Running a business as an international globetrotter has never been easier, there’s no question. Getting from A to B is more convenient and more affordable than any other point in human history, and the Web means we can communicate with ease no matter where in the world we end up.
While the Internet has made overseas communication a lot easier than it used to be, there are still some gaps when it comes to convenient chatting. There’s the struggle to find decent WiFi in many parts of the world, the need for the right kind of power cord or adapters, and a few other hiccups you can run into when trying to get connected away from home. And the biggest pain in the neck by far is using the same smartphone both at home and abroad.
Use a SIM Card with Your Smartphone Overseas
The first major problem is that not all phones work with all cell networks. If you’ve ever bought a phone from someone other than your service provider—Amazon, eBay, a guy in a parking lot, whatever—you may have already run into this difficulty. Even if you’re staying in the US, you have to make sure your phone has the right hardware to work with your network of choice, and it’s not always as simple as it should be.
Second, assuming you’ve found a phone that works with all the networks you’ll be traveling through, there are roaming costs that can quickly send your bill through the roof. In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, “roaming” simply means you’re using a cellular network that you don’t normally pay for. If you pay T-Mobile each month but end up making calls that go through a Verizon-only cell tower, T-Mobile has to pay Verizon for the use, and T-Mobile will pass those fairly significant charges on to you.
If you have a strictly US-based plan, you’ll be roaming anywhere else in the world you go. Even if you’re using your smartphone while connected to WiFi, you might not be safe—texting and phone calls might still end up on your cellular service plan, and they won’t be cheap.
There are a couple solutions to these international cell phone problems. Here are my two favorites—if you’ve found something you think we should know about, let me know in the comments!
T-Mobile Simple Choice Plan
AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint we could say have had a more US-centric approach to cell phone service. T-Mobile has long been owned by Deutsche Telekom, a German company that operates cellular networks and provides customers service in countries all over the globe. It makes sense, then, that T-Mobile is the most international-friendly of the major US service providers—if you’re on one of their Simple Choice plans, you already get unlimited data and texts in more than 140 countries (as long as you’re using one of T-Mobile’s networks—it’s still possible to get caught roaming, so be careful).
I was in Doha, Qatar recently and my T-Mobile plan allowed me to text friends, post to Instagram and Facebook, and do most of what I typically do with my phone without spending an extra dime. After years of unreliability when it comes to staying in touch while abroad, it was nice to be able to rely on!
The clear downside is that calls made over the cell network aren’t unlimited. In fact, they aren’t included in the plan at all and cost $0.20 per minute. You might be able to get around using a VoIP app like Google Voice or Skype, but these services tend to charge for international calls, too. And if you forget to use the app to make a call or pick up an incoming call without thinking, you’ll be hit with a surprisingly large bill.
Starting September 6th, T-Mobile introduced its T-Mobile ONE plan. At a glance, it seems pretty similar to the Simple Choice plans in terms of international benefits—unlimited text and data in most countries, but without calls included. You can also add a plan for your tablet and/or any wearables nice and cheap, though, so this might be worth looking into if you’re not already with T-Mobile.
AT&T Passport and Sprint Global
AT&T also has a Passport plan that offers unlimited texting and reduced prices for calling and data usage. There’s also an additional monthly fee, however, and all in all it’s pricier than T-Mobile. If you’re already with AT&T and only planning on traveling for a short while this might be your best bet, but if you’re willing to shop around I think you can do better.
A friend using Sprint also just informed me that they have a very similar plan to T-Mobile. It just launched a few months ago. So, T-Mobile now has some competition. But the fact that all the major carriers are recognizing international calling and communication via your smartphone and allowing you to use a SIM card with your smartphone overseas (in fact, the same card) while traveling is a giant leap forward in international communication.
Unlocking Your Smartphone and Getting an International SIM Card
T-Mobile’s plan is plenty for many, but there’s another way to achieve true smartphone freedom that any might find more appealing: an international SIM card for unfettered travel and spontaneity.
We won’t get too technical, but basically your phone’s SIM card allows it to”talk” to a cell network. If the network doesn’t recognize the SIM card, it won’t let you connect, or it will notify the network to charge those pricey roaming fees. You can get local SIM cards for each place you’re traveling, but you’ll need to get a local service plan, and international calls will still be expensive. An international SIM card that is designed to work with cell networks around the globe means you can use one phone to connect virtually anywhere.
Unlocking Your Smartphone
The SIM card is only one barrier when it comes to using your US-bought smartphone on international networks. You also need to make sure your phone has the right hardware to connect to a particular international network, which is pretty easy to do once you’ve selected an international SIM provider. Service providers also install software on their phones that can prevent you from using other carriers, so you’ll probably need to “unlock” your phone—mess with the software so your phone can work anywhere.
Unlocking your phone is perfectly legal and, when done correctly, perfectly safe. Digital Trends put together this awesome and updated unlocking guide that covers every major US carrier. You might have to bug your service provider a bit—they know that unlocking means you’ll be using someone else’s services—but they’ll get it done if you keep at them. T-Mobile may take up to 6 weeks to unlock whereas Sprint will unlock instantly with a phone call – but, they will only lock for overseas and disable unlocking on US soil. Once unlocked, you simply swap out your SIM card for the international SIM card you’ve purchased, and you should be good to go!
Getting an International SIM Card
Not all international SIM card providers are equal, of course. They all have their own coverage areas/countries and their own prices, and you should definitely research your selected provider based on where you want to travel. My personal favorite, and so far the one that has beat the competition hands-down for the places I’ve traveled, is OneSimCard.
OneSimCard sells you its international SIM cards for a flat rate of $29.95. There’s no monthly charge or connection fee, and your SIM card will work for calls and texts in more than 200 countries! You get both a US and an EU number for your phone, and incoming calls to the EU number are completely free, as are incoming text messages. Outgoing calls cost $0.25/min.—not bad when you consider you aren’t paying ANY monthly service fee—and you can also purchase them in bundles at a discount. Calls are even cheaper using OneSimCard’s VoIP app, which comes free with the SIM card.
Your international SIM card from OneSimCard will also give you access to mobile data networks in up to 180+ countries, depending on which SIM card you select (they have three available), with data rates as low as $0.02/MB. And of course, you’ll still be able to use data via any WiFi spots you find in your travels absolutely free.
For convenience and ease when you’re traveling to multiple countries, it really doesn’t get any easier than OneSimCard. When you’re back in the States you can swap out your cards again, and if you tuck your international SIM card somewhere safe—in a baggie with your passport, perhaps—it’ll be there for you the next time you’re ready for an international adventure!
Get Unlocked and Go International Today!
The barriers to international travel are falling every day. Whether you’re a business of one, have a small office you need to keep in touch with, or are a key figure in a multi-billion dollar enterprise, there are plenty of ways for you to stay connected as you travel. The Internet makes document sharing, social media, and a whole lot more readily accessible from your smartphone, and now you know a few tricks when it comes to texts and calls, too.
So what are you waiting for? You’re running out of excuses—stop reading, go get your international SIM card or switch up your phone plan (hint: try T-Mobile), and start booking those tickets today. The world is waiting!