Travel Advice: How to Use Your Phone Internationally

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Everyone assumes they can cope without their unlimited data while living abroad.  Seeing thousands of tourists a day, I know this is a far-off idealization.  The days of looking at a physical map, or even seeking out a brochure rack to find a particular company phone number are long gone.  And I mean looong. (Seriously I can't recall the last time I held a physical map...)

The problem with traveling to another country in this media based word? International plans are absolutely the worst.  Data roaming charges are out the wazoo.  For my American line I pay an extra $15 a month for unlimited texting, calls at $.25 a minutes and 120 MB of data. 120?!?!?! That will send about 4 iMessages and load one Facebook post.  

I found the best way for me to navigate living abroad in a smart phone world is to have one American phone, and one Italian phone.  It can get frustrating, but it's the best way for me to have everything I need. 

So what are my options while I am still in America?

**Keep in mind that all of these companies change their plans frequently.  Always check for deals and new plans!**


So I apparently have an older international plan, so what I have isn't the same as AT&Ts new offers.  Right now their international plans are the following 3:

Passport ($40)
Passport Silver ($60)
Passport Gold ($120) 

All of these plans include unlimited international texting (not iMessage, you have to send green SMS texts).  For phone calls the prices per minute are $1, $.50, and $.35, respectively.  The amount of data you can get and the price of overages per MB range from; 200MB/$.25;  300MB/$.20; and 800MB/$.1. 

So pretty much AT&T is stupid expensive, but if you're stuck in a contract and need to talk to family back at home, this could be your best option. I pretty much use my American number to talk to my mom (she's the only one in the family with an Android), and to take pictures. Also keep in mind that even though you can send SMS texts to international phone numbers, it might charge them a fee, even if you aren't charged.

Here is a list of all the available countries that are offered with AT&Ts passport.



Verizon has the most confusing plan to understand, at least from what I've seen.  It varies a lot based on if you had a previous plan with them, but from what I have gathered it's relatively similar to the AT&T plan above.

They also have a pay-as-you-go option, but again this makes more sense when you already have a Verizon contract (I think).  To check out their options click here.



T-Mobile has a bunch of options when it comes to international plans, and they are easily the best.  The plans start at 2 GB of international data for $50, and go up to unlimited data for and extra $45.  These plans all include free streaming, and rollover data. 

Many of my friends use the T-Mobile plan and they love it.  The downside?  You have to start a new contract with T-Mobile, and then when you come back to the states you're stuck with T-Mobile.  Also don't forget European numbers will still be charged for texts you send, and depending on the plan there is a limited number of texts you are allowed to send out while overseas.

Check here to see what plan works best for your needs.


International Contracts

So what is the first step?

If you're traveling internationally for an extended period of time, it could be best for you to get a new phone number.  The biggest issue most people run into with this is  not having an MIEI unlocked phone.

What is an MIEI unlocked phone?  Remember the days when we all had different colored Razr phones and would switch SIM cards with our friends for no real reason? There was always that one friend who had Sprint (or was it Nextel at the time still), and couldn't switch with everyone who had good 'ole Cingular.  
Basically when you buy a contract from your carrier in the US (and other countries), they lock it with a code so you can't just use a promotion, then go back to using a different service.  Smart of them, but inconvenient for you because now you can't put an international sim card into your phone.  

For certain companies such as AT&T if you have had your phone for over 6 months, you can unlock it for free in your device options on the AT&T website.  If your American carrier does not offer this option, there are websites you can use that will unlock it from around $15-$50, depending on how new your phone is. The one recommended the most is IMEI Unlocker.  To find your IMEI number just go to your settings on your phone, click general, click about, and then find it.  

From there....

The main carriers in Italy are TIM, WIND, and Vodaphone.

I personally have TIM, and my plan costs €10 a month with 3 GB of data, and 1000 minutes. Texting costs an extra €3 a month, but since everyone I know in Italy has an iPhone, I just stick to iMessage.  

WIND and Vodaphone have pretty similar plans, you just have to go into the store and see what their promotion is.  There aren'y really any unlimited data plans in Italy, so keep that in mind when hunting out an option.  The plan I generally recommend is a promotion which is €10 for 3 GB of data which usually includes 500 minutes.  You usually must have a minimum of €5 credit on your account as well, but once the initial process is complete, it's *relatively* smooth sailing- for Italy at least.


Got this all figured out?  Now you need to know the 5 apps that MUST be on your phone before you travel abroad!


If you have any questions, feel free to shoot me a message, or contact me below!


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