Ok, so what the heck are you supposed to do about phone service when you travel internationally?!?!?
I had a request for a post on this specific topic, so I am dropping all of my knowledge on you! 🙂
I also included a special freebie at the end of this post as a thank you for reading and following!
I have definitely spent WAY more on phone coverage than necessary when traveling aboard. Don’t fall into the trap! There is a better way. SO. MUCH. BETTER.
I always seem to learn the hard way, and I’m here to share with you so that you don’t make my mistakes.
This is, in my opinion, the BEST way you can handle phone service overseas. It does NOT matter what phone plan you currently have or who your provider is.
My Experience with Phones + International Travel
My first trip back to Paris in 2010 was on a whole other level…cell phones have come a long way since then.
Many of you probably don’t even know that my first big international trip was Paris!
My college boyfriend won a trip for two at a Michigan basketball game. I was totally and completely unprepared. Thank God for the sage advice from my mom.
You don’t know what you don’t know…until you know it.
My mom was actually the one who brought up the issue of cell service. Like the naive little thing I was, I was like “Huh?” Didn’t even cross my mind. We contacted Verizon, and they sent us an international phone to use (this was in the age of flip phones people). It had a limited number of texts and minutes. I could barely figure out how to dial with the country codes and all that.
Sheesh. Cell phones have come a long way since then…and so have I. Thank Goodness!
So, I have been through it all starting with the international flip phone in 2010…
Then in 2016, I went on my second big international trip: London, Scotland, and Ireland with my friend Meera.
What to do about the phone?
I looked online, and I called up Verizon again. They had a plan where you could pay something like $40 for 100MB of data. 100MB of data is nothing. Have you ever fed a baby before with one of those tiny baby teaspoons? Yeah, it’s like that much data. Plus, you got a small number of text messages and minutes. If you went over on data, you were charged another $25…every time…which I did…on the last day of the trip.
It was dumb. I wanted to post a video to SnapChat of Captain America flexing his muscles while holding onto a helicopter in The Winter Soldier on the plane ride back. I posted it, and it cost me.
For the most part, we were great about conserving the meager allotment of data we had, but it made things a little challenging…like navigation…and posting to our SnapStories. Honestly, it kind of made the whole thing a little more fun and adventuresome, but sometimes it was a pain. I was with a friend, so it was ok, but what if I was solo? No way would I want to be without phone service.
In 2017, I went to Greece for Yacht Week. I tried to do the $40 plan again. It MAJORLY SUCKED this time around. I remember turning on my cellular data one day. I got so many notifications and messages that it basically used up all of my data. I phoned home and said, “Log onto Verizon and switch me over to the freaking Travel Pass.”
Now the Travel Pass is where you get royally screwed over…if you’re traveling for more than three days. I would assume that most international trips are more than three days.
I believe that the travel pass is $5/day to keep your regular phone plan if you are traveling to Mexico or Canada from the US.
For my European adventures, the Travel Pass was $10/day to keep your regular phone service. I often found that my service was slow, and my battery was drained SUPER quick…WAY faster than usual.
I used this option for my trip back to London in February of 2018 too. I was there for 9 days, so I spent $90 on my phone. Can you imagine traveling as a family unit and spending $10/day PER PERSON? Yikes.
Last summer, I spent a month in Portugal. Now, what the heck was I going to do? I did NOT want to spend $300+ on phone coverage.
I kept hearing these whisperings of a SIM card. It seemed like this mythical and complex thing. “Obviously this SIM card technology is beyond me…” (is what I thought to myself).
One of the girls on Yacht Week had tried to do it. I was so baffled. How do you do it? Where do you buy one? How does it work!?!?!? Where does it go?!?! I know it sounds ridiculous, but the questions just seemed to difficult to answer.
The SIM card didn’t work for her. She bought one in London (before heading to Greece), and her phone was basically useless for the whole trip.
So why the heck would I try this SIM card thing anyway? Seemed like a hoax.
One quick note:
WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT TRY TO USE AN EARRING TO OPEN THE SIM CARD SLOT. IT WILL BEND THE CRAP OUT OF YOUR EARRING AND YOU’LL BE SUPER ANNOYED AND YOU STILL WON’T GET THE SLOT OPEN.
