Can I text via SMS? A Guide to Sending & Receiving Texts Internationally [2022]

Woman on a Bench in Paris Texting

To help you understand how to use your cell when traveling overseas (and what it means if you do), I’ve addressed some of my most frequently asked questions so you know exactly what to expect if you decide to keep in touch with family and friends via your mobile phone while on your next far-away adventure.

Can I text via SMS? A Guide to Sending & Receiving Texts Internationally [2022]

How to Text Internationally for Free

Questions answered in this post

Can I Text Someone in Another Country for Free over WiFi?

Usually, to send an SMS or text messages, you need to be connected to a cell tower. That’s not always the case though. Times are changing and cell phone carriers are making it easier than ever to stay connected.

For example, T-Mobile has introduced texting and calling over Wi-Fi. This allows you to communicate using Wi-Fi or an internet connection as though it were a cellular connection. You still need to be careful though. Just because you’re on Wi-Fi doesn’t mean your carrier won’t charge you for data usage, international calls, and international texting.

Your best option for free international texting, video calls, and international calls over Wi-Fi while overseas is to use a third-party messaging app. Using a free app will make international texting free and allow you to communicate with your friends and family for free even when you’re in other countries – as long as you’re on Wi-Fi.

Will My Phone Use Data When I Am Connected To Wi-Fi?

It depends. Your phone cannot use both mobile data and Wi-Fi at the same time. Your phone may have settings, however, that allow you to use mobile data to connect to the Internet instead of Wi-Fi when you have a poor connection.

For example, iPhones have a feature called “Wi-Fi Assist.” When toggled, you’ll keep your internet connection (via cellular data) if your Wi-Fi slows down.

Can I text via SMS? A Guide to Sending & Receiving Texts Internationally [2022]

The good news is, according to Apple, your iPhone won’t make the switch when you’re data roaming.

How Do I Turn Off My Cell Phone Data So I Don’t Get Charged Roaming Fees While Overseas?

To understand roaming fees, it’s important to first understand what cellular roaming is.

International roaming is when your phone uses cellular data to access the Internet using a different cellular network than your carrier. Depending on your network carrier plan this setting may or may not be included with your international data plan. If it’s not, and you’re traveling overseas, you could incur some very large fees for international communication like SMS messaging and video calls.

Even if you aren’t actually using your phone to make calls or texting internationally, many apps use data in the background without you realizing it.

Can I text via SMS? A Guide to Sending & Receiving Texts Internationally [2022]

To avoid charges from roaming, you have a few settings on your phone depending on your needs:

  • Airplane Mode
  • Turn off cellular data
  • Turn off roaming

Although turning off cellular data and data roaming will prevent your phone from using data, these won’t necessarily stop phone calls and SMS messaging. To completely avoid these costs when traveling abroad, be sure to set your phone to AIRPLANE MODE.

Airplane Mode

The simplest way to ensure you won’t be charged for roaming is to put your phone in Airplane Mode. Airplane mode will prevent you from using cellular data abroad as well as receiving unwanted international messages and phone calls. Additionally, with Airplane Mode on, you can still enable Wi-Fi which allows you to access the Internet without worrying about data plan roaming charges.

Here’s how to enable Airplane Mode based on which smartphone you have:


Go to Settings and the very top option is Airplane Mode. Set this to ON and wait for the airplane icon to appear. Then go to the option below it for Wi-Fi. You can set this to ON so it picks up any network that is available; otherwise, just leave it off for now. Airplane Mode Iphone From Settings

  • Additionally, you can simply swipe up from the bottom of your screen and tap the top left airplane icon. If you wish to enable Wi-Fi, simply tap the button below the airplane button and wait for it to turn blue.Airplane Mode Toggle Iphone


Click Menu and go to Settings. Under Wireless & Networks, select MORE. You will see that the top option is Airplane Mode. Check the box and wait for the ON button to turn blue.

Turn Off Cellular Data

The next best way to avoid data charges is to completely shut off cellular data. This restricts all cellular data to Wi-Fi instead, keeping you from using data unintentionally for things like emails, browsing apps, and app notifications.

With cellular data shut off you can still receive text messages and phone calls, which means if your plan charges you for these, you should just turn your phone to Airplane Mode.

To turn off cellular data on an iPhone go to Settings -> Cellular and toggle the Cellular Data switch to off. Additionally, you can also swipe up from the bottom and toggle the button next to the airplane from green to grey.Turn Off Cellular Data Iphone

On an Android, you have more options. There are also tools that allow you to warn you when you’re approaching your monthly limit. You can also choose to use apps only over Wi-Fi.

Turn Off Roaming

Turning off roaming means that you won’t access other cellular networks when you’re out of your cell phone carrier area. Depending on your plan, you may be able to roam and enjoy unlimited texting without being charged.

Better safe than sorry though, it’s good to also put your phone in Airplane Mode when abroad.

To turn off roaming on an iPhone, go to Settings -> Cellular -> Cellular Data Options. Toggle the roaming switch from on to off.

To see how to turn off roaming on Android, you can visit here.

(Note: If you do not have a smartphone (i.e., iPhone, Android phone, or Windows phone) or a phone that allows you to turn off your data and still access Wi-Fi, then you should turn your phone completely OFF while traveling.)

If My Data Is Turned Off, Will I Still Get Charged?

As long as your phone’s data is turned off, then you cannot be charged for any data roaming charges, even with Wi-Fi enabled. You may still be able to send and receive phone calls and text message. This means depending on your cell phone plan, you might still get charged. To be completely sure you won’t be charged, you should enable Airplane Mode.

Can I text via SMS? A Guide to Sending & Receiving Texts Internationally [2022]

In other words, the safest way to use your phone abroad is while you are in Airplane Mode. No carrier fees will apply, and you can still enable Wi-Fi.

What Is The Difference Between Cellular Data and Wi-Fi?

The difference between carrier’s network cellular data and Wi-Fi is that cellular data is transmitted over your cell phone network (think of your cellular network like AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, and Sprint), whereas Wi-Fi data is over a wireless Internet network, such as what you would have when using Starbucks Wi-Fi.

Should I Get A Local SIM Card or International SIM Card?

If you’re planning on using your cell phone overseas to make cheap calls, or for text messaging, it is probably a good idea to change your SIM card. You may also need to unlock your phone. If your carrier doesn’t have an option for extended stays, then you’re going to need a new SIM card.

When getting a SIM card for international travel, you have two options:

  • International SIM Card
  • Local SIM Card

While they both have their own benefits and drawbacks, international SIM cards are ideal if you plan on moving around while overseas, while a local SIM card is great if you just plan on spending all of your time in one country.

Here’s some more information on both:

International SIM Card

When you’re planning to travel abroad, international SIM cards are usually the best way to go. They’re best used by someone who is traveling to multiple countries, as it’s difficult to keep track of phone numbers, unlimited data plans can get expensive, and some data carrier options can be limiting.

With an International SIM card, you get a designated phone number, and you can manage your entire account in one place. Additionally, an international SIM card is great because you can get everything set up and ready to go before you even leave – without any language barriers.

Although they can be slightly more expensive than a local SIM card, typically the small increase in cost is worth avoiding the hassle of getting a local SIM when you arrive at your destination.

One SIM Card and World SIM are some of the possible choices you have when selecting an international SIM card. OnceSimCard

Local SIM Card

Another option if you want to get Internet while traveling abroad and not roaming, is to get a local SIM card with a data plan. Most SIM cards can be purchased at a local gas station, drug store, or, of course, one of your cell phone carrier’s stores or kiosks.

What Is the Difference Between a Local SIM Card and a Regular SIM Card?

The difference between a local SIM card and your regular SIM on your phone is that, with a local carrier, you will have a local number. This means that friends and family trying to reach you will have to text you on your local number.

