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How Do I Avoid Huge Cell Phone Bills When Traveling?


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If receiving a post-trip mobile phone bill has you practicing newly learned swear words in foreign languages, here are a few tips for keeping your bill out of the cuss-worthy category: 

Sign up for a global plan with your current provider.

Most carriers offer plans for international long distance, data, and messaging service that can be tacked on to your bill month-by-month. Of course, to be effective, your cell phone will need to be compatible with other countries’ systems. (Most of the world uses GSM technology. Two U.S. carriers use CDMA, although it’s becoming commonplace for phones to have dual systems. Your carrier will be able to tell you if your phone is eligible.)

Turn off data roaming.

Your phone will likely prompt you to do this when you first turn it on abroad; if not, put it in airplane mode to keep it from continuously searching for a signal. Also turn off notifications for applications, voicemail, and automatic email refreshes. Plug in to local Wi-Fi hotspots to connect to the Internet and use apps. 

Rent a local mobile hotspot.

Because connecting to Wi-Fi anywhere has inherent security risks, buy a dedicated hotspot connection. Once connected to WiFi, you can make international calls with services such as Skype.  

Buy a disposable phone.

Do your best impersonation of an international man (or woman) of mystery by picking up a pay-as-you-go phone from a provider after your arrival. It might not be a smart device—although the availability of smart phones is growing—but it will allow you to make calls home and to confirm in-country travel plans with ease. 

Get a local SIM card.

To leverage this option, your phone will need to be unlocked. Once it is, you can purchase a destination-specific, pay-as-you-go SIM card with minutes. A technical note: Look for an international provider that supports the same cellular frequencies, or band (3G, 4G, etc.), as your phone. 

Purchase a purpose-built travel phone.

Companies such as OneSimCard and Telestial do the leg work for you by selling internationally compatible devices equipped with travel-ready voice, data, and messaging plans. 

Lead Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto