Nowadays most people are so addicted to their mobile phones that travelling without these handy gadgets is unthinkable - not to mention that travelling with your own means of communication is much more convenient and makes many people feel safer and more connected.
While travelling with your mobile phone is cheaper and easier than it used to be, there are still increased costs and other factors that you must consider before using your phone abroad. To help you avoid painfully high roaming costs (and other phone-related surprises) while travelling, we've put together this guide to using your phone abroad.
Happy travels, and don't forget to phone home!
(Image via whiteafrican on Flickr)
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Step 1: Check Your Mobile Phone's Capabilities
Before you leave home, check that your mobile phone can actually be used abroad. Most handsets sold nowadays are dual-band, which means they can be used throughout Britain and Europe, but if you're travelling to North America, you will need a tri-band handset, and places like Japan and Korea require a 3G-enabled handset.
Similarly, check with your mobile service provider that international roaming is enabled on your phone (this is the service that lets you use your mobile outside your home country). Most contract phones can be enabled for international roaming quite easily, if it's not set up automatically. On the other hand, some pay-as-you mobiles don't allow for international roaming, so it's always a good idea to check before you leave.
Also make sure you have a travel adaptor/charger that is suitable both for the voltage and outlet requirements at your destination, to prevent your mobile running out of charge and becoming a useless addition to your luggage.
(Image via al-hayat on Flickr)
Step 2: Work Out Mobile Costs Abroad
It is also a good idea to check with your mobile provider how much you will be charged for texting and making calls while you're abroad. This is usually many times more expensive than at home, and international calls and texts are very seldom included in any allowances you get under your mobile contract. Bear in mind that you may also be charged for receiving calls abroad - so well-meaning friends and family calling you from home may in fact be driving up your mobile bill!
The price of texts and calls abroad can also vary depending on the local network that is used. Normally your mobile will automatically connect to whichever local network is cheapest, but this may not necessarily be the case. Just to make sure you're not paying more than is necessary, research which network in your chosen destination is cheapest, so that you can manually connect to it if your phone does not do so automatically.
Texts are generally somewhat cheaper than calls (although still more expensive than texts at home), so if you're going through your home network, try to text rather than call if possible. Remember, too, that using the internet on your phone can be very expensive abroad - you might be better off disabling the internet connection on your phone (however handy it might be) for the duration of your trip if your mobile provider indicates it will be very costly to use.
(Image via Highways Agency on Flickr)
Step 3: Consider Other Mobile Options
If you are spending an extended period in or making frequent trips to a single destination, it may be worth your while to purchase a domestic SIM card from that country to use for local calls and texts. This is normally fairly inexpensive, although you may have to register your details as the SIM's owner. Also note that some handsets are "locked" to prevent you changing your SIM card - you should check on this before you leave home, and have your mobile provider unlock your handset if necessary. Alternately, many mobile repair shops can unlock handsets for a small charge.
Still, a local SIM does not solve the problem of communicating with the folks at home. For this reason, many travellers buy a cheap calling card to make calls home while they're abroad. While this can help cut costs considerably, calling cards are not always easy or convenient to use. Usually they require entering lengthy access codes and numbers before you can make your call, and tend to run out just when you need them most. A better option may be to purchase a SIM card at home that allows you to text abroad and make cheap international calls, such as those available from companies like Lebara.
(Image via Highways Agency (flickr) on Flickr)