Can I text via SMS? A Guide to Sending & Receiving Texts Internationally [2022]

For example, let’s say you go to Berlin, Germany and you get a local Vodafone SIM card. Your phone number will begin with “49,” which is the country code. It’s a great option for texting within the city, but not such a great option for contacting mom.

You do have a few options when getting a local plan, though.

  • Buy a phone with a SIM card that you can recharge. These usually start at around USD $20 and you can add credit as you go.
  • Buy an unlocked cell phone and purchase a SIM card. I currently have an unlocked iPhone 7 Plus with a T-Mobile SIM card on the US-based Magenta plan. This means that I don’t have to change out to a new SIM card when I arrive in a new country and I get unlimited data and texting, Wi-Fi calling, and in-flight texting. Plus, if my plan goes over, data doesn’t shut off, it just slows down. This can come in very handy when you would have otherwise been stuck with zero Internet. Also, with the T-Mobile plan in the US, you can call many other countries for only $15 per month, and international texting is free.
  • Buy a phone with dual SIM, like the Sony Xperia .

Here are some examples of local SIM card providers:

  • Mexico – TelCel (wider coverage) and Movistar (cheaper)
  • Germany – Vodafone, E-Plus, and Telekom
  • USA – T-Mobile, AT&T, and Boost

Can I Use My Phone As A Mobile Hotspot While Overseas?

Most major carriers allow you to use your compatible smartphone to act as a mobile hotspot. You just have to turn your phone on as a hotspot and connect to it via your wireless device.

However, as of this writing, I carry my mobile phone as a hotspot, as well as carry 2 additional mobile hotspots depending on whether I’m traveling in Europe or in the Americas.

If you decide to use your phone as a mobile hotspot when traveling overseas, be sure your plan includes data roaming, otherwise you’ll be racking up a huge bill.

What is Mi-Fi?

Mi-Fi is a brand name for a wireless device that functions as a mobile Wi-Fi router. Your device may or may not technically be a Mi-Fi device, but the term has become shorthand for any mobile hotspot.

A mobile hotspot will typically work in a wide range of countries. Many of these devices use “virtual” SIM cards that allow you to change regions with just a few buttons.

Does my Mi-Fi work in other countries?

It isn’t enough to simply have a mobile hotspot, you need to be certain that your device is actually going to work in the places you travel. Many countries actually have different service frequencies, which means a lot of devices (even “unlocked” ones) may not work all over the globe.

Can I text via SMS? A Guide to Sending & Receiving Texts Internationally [2022]

When you purchase a Mi-Fi device, be sure to check how many frequencies it supports. The more it supports, the better it will do on your globetrotting adventures. For an in-depth guide, check out Best Mobile Hotspot Devices [2022].

Subscription vs. non-subscription Mi-Fi devices

Traditional Mi-Fi devices are non-subscription. You insert your SIM card and the device creates a mobile Wi-Fi network with a password that you can connect your devices to. However, in the last few years, a new breed of Mi-Fi device has become prominent: the subscription model.

Think of subscription Mi-Fi like a hotspot crossed with a global data plan. With these devices, you have the option to swap out the SIM card associated with your global plan and replace it with a local SIM, giving you 100 percent control over when you use your plan data and when you don’t.

How to Text Overseas: What Services or Apps Can I Use?

Most travelers and remote workers want to know how to receive text messages overseas without roaming. They want to know ways to send free text messages and voice messages, get free data, or other free services while traveling abroad.

Typically, you aren’t technically sending SMS messages or “international texting” when you have Wi-Fi on and data off, but you can still enjoy SMS messaging or send text-like messages to your family and friends using services like these.

Even now with Wi-Fi-enabled ways to send text messages and calls, your provider still may charge you the same as for a normal text message.

(Note: If you have AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, or a regular T-Mobile cellular plan and you set your phone to Airplane Mode, you will not be able to send text (SMS) messages.)

