World Travel 101: Part 9 – Staying Connected

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When traveling overseas, your friends and family will want to check-in to be sure you’re safe.  And they’ll want to know all about your trip and (if you’re like me!) you might have some work to do!

World Travel 101: Part 9 Staying Connected

So How Do You Stay Connected Overseas?

World Travel 101 – Index

Using Your Cell Phone Outside the US

Cell Phone Service & Data

You can contact your mobile provider to find out about international calls and data.  My post on international cell phone plans can help you compare services.

However, fees and packages can change, so it’s best to call your wireless company to see what options are currently available.

SIM Cards

International wireless plans still tend to be pricey or have spotty service.  So another option is purchasing a SIM card at your destination.  Keep in mind, you should have your phone unlocked if you plan on using SIM cards overseas.

World Travel 101: Part 9 Staying Connected

Buying a SIM Card at Your Destination Can Be a Convenient and Inexpensive Way to Use Your Phone Outside of the US

In certain locations, you can purchase a SIM card in the airport or at local convenience stores.  But they aren’t always easy to get, especially in countries where not many folks speak English.

During a trip to Thailand, 1 of Emily’s friends purchased a SIM card for ~$15.  With the card she was able to make local calls and use unlimited data for 7 days.

That also enabled her to use the GPS on her phone for directions, look up restaurant reviews, and call hotels to make last-minute bookings while on the go.


If you have access to a cellular network, whether through your phone company in the US or a SIM card you purchased abroad, you may be able to tether your computer to your phone so you can use the internet.

World Travel 101: Part 9 Staying Connected

Tethering Allows You to Connect Your Computer to the Cellular Network

This is very useful when you don’t have access to a Wi-Fi signal!  But certain plans may not allow you to use your phone as a hotspot, so check with your wireless company.

How to Get Free Wi-Fi!

Fortunately, many hotels, airports, and public places now provide free Wi-Fi to travelers.


You can access free Wi-Fi throughout many airports.  Some airports don’t have free internet, but offer paid access through Boingo.  But if you have the following cards, you can use Boingo networks for free:


Here are some hotels that now provide internet for free:

  • Best Western – All guests (no booking or membership requirements)
  • Choice – All guests (no booking or membership requirements)
  • Hilton – Starting August 2015, all Hilton Honors members will get free standard Wi-Fi when booking directly with Hilton.  Currently, Hilton Gold (or Diamond) elite members get free Wi-Fi.  You get free Hilton Gold status with the AMEX Hilton Surpass and Citi Hilton Reserve cards.
  • Hyatt – All guests (no booking or membership requirements)

Public Places

Not staying at a hotel that provides free internet access?  You can likely get online for free at some public parks, libraries, and restaurants.

Wi-Fi Free Spot compiles a list of places around the world where you can get online for free.  But I don’t know how accurate or up to date it is.

Many restaurants in popular tourist destinations provide free internet to give folks a reason to walk in and stay awhile.

World Travel 101: Part 9 Staying Connected

Look for Signs Displayed in the Window!

Phone Home…Free!

If you need to call home, consider using internet-based tools to save money.  For example, Google Voice will give you a US phone number, and you can make (and receive) calls for free as long as you’re connected to the internet.

And there are other options like FaceTime, RebtelSkype, Viber, and WhatsApp.

Bottom Line

With an international wireless plan or by purchasing SIM card at your destination you can use your cell phone when traveling abroad.

And there are many places with free Wi-Fi including hotels, airports, and public places.  This will help you to stay in-touch with friends and family and explore your destination.

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10 responses to “World Travel 101: Part 9 – Staying Connected

  1. While travelling overseas last month with a family, we rented a mobile hotspot from TEP wireless ( It was around $125 for 7 days and allowed up to 5 devices to be used. We took the unlimited plan and an extra battery. If you have multiple people in your party (and teenagers who like to use lots of data), renting a hotspot in the way to go!

  2. I’ve used a “universal” SIM card from OneSimCard in an old unlocked clamshell phone for years when traveling. It gives my relatives back home a way to contact me in an emergency. You can buy outdated, but functional, unlocked “quad-band” phones on eBay for a song.

    OneSimCard also has some data plans, but in my case I just find some free wifi when needed.

  3. T-Mobile.

    Went on a trip around the world last fall and was able to use data and text in every country we stopped in. No fees. No Sim swaps. No additional devices. Just reboot your phone so it attaches to the local roaming operator

  4. Why no mention of T-mobile in the article? It’s by far the best company with the plans for international travelers! Free data and text internationally. It’s tough to beat. Not always the fastest data, but they often let you buy up to faster speeds if available.

  5. I am with Jon and Billy D on this one. T-mobile is the way to go! I used my iPhone flawlessly for 3 weeks on a recent trip to Japan. It was a lifesaver having unlimited free data and being able to text/call friends back home for free.

  6. Absolutely Tmobile!

    Add $10 get another line. Cancel anytime. Plus if you go through united shopping portal, you’ll get an extra 1900 united miles! I did!

  7. If you have a phone that has a SIM card (T-Mobile phones do, maybe some of other carriers?) and plan to use that phone with an international SIM card, make sure the phone is unlocked. The US carriers get away with selling us locked phones, that is phones that can’t be readily used with other carriers. From my experience with T-Mobile, you just ask them to unlock it and they email you a code which you input on the phone. This was a couple of years ago, as far as data points go.

    As far as international rates, I think it is fair not to mention them in the article since they vary; T-Mobile might have good rates now but who’s to say its rates would continue to be the best a month or a year later? Though generally speaking, the smaller the company the better the rates they offer, that’s why even for domestic rates T-Mobile and Sprint offer better rates than AT&T and Verizon.

  8. Hey guys, I am heading to Italy and I have T-mobile prepaid. How do I get this international plan you guys are talking about? I tried checking on T-mobile webpage and the plan available is $60 a month, is that right?

  9. Brooke Babcock

    The following applies only to data service, as we aren’t interested in phone.
    In Japan we found it easiest to rent a pocket wifi device which allows us to connect several devices to the Internet. You have to rent it in advance by googling “Pocket Wifi Japan” and prepaying the use of it. It costs about $5-7 a day. The device is delivered to you at the post office in the airport (or wherever), and you get a free mailer so you can mail it back to them at the end of your trip from anyplace in Japan.

    In Japan a data SIM chip is lower in cost but harder to find. An unlocked phone has tethering capability which turns it into a wifi hotspot. In the past we’ve found a SIM chip very difficult to activate, because you must make a phone call from a resident’s cell phone.

    We’ve done well with SIM chips for both Italy and Spain in the last 2 years.

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