News 7 tips and tricks for using your mobile phone overseas

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7 tips and tricks for using your mobile phone overseas

We've all heard horror stories about people travelling overseas and coming back to find they have unknowingly run up thousands of dollars in bills thanks to their mobile phone. And we’ve all thought to ourselves after booking a flight abroad: can I use my mobile phone overseas?

Well, the short answer is, yes you can! There are lots of ways you can use your mobile overseas; by purchasing a pre-paid SIM before you leave, picking up a local one at your destination, or simply turning off that sneaky roaming data button and using the available WiFi instead.

To avoid going bankrupt due to crippling global roaming charges and expensive international phone calls, read Skyscanner Australia’s guide on the best and cheapest ways to use your mobile phone overseas.

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1. Buy a pre-paid SIM in Australia

If you’re doing a bit of a tour, and visiting more than one country like, say, France and then Italy, then buying a pre-paid SIM before you leave might be the answer. This is for travellers who definitely want to make calls and receive texts on their mobile overseas. So a couple of weeks before you hop aboard your flight, order a pre-paid SIM card from a company such as Go-Sim or TravelSIM. A Go-Sim SIM card costs $19 including $10 credit for the SIM alone with data packages starting at $12 and rising to $237. TravelSIM SIM card offers numerous data packages from $25-100 depending. Both options allow online and thru-app top-ups. Your phone needs to be unlocked to use any of these services.

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2. Buy a local SIM at your destination

This is probably one of the best ways to use your mobile overseas especially if you’re visiting just one country, such as the United Kingdom. You won’t be subject to the dreaded hidden roaming fees, and you can choose between pay-as-you-go options, or a flat rate for a set period of time. You can also usually buy SIM cards at airports, supermarkets, and the odd corner store, making it handy for anyone who isn’t big on forward planning.

However, if you do you travel to another country, you won’t be able to use that SIM card without turning on global roaming. The other slight hang-up is that if you choose to use a local SIM, you could find yourself having to text and call people to let them know your number once you’re abroad (though luckily, if they have apps like Whatsapp, this shouldn’t be a problem). Again, your phone needs to be unlocked for this option.

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3. Buy a local SIM before leaving home

Huh? A local SIM before you even close your front door? Well, yes. Sorting out how to use your mobile overseas before you even leave Australia can really set your mind at ease, and it will give you some time to be picky with which carrier and plan you go with. Check out the Aussie owned and operated travelgear.com.au, as you can order local SIM cards from a range of different countries (and it’ll save you researching SIM deals). They’ll be with you in a few days and you can hand your number out before you go. Receiving calls from home is usually free-of-charge, but check the small print.

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4. Use Wi-Fi

Looking for the cheapest way to use your mobile phone overseas? Forego all that pre-paid and pay-as-you-go malarkey and simply turn off global roaming and your mobile data when you’re abroad and get thee to a Wi-Fi hotspot! Cafes, restaurants, airports and public train stations generally offer free WiFi, and if not, you can always rely on a Starbucks being somewhere in the vicinity.

You can communicate via Facebook of course, or use apps such as iMessage or WhatsApp, WeChat, and Skype. iMessage is great for texting if both parties have an Apple device, but Whatsapp is cross-platform and you can call people and voice message. WeChat is a Chinese messaging and calling service that is like a mix of Whatsapp and Facebook, and is super handy if you’re travelling throughout China as some of the other apps mentioned above can be blocked.
And lastly, there’s Skype the face-to-face calling service, which also offers the added bonus of letting you call phone numbers, as long as you whack a little pre-paid credit on there.

Alternatively, check if the country you’re visiting allows MiFi or Portable Wi-Fi Routers, where everyone in your travel group gets to enjoy Wi-Fi on the go. Some countries like Japan will provide them for you through your hotel. We also recommend that if you’re going to go down this route, that you check that your accommodation comes with WiFi.

Read more: Tips for safe Wi-Fi usage in airports

5. Download information while connected to WiFi and turn off your non-essential apps

If you’re phone is locked into a contract, and you know you’re going to need to make the odd call or use global roaming data then we suggest you download everything you need either before you leave, or when connected to WiFi. Doing simple things like this will make using your mobile overseas a lot easier (and cheaper). You’ll find that an app like Google Maps is essential when travelling, but a top tip is that you can pin a bunch of locations on the map while you’re online, and these will remain in place and provide a great compass when you’re offline. And importantly, when you aren’t connected to WiFi, turn off automatic updates, don’t use non-essential apps, and turn off your mobile data and international roaming when you’re not using them.

Read more: How to travel on planes with young children

6. Buy pre-paid roaming

Of course, if you are going to be using your cell phone internationally a lot, it might just be worth going the pre-paid roaming route. Telstra and Optus both offer pre-paid plans that allow you to check emails and surf the web when you are overseas. Telstra offers two International Travel Passes, one covering New Zealand, Indonesia and Thailand, and the other a bundle of other countries from Cambodia to the USA. You pay a daily fee of either $5 or $10 based on set periods and you get unlimited voice calls and SMS to and from standard numbers. Optus offers something similar, these are called Travel Packs, and are a $10 a day service for their Zone 1 countries. You also get a data allowance with both companies.

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7. Go without a SIM card

There’s a lot to be said for arriving in New York (or the Maldives or Bali) and knowing no one can contact you. Add to that the fact that you won’t be getting annoying SMSs or Twitter notifications on someone else’s tweet when you’re fast asleep. So, take out your SIM card, tell your mum (so she doesn’t send out an Interpol search warrant) and use your phone the truly smart way – as an alarm clock, selfie camera, and Wi-Fi browser.

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