International travel can be incredibly stressful - hotel bookings, crowded airports, endless security checks, and cramped airplanes can all throw you off your game, and that’s before you even get to your destination. Once you land, you’re faced with a series of foreign systems to navigate, possibly in a language you don’t understand.
In these situations, a smartphone can be your savior. Or, if you haven’t planned how you’ll stay connected, yet another frustration.
Over at Brigr our team is always on the road, and we feel the pain. Which is why we’ve written this article to share our favorite ways to stay connected abroad. You can access all the apps you need without breaking the bank, but here’s what you need to know first:
What are the options for getting online?
This is the key decision to make in advance, and there are a few routes you can take:
- Automatic roaming through your existing plan
- Roaming package add-ons
- Local SIM card
- Wifi hotspots
- eSIM (e.g. Google Fi)
Automatic international roaming is only offered on some carriers, like T-Mobile, but there are usually limitations and increased fees involved -- sometimes very very high fees! This is the zero-effort option since you can go on using your phone as usual, but the risk of racking up major charges is high.
Roaming packages are similar, but you sign up for them in advance. Take Verizon’s Prepaid International plans, for example, which feature different pricing depending where in the world you intend to travel.
Both these options are solid for short trips where you know you’ll only need your phone for a few calls and texts. Be warned: using data on these plans get pricey very quickly!
Brigr’s platform works with partner apps in banking, transportation, and gaming to connect you to a local network wherever you are, seamlessly and affordably. Check it out here.
Local SIM cards
For those with unlocked phones, buying a local SIM card is a good way to stay connected if you’re on the ground for an extended time within one country. The SIM itself is often free, and you can top up your data and voice allowance as and when you need it.
Depending on the country, this can be done at convenience stores, supermarkets, or even directly through the phone. It’s not as practical for short weekends away, or when you’ll be crossing borders.
If you’re looking to keep your data costs down to zero, look no further. Wifi hotspots are a favorite for the budget-conscious, and rightly so. Free wifi is super common at cafes, restaurants, hotels, and even some public spaces. The downside is they can also be slow, unreliable, and leave you hanging when you’re in between hotspots.
eSIM (we see you, Google)
If you’re planning a long trip, or you’re abroad more often than not, an eSIM option like Google Fi lets you connect to an international network for a fixed monthly rate. Backpackers and digital nomads looking for worldwide flexibility, this one’s for you!
The service is still pretty new, and there are mixed reviews around the availability and reliability of a connection, especially if you’re traveling to countries where internet access is restricted (and Google is less welcome…) like China. We know tons of people who have used it successfully, but as ever the best way to get this right is to do your research, and make sure Google Fi operates in the countries you’re visiting.
While there is no one-size-fits-all solution for using your phone abroad, the options above cover almost every scenario.
Over at Brigr we’ve partnered with telcos globally to help connect you to the apps you need for travel, banking, and gaming, even if you’re outside your home network. Check out our website to learn how it works and whether we’re available in your destination.
Do you have any other data hacks you use abroad? Let us know in the comments, or send us an email with your ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.