To text with a family member, a friend, or go on group chats while abroad, make sure your Wi-Fi is turned ON and that you both have one of the following services on your phones:

How to Send Texts Over WiFi


This option causes the most confusion and the reason is that if you and five of your friends all have iPhones, each iPhone user can engage in “text messaging” as if nothing ever changed. However, you aren’t actually sending international texts; you’re just using Apple’s messaging service to send correspondence (or send “text messages”) back and forth over a Wi-Fi connection. Therefore, you can only converse with others who are also iPhone users or use an Apple device.

Does iMessage Work Internationally?

With iMessage, you can still send text messages and receive messages abroad while data is turned off. You can iMessage free internationally. And if you’re in Airplane Mode but have Wi-Fi set to “on,” then you can receive iMessages which appear like text messages but they will be in blue versus green, like this:

iMessage Blue vs. Green Messages

Ultimately, you will not receive the green message when you are abroad and your cell phone data is turned off. So, if you have data turned on and you see green messages – look out! You may be getting charged insane rates. Remember, Airplane Mode – on; Wi-Fi– on.

Google Voice

 This one has been around for a while and is still quite functional, but not the most popular messaging app. To use it, simply download the Google Voice app, sign up for a Google Voice phone number (free in the U.S.), and you can send international texts back and forth from that number. They will appear on your phone via the app, allowing you to send messages overseas as much as you’d like!

Google Hangouts may start to soon replace Google Voice, but for now, it’s still a great option and I use it all the time for international messages and even voice messages. At the very least, it’s like having a second number on the same phone so you have two options. Give friends and clients your Google Voice number so you’ll always have a local US number for international texts.


WhatsApp became very popular when it was acquired by Facebook for $19 billion. To utilize it, just download Whats App, find your friends, and send messages back and forth. It’s not the first of its kind, but it is fairly popular and growing in popularity. If your friends are tech or travel savvy, or if they/you are European, you’ll most likely find them here. It’s a must-have app for travelers or for communicating and texting your friends overseas.

To use WhatsApp (and all the other apps), you must be connected to Wi-Fi.

A kind of fun feature of WhatsApp is that you can send MMS, or picture messages, for free as well – all over Wi-Fi.The images will also automatically be added to your photo album on your phone (at least on iPhone). No more asking your friend to share an album with you and no more having to ‘save image’; it just shows up.


 Not dissimilar to Google Voice and WhatsApp, Viber takes the best of the two and combines them. Once you download the app, you find your friends who are also using Viber, and you can connect immediately. The nice thing about this particular messaging app is that, not only can you send free messages back and forth inside of the app, but you can also make free calls. Viber even uses your cell phone number as your identifier.

Can I text via SMS? A Guide to Sending & Receiving Texts Internationally [2022]

There are a growing number of options for sending messages to family and friends, and these are just a few. For instance, GroupMe is another popular group messaging app that allows you to communicate with a number of people at once (and you can still use emoji!).

For more international texting options while traveling overseas, I suggest you read: Top 7 Communication Apps to Use While Travelling.

How Can I receive SMS Messages Overseas?

When traveling overseas, you have a few different options for receiving SMS messages:

Option 1 – International plans via US carriers

For most providers, you have an option to use an international plan, which covers international texting. Here are some common providers, and some of the options available for international plans:


The T-Mobile Magenta plan is great for short trips, where you don’t plan on staying abroad for an extended period plan. With the T-Mobile Magenta plan, international texting and data are unlimited in 210 countries and nations. This plan also includes calling landlines in 70+ countries, or calling and texting to cell phones in 30+ countries. You can check to see what kind of coverage you will have here.


Verizon offers multiple plans for either short or long term international trips international plans depending on how connected you need to be.

If you’re having a difficult time deciding which plan you need, Verizon also has a great guide to help you pick out what plan or upgrade you will need for your travels.


With Sprint, you have free unlimited SMS and basic data abroad with any smartphone enabled plan in 200+ countries. You only have to pay $.25/call while abroad.