You see, she asked to borrow my earring. I had just met her (yes, I went on Yacht Week with a group of people I didn’t really know), and I wanted to be “cool.” So I let her borrow my earring, and she bent the shit out of it. It was a nice earring that my mom had bought for me for my birthday from Pandora too.
Use a paper clip. Pack extras.
I had to figure something out for Portugal, and from what I could tell, this SIM card thing was the way to go.
“But, Alyssa, you just told us that it didn’t work for this girl!?!? How is this the way to go?”
Well, let me explain.
The Magical SIM Card
This is the answer to your cellphone woes my friends!
For this to work, you need to contact your service provider ahead of time to make sure your phone is “unlocked.” When I say unlocked, I am NOT talking about your pass code.
(I am guessing that my Yacht Week friend did not do this step, which is why the SIM card didn’t work for her. She’s actually a great girl and I really like her a lot and I got over the whole earring bending situation pretty quick.)
Some times phones are “locked” to a specific carrier and will not work if the SIM card is changed. Call your provider to find out. I ended up using the chat box on Verizon to do this. Quick, easy, painless.
Please DO NOT ASSUME that your phone is unlocked! (You know what happens when you ASS-U-ME right?)
My iPhone 6 was not unlocked until I spoke with Verizon before my Portugal trip just this past August. It is three years old and paid off, but it was not unlocked. Everything I read online told me that it should already be unlocked.
“Older phones should be unlocked, but newer phones are locked now to help with theft prevention blah blah blah.”
If I had listened to all that, I would have been in the same boat as my Yacht Week friend.
Same boat. Get it? It’s a knee slapper.
I do still have the Verizon travel pass hooked up on my phone too as a backup ($10/day while abroad to keep your regular phone service). On this last trip to Portugal, I ended up using the travel pass for a few days before I could switch the SIM card.
The “why” behind that is a whole other story for a whole other day though. Turns out I could have bought the SIM card at the airport, but I was a bit overwhelmed at the time.
Then I got to my accommodations which were SKETCHY AF, and I ended up spending days fighting with this company that I had paid and trusted to find me “a beautiful apartment in a good neighborhood.” Like I said…a story for another time. If you’re interested, you can check out this post later.
The SIM card I used in Portugal was €20 and lasted for the entire month. In fact, I think I only used up about half of the 5GB of data I paid for. Totally worth it. If I had used Verizon’s Travel Pass, I would have paid over $300 extra to keep my normal cell service.
I picked a card that would work for both Portugal and Spain because I knew I’d be traveling to both countries. Make sure you take into account what countries you’ll be traveling through and if the card you pick will work for them all or not. The person helping you at the kiosk will know.
I just did a quick “Vodafone” google search and found a nearby shop that way. You can probably find a kiosk right in the airport too.
In conclusion, I recommend waiting to get the SIM card until you land. Make sure your phone is prepped/unlocked. Practice popping your SIM card slot open ahead of time. Pack some extra paper clips to get the job done (no need to buy a special tool). And make sure you have a backup plan like Travel Pass just in case. Having cell service is important.
A Special Note About Calling and Texting With a SIM card
If you’re going to go the SIM card route, download “What’s App” on your phone as well. Changing the SIM card will change your phone number (while the card is in). You won’t want to use your phone for texting or calling family and friends back in your home country unless it’s an emergency. You’ll run out of minutes and texts.
This is where What’s App comes in! It does use your original cell number, and you CAN use this app to text and call home (as long as you have data or wifi). Magic! You will have way more data than you do international texts and calls when using a SIM card in Europe. Set up What’s App before you leave home.
One More Thought About Phones Before I Let You Go
It’s a good idea to invest in an external battery or one of those phone cases with the extra battery built it too.
Check out my recommendation for an external battery >>HERE<<
And my other travel accessory recommendations >>HERE<<
With these recs, you should be all charged up and good to go!
Have you tried a SIM card before? Have you done the Travel Pass? Still have questions? Let me know your thoughts.
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