Using Your Mobile Phone Abroad
You’ll have many things to think about before moving abroad – what types of clothes to pack to match the weather, who you might meet in your new city, how you’re ever going to pack all of your things in only one or two suitcases, etc. etc. Especially if you’ll be abroad for more than a few weeks, one important thing you don’t want to forget about is a mobile phone! You’ll probably find life much easier with a way to communicate with your new friends, to help you find your way around, and (don’t forget!) to keep in touch with friends and family back in your home country. It’s much easier to plan ahead instead of rushing to figure something out once you’ve arrived.
Simply adding international usage to your phone plan from home is one option, but is probably not ideal as this can be very expensive. Also, be careful of using your home phone abroad without an international plan – these charges can be enormous, especially for data usage! Your best option will most likely be to get a new plan in your destination.
You can buy a new phone if you’d like, but, particularly if you’re hoping for a smartphone, the device will be very expensive without a lengthy contract.
For you to add a new plan to a phone you already own, you’ll need to make sure it’s unlocked. Some companies “lock” a device when you purchase it, so that the phone will only work on their network. You can’t purchase a foreign plan for a phone until it has been unlocked.
Some devices are automatically unlocked when you buy them, but for others you have to send in an unlock request. Information on specific procedures can generally be found on your mobile provider’s website.
If your device is relatively new or still under contract, unlocking will sometimes require a fee. This fee can be quite expensive depending on the provider. In some locations, you might find stores offering to unlock devices for you. Just be aware that your provider back home might not be happy if they’ve found out you’ve unlocked a device without their permission!
The best advice is a to do a little research and plan before you leave home. If it looks like you’ll have to pay an unlocking fee for your own device, look around for any old phones you or your friends and family might not be using any more. Although maybe a little older and less shiny, they probably still work, and for a few weeks or months you can probably live without the flashiest technology!
Once you’ve managed to get an unlocked phone, look around for providers in your local area. Without a local bank account, you might be limited to pay-as-you-go plans where you pay for a certain amount of credit and top up periodically as you use it. Talk to people in the local area: they can likely help point you in the direction of good deals and providers with reliable reception in the local area!
Keep in mind what you think you’ll be using the phone for: if you use the Internet a lot, for Facebook, messaging, transportation schedules, directions, or any number of things, make sure you have a healthy amount of data.
For calling home, you can likely add international service for a higher rate, or else Skype, FaceTime, and other video chat programs are great ways to stay in touch and are free with wifi. You can also purchase phone cards in many stores that will give you credit for international calls.
Any other questions about phone usage while you’re studying abroad? Let us know in the comments!