AT&T offers a passport plan for either short term trip or for extended international stays.

Option 2 – Google Voice Phone Number

If you’re looking to ditch your cell phone contract, Google voice is a great option. This allows you to be able to send and receive text messages and phone calls via Wi-Fi, making this a much cheaper option. All you have to do is set it up and tell your friends and family about your new phone number.

Additionally, if you’re not on Wi-Fi, Google voice will transcribe the audio so you can read it later. You can use the google voice app to text or you can text via Wi-Fi anytime you’re on Wi-Fi.

Can You Text on Airplane Mode?

This varies depending on each provider, but as a general rule, anytime you need to have your cellular data shut off for more than 2 days (48) hours, you may not receive the messages sent to you.

Can I text via SMS? A Guide to Sending & Receiving Texts Internationally [2022]

Each provider will have a unique “retry” period, in which it will attempt to send the message. If the message is not delivered within this period, the provider will stop trying to send the message, and it will be discarded.

Summary Of International Texting

Just to hammer the main points home –

DO NOT send SMS messages or text messages while traveling overseas unless you want to pay out the nose for them. (Also remember that it’s usually not possible to send SMS over Wi-Fi.)

You CAN receive SMS messages/texts, but you might pay for them. So turn off your cell phone data by putting your phone in Airplane Mode and turning on Wi-Fi.

You CAN receive messages (non-SMS) over Wi-Fi, for free.

You CANNOT send or receive SMS messages (“texts”) via your cell phone carrier when you are in Airplane Mode.

Can I text via SMS? A Guide to Sending & Receiving Texts Internationally [2022]

Eventually, we may not even need cell phone carriers to keep in touch but, until then and until you get rid of your cell phone plan, be careful of extra charges when traveling overseas. They’re simply not worth it when you have so many free options available.

Again, just remember that SMS is always associated with your carrier (AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, etc.) and a message can be either a text message synonymous with SMS or a non-SMS text message image, or other form of communication.

What Have YOU Learned about Sending SMS or Text Messages Overseas? What Would You Like to Learn?

Do you have other questions or see anything I’m missing? Please feel free to drop your questions or comments below.

0 thoughts on “Can I text via SMS? A Guide to Sending & Receiving Texts Internationally [2022]

  • Mary says:

    Roaming charges are crazy so you really need to make sure you turn off your data plan and use the wifi networks available to you. On my last trip I used Viber and I loved it because you can make calls and not just text. There are so many apps out there, you only need to find the right one for you!

  • Pris says:

    The great thing about wifi is that it saves me a lot of money, roaming is really expensive. Whatsapp is probably my favorite app, since I like texting more than making phone calls.

    • I agree, Pris, it’s a great app and so many people use it. I’m in Alaska right now and using Whatsapp with a new friend from Germany. It’s great for international communication wherever you are!

  • Mintz says:

    If you turn your data off, is it possible to receive the texts messages that were sent to you during this time after you’ve gotten back from overseas? Or will my phone act as if it had never gotten those messages while my data was off?

    • Great question and I did some follow up research to be sure, but in my experience (and was just confirmed by TMobile), SMS & MMS (over cellular plans) will only be stored for a certain period of time, i.e. 24 hours to 14 days, depending on the carrier. Then, they are removed from their servers and you will not get them when you come out of Airplane Mode. What you can do to avoid this, and what I’ve done for the past few years, is to get a Google Voice number. I have a 10 digit phone number that people can call or text and I will get it via email and via the Google Voice app on my phone when connected to wifi. I got rid of my cell phone plan completely at one point and nobody (referring to clients) even noticed because I had been using Google Voice as my primary number for some time. Additionally, you can purchase a Skype number and it will act as a main line, but Google Voice is free and it will transcribe messages for you in email, and you can view your SMS messages online – forever, without fear of being deleted.

  • I’ve been using iMessage, Google Voice, and Whatsapp for years. A new one that I have been using a bit WeChat. I wish there was a global standard we could use from anywhere any time.

