an app called “WhatsApp” for free international texting. The cost for a call on Skype from anywhere in the world to the USA is 2.3 cents per minute plus a one time connection fee of 4.9 cents per call. This rate applies for all calls to people who are NOT on Skype. If you call Skype to Skype the call if FREE. And international texting is completely free using WhatsApp! Check out the prices on Skype: http://www.skype.com/en/rates/

  61. T-Mobile announced flat rate plans for international usage.

    Flat Rate:
    International Roaming
    Texting
    Data
    Calls (20 Cents a Min)

    You can get an iPhone from T-Mobile, no money down, or bring your own phone, iPad, tablet to them and get activated.

    Combine T-Mobile International Flat Rate with SIM Cards for lower local call rates when traveling and it seems like a good deal.

  62. Hey Matt, local sim cards blow contract plans back in the western world way out of the water every time. I gave up my unlimited everything plan (despite the operators stern warnings that I will never get it back) with AT&T before leaving the states for Thailand. We use the Google Voice/Talkatone setup. It is actually pretty amazing considering you can receive phone calls on 3g/4g unlike some of the other apps that require WIFI. If you don’t mind here is a link with our experience with it and how to set it up prior to starting your travels.

    http://tielandtothailand.com/make-free-international-calls-from-thailand/

    We also list a couple other good apps as well. MagicJack is decent too from our experience. Call quality is not as good a Google Voice though.

    1. Yup, I too have a Google Voice number. Planning to write more about that in the future. If you’re traveling somewhere with plenty of WiFi and decent mobile internet, you can’t go wrong with “free” calls. Thanks for the link!

  63. I get a local SIM chip as well when in a new country but some places it’s just impossible to get one.

    I tried it in Costa Rica and found out at the time that it would be a 2 month waiting list to get a local SIM. I guess the government runs and controls the output of chips and once you get one, you don’t lose it. Kind of surprised me since Costa Rica economy is heavily dependent on tourists. So your going about it the right way when you go in Dec (unless things have really changed since I was there last).

  64. Whenever any of my family travel we use a card from a company called TravelSim. We are in AU so not sure of their availability internationally. They are one of the new breed of voip carrier and you get an Estonian mobile number that can be used in most countries. They have special cards for the USA and Canada, because I guess… well you guys are special ;) However I think in places like India a local sim would be cheaper as calls were still over a dollar a minute, compared with less than a third of that in Russia which is historically a money pit as far as global roaming charges are concerned. Oh and family and friends can txt you for free from their website which is a nice touch.

  65. Hey, thanks for the info! Im backpacking Southeast Asia in a few months for about a year and was planning on using local sims with an unlocked Iphone. I currently have an IPhone 5 in the US but am worried of the fact that it uses a nano sim. Do you know if most countries in that area carry nano sims? As an alternative i was thinking of selling my iphone and buying a cheaper smartphone with a regular sized sim. What would you recommend? Thanks!

  66. I wish I knew this before my trip to Mexico and use my phone as much as I use it in the US, I’m talking about 5 yrs ago, that time when I came back home I found a $3000 bill from T-Mobile. Now I got my iPhone4 unlock and my own local SIM card from Mexico. I heard there’s a way now you “fix” your phone with Java and you can use free internet acses all the time using the Opera app, I will try this on my next trip to Mexico :) I usually go to Chihuahua or Morelia.
    Thanks for your advice! It really helps.

  67. I always pick up local SIM cards. Sure, it’s more confusing, but it’s way cheaper and makes more sense if you’re calling local numbers like guesthouses, hostels, shops, etc.