    • Great insight, George, and I’ve questioned for a long time also why there isn’t a global standard. Of course, competition and everyone wanting a piece of the proverbial pie makes it nearly impossible for everyone to play nicely together. However, I believe we will start approaching a few standards that will be initially user-driven. Thanks for the tip on WeChat!

  • tracy says:

    When a person returns to our country and turns on phone data will any text messages sent to them then appear ?

    • It’s not likely that your text messages will appear, no, not if they are sent via the carrier (SMS). There are a certain amount of days that providers will allow your text messages to be sent. If you are overseas for 90 days, for example, and you turn your phone back on, you will not receive the SMS messages that were sent while your cell data was turned off. If you travel often, it’s better to communicate using Wi-Fi enabled apps and messaging while in your local country so that when you go abroad, everything is seamless / works as normal, and there is no issue. Use apps like Whatsapp, Google Voice, Viber, and iMessage when not traveling versus your carrier’s data for SMS (text) and you will be fine when traveling, nothing will be lost .

  • ctweinberg says:

    THANK YOU! Finally someone has given me a straightforward, clear explanation of what is and isn’t a charge and why.

  • D90 says:

    I just don’t bother about roaming fees, at least as I’m roaming within the EU:
    Reciving sms is always free (even outside the EU),
    data roaming isn’t free, but still affordable (25c/megabyte) and for email /whatsapp/GPS I’m going to spend no mnore than 5€ per week .
    Sending text is also affordable 7cent/SMS.

    I find pretty silly that a carrier could ask money for a recived text, that is something that is not-rejectable, at least as I’m in my country (IT).

    If travelling outside the EU I suggest to ask your carrier if has an ‘option’ with some data voice and text included

    this is what my carrier offers:
    30€/week offers 50min outgoing 50 incoming 100text, outgoing as incoming are free, and 100MiB everywhere but EU or US
    500min (250 in / 250 out) 500sms 1GiB for 20€/10days if travelling in EU or US.

    • Thanks for your comment. Who is your carrier? Some positive policy changes are also coming for the EU to make communication more seamless and less expensive for EU residents.

  • Hi, i just want to add something i just found out, my daughter arrived in Bangkok and turned her iphone celular data off, data off, send as sms off and she was driving in taxi picking up the Thai signal on her phone and she was sending and receiving text messages in green, this is iphone to iphone – so not sure what is happening or where the charges are going to come from, then i read turn off airplane mode – so she has and it is still working, now this is strange. has this happened to anyone else? She is texting from Thailand to Australia.

  • Sue says:

    Texts not getting thru to Europe from my T-MOBILE phone in US any advice?

  • Mira Kim says:

    I brought a Verizon Samsung Galaxy Note 5 abroad and bought a local sim but I can’t send text messages to local numbers? The strange thing is I can make and receive calls as well as receive text messages. Do you know what’s going on?

    • I would check the plan that you set up with your carrier. It might be that the carrier plan didn’t allow you to send messages, but only receive. I would also check your Galaxy settings to make sure you have cellular data turned on and that you are able to send SMS. Are you receiving an error message or are they just not going through?

  • Jeff says:

    My son is in Africa and we purchased a plan through AT&T that has unlimited texting for his iPhone. I know he needs to turn off iMessage so the texts are sent and received as texts but I think that he has to have cellular data turned off or the phone won’t work at all on a network. Is that correct? He doesn’t have access to WiFi at the moment so this is the only way to connect.

    • Sorry for the late reply. Assuming AT&T Passport, from my understanding, all incoming and outgoing texts will be included in the plan, regardless of carrier he’s roaming on. If he needs cellular data, even if roaming, then he should have cellular data turned on.

  • Zoe says:

    If my friend is traveling to another country overseas and has purchased a roaming plan that says unlimited incoming texts will it charge me to text him?

    • If your friend’s number has not changed, then the same rates apply that you were sending to him before. His plan strictly applies to him. If he purchased a local number, or his number has changed, then you may get charges. If for example, you both have a US phone number. He goes overseas and adds an international roaming plan to his plan, then no, you won’t pay anything different. If he buys a local SIM card and you do not have the same rate to that number, i.e. your plan doesn’t support international and he traveled to Germany, then yes, you will get charged. If that’s the case that it’s a new number, I would check your current cell phone plan.

  • kathy says:

    I am overseas. I have an android Turbo2. I have my phone on airplane mode. I do have WiFi on. All of the sudden I have txt messages coming in. I have not opened them. Will I be charged? How do they come in while in airplane mode?

    • Hi Kathy, there’s a feature that allows for SMS to come in over wi-fi. You may not be charged but I would check with your carrier for wi-fi calling plans and SMS over wi-fi when in airplane mode.

  • Bridget says:

    Question: Do you need to turn off SMS messaging under settings when doing this or does the airplane mode automatically do that when you switch to it and Wi-Fi.

    • Good question, Bridget. By turning your phone into airplane mode, SMS messaging is automatically silenced. So, you only need to worry about turning your phone into Airplane mode, which turns off all cellular connection to your carrier.

  • Pj says:

    Hi I’m my phone is using my hotels WiFi in Japan and my phone is currently on airplane mode but im still receiving sms from friends in the USA. Why are they coming through and will I be charged for then and yes my phone is 100% on airplane mode.

    • You are receiving messages that have a mutual data sending capability. They are not SMS though they appear that way, which is confusing. For example on the iPhone, you can be in airplane mode, with wi-fi on, and you’ll get messages from friends over iMessage. You and your friends have to have iMessage turned on in order for these to send and be received. SMS is over cell data and if your phone is in Airplane mode no cellular charges will be made.

  • Jonathan says:

    How does my carrier knows I’m overseas?
    When I’m traveling overseas I just connect my phone to another network (let’s says Orange France) so how does my carrier (says Sprint) knows I’m in France?

    Also, as soon as I get off the plane, I often receive a sms from my home carrier saying “Welcome to France, if you would like to purchase a plan bla bla bla….” so again how does my carrier knows?

    • All phones have a type of technology they use to communicate with the carrier, like GSM (most common) or CDMA. Each carrier purchases cell phone towers and creates a network. The technology on your phone communicates with the cell towers. When you cross into another carrier’s network, you are now communicating with a local carrier who owns the network – your home carrier knows because they no longer fully own the network you are on; someone else (like Orange) does. They can see this because they know the location of your phone because it’s communicating with the cell towers. Orange wants to get paid for you using their network, their cell phone towers. Your home carrier doesn’t own them, so they made an agreement with the company or companies who do. That’s the reason it’s so much more expensive when you’re overseas. It’s because the carriers know who owns what network and they have agreements with each other. Both Orange and your cell phone provider want to get paid. But your cell phone provider has the contract with you and also with Orange, so they are the ones who contact you. Does that make sense?

  • Casey says:

    If I am deploying overseas and temporarily suspend my phone service through Verizon, will I still receive text messages to my phone number if someone texts using a text free app but I am not using the same text free app as them? Will I receive these text at all to my phone even if the service has been suspended but I am using wifi? No one has been able to answer this question so I’m trying you as a source ha!

    • Hi Casey! A couple answers here. 1) you won’t receive your regular text messages to your phone number (and they won’t likely be saved either for retrieval later) 2) if someone is using a free app to text you, depending on the app, you’ll need to both have the same app installed. So, getting a text message to your phone as you normally would using a 3rd party app, no. Install an app like Viber, Whatsapp, etc over wi-fi and make sure your friend is using the same app, and you can get messages. But not to your phone directly as an SMS, no. Hope that helps!

  • Nicole Brodie says:

    My galaxy s5 is in airplane mode, background data is turned off, wifi data is turned on. Somehow I’m receiving and can send SMS through the Messages app. I better not be incurring charges (Verizon) because I can’t turn it off. Anyone know what’s going on?

    • To use a service like: Yahoo Messenger, Google Hangouts, GChat, MSN, Email, Slack, etc – you will need data. Wi-fi is synonymous with data. You can EITHER have a data connection provided by a cellphone carrier OR a wi-fi connection provided by a cellphone carrier, a hotspot or network provider, or both. If you have your phone in airplane mode, with wi-fi, then you incur zero data charges.

      Airplane mode (data off) with wi-fi to use Whatsapp via = wi-fi, no data

  • Hi, I have a friend who just left South Africa for Germany and was asking if their cellphone data is off; does that mean nothing will be charged for using Whatsapp?

    • Thanks for your question, Brenda. Whatsapp works over wi-fi and also over cellular data. If her cellphone data is off, but wi-fi is NOT on, then she won’t be able to access Whatsapp at all. If her cellphone data is off (i.e. airplane mode), and wi-fi is ON, then she will indeed be able to use Whatsapp without charges from the cellphone carrier. She will incur any data charges, i.e. via a wi-fi hotspot. But, if the connection is free, like complimentary wi-fi in airport for example, then there’s zero cost to use Whatsapp. Here are the settings on her phone – airplane mode with wi-fi Airplane mode (data off) with wi-fi to use Whatsapp via

    • Where are you now? I see you’re using whatsapp? As long as you’re connected to wi-fi you can use it.

  • Lynn says:

    If you have an international plan (mine is ATT Passport) and you want to use SMS texting which is supposedly free on the plan- what changes do you make to your iPhone to send the free and texts but not be charged for cell phone data??

    • With the AT&T Passport plan, from what I understand, you should have all texting, including multimedia, included with every plan. So, it should be as simple as you having your SMS turned “on”.
      Turn SMS on iPhone AT&T Passport via live work anywhere
      When iMessage or other data isn’t turned on or isn’t going through, then the carrier will default to SMS. But, it doesn’t seem like you should incur any additional charges for that. Only for data. So, you may want to make sure that you use SMS on your passport plan for images, pictures, and videos via SMS and all else for data (including turning iMessage off). The data plan via AT&T doesn’t give you a lot of data and is expensive compared to a T-Mobile Simple Choice plan. So, if you plan to use data, I would buy a local SIM or hotspot / mi-fi device strictly to connect to data.

  • Shawn says:

    Hi thank you for this blog. I am going to be moving to Japan for 3 years for a military move. I have a business here in the US. majority of my business is done through my cell phone(phone calls,texts, emails).. Is there anyway I can continue to use my cell phone number and phone just like I would be doing while in the US?

    • Great question, Shawn, thanks for your comment. Who is your current cell phone provider? You need both a cellular plan (phone calls) and a data plan (text and email). At this point in time, in order to keep your number, you have a few options.
      1) switch to a T-Mobile Simple Plan and keep your existing number (note: they have free data and texting in 115 countries, including Japan but it can be slow and calls cost $.20/minute or more)
      2) Get a google voice account and forward all calls to your computer
      3) Get a Skype number
      4) Get Grasshopper virtual phone service and transfer your number

      For #1, you will pay by the minute for phone calls and for increases in data, or a separate data plan. For #’s 2 & 3 you need to let your clients know that your number has changed, which can cause a loss in business. But, to keep your existing number, and especially if you’re running a business, you likely want to go with Grasshopper. You can get $75 off if you’re a member of, but here’s the link in case you go with that option. Grasshopper allows you to set up virtual numbers, mailboxes, and forwarding, and has an option to get voicemails translated to email.

  • Winkfone is a great new app which is perfect for travellers and people regularly making international calls.

    Low Cost International Calls + Talk & Chat for Free, choose local numbers in the places that matter to you, Out of Wi-Fi coverage, no problem.

    Download the Winkfone App at

  • Aw, this was a really nice post. Taking the time and actual effort to generate a really good article… but what can I say… I hesitate a whole lot and never seem to get nearly anything

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