We can’t even imagine what we would do without our smartphones today. Our handy (pun intended) little computers are our connection to friends, family, social media, our own personal branding, and camera to document all the quirky and wonderful things we see in our daily lives. Wifi around the world is making it easier to stay in touch, but what if you travel between cities in a foreign country or move somewhere new, and your “phone data plan” doesn’t work from your original country? Let’s look at the different options you have for both traveling and moving overseas.
Traveling With Your Smartphone
We all love to travel (at least the people who read travel blogs do), and our smartphones are the number 1 thing that we carry to document our adventures. Whether it’s taking food pictures at the best restaurants in the world, selfies at the beach, or video of street musicians and performers, our phone has become more important than that fancy DSLR camera. But more than that, our smartphone has our itinerary, plane tickets, emails, google docs, social media and a note app to keep all our travel “stuff” in one easy and lightweight package.
Using Wifi in any country with any phone is not a problem. But what happens when you need to use data in a foreign country? We have run into this problem countless times.
Phone Options for Travelers
#1- Pay Extra on Your Current Phone Plan.
You could pay your current provider a little extra for the month that you may be traveling. Some providers like AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile have a reduced roaming option for $10-40 USD so that you can use limited data in another country without being “overcharged”. We’ve met people who do this with their smartphones and never had any problems. It’s never worked for us, and believe me, we tried in several countries over the years. So, for some people this works, for others it doesn’t.
#2- Buy a SIM card for the country you are in.
This is an easy and affordable option. It also works. Your SIM card will have a new number on it, but all your apps and emails will be the same. You can still call home on Whatsapp with your original number. The price of SIM Cards is based on how much data usage you want. They can be as little as $10 USD or over $70 USD. You can buy SIM Cards online at Amazon or Best Buy, or just go to a local store in the country you are in. In Mexico, you can buy a SIM card at OXXO (like a 7Eleven), and then pay for the data.
TIP: I recommend buying a SIM card when you arrive at your destination.
I bought a SIM card on Amazon that was supposed to cover most of Europe, but I had problems setting it up. I bought another one from a cell phone shop, had the guy set it up for me and call me to test it, and we didn’t have any problems even with bouncing from one country to another.
#3- Get a Google Phone
If you are bouncing from your own country to other countries for work frequently, get a Google phone. Tom bought a Google phone before we moved to Mexico, and it worked great in Mexico, Peru and Europe. He just needed to turn the data off when he wasn’t using it for navigation or social media. If you travel a lot, the Google phone is the most cost-effective (starting at $30 USD a month) and best phone we recommend.
But What If You Are Moving to a New Country?
Locked vs. Unlocked Phone
First and foremost, if you love your phone or a certain type of phone, get one that is unlocked. Phones are “locked” into their country’s network. A locked phone will not work or keep bouncing back to its original network even with a new SIM card. An unlocked phone will allow any SIM card to be put in, contact the current network, and you will be in business in minutes.
Pay for an Extended Phone Plan from Your Home Country
If you are moving to another country, you can still try to use your current phone plan and just pay a little more (usually $10-40 extra a month). This is not the most cost-effective solution especially if you are paying $80-$200 a month for your plan. There’s a cheaper option listed below.
Is the Google Phone the Best Option?
You can get a Google phone in the States and travel anywhere. But there is a catch with the Google phone. If the Google network notices you are staying outside the US for long periods (6 months or more), they will eventually cancel your contract. They did that to us after 2 years. The Google phone is best for those that travel often for work or pleasure and return to the States every few months.
Best Option for a Phone in Mexico
A new SIM card in an unlocked phone is your easiest and the most cost-effective solution in Mexico and many other parts of the world. We pay $10 USD a month for our data plan, $15 USD if we plan to travel and need to use GPS navigation a lot for the month. You will need a local number to set up a bank account, and you will be using GPS frequently when you first arrive. Every country sells phones, so you can just buy a new one if you prefer. (FYI: Samsung and iPhone loyalists will pay a lot more for phones outside of the USA.)
“But I Don’t Want to Give Up My USA Number”
You don’t have to! You can transfer it to Google Voice for a one-time fee of $20 USD, or another phone/internet service.
This is what we did:
We transferred our USA numbers to Google Voice. This way we still had a USA number for our bank and our non-tech savvy friends. You can receive texts and voice mails through your email, you just won’t be able to receive calls on your phone from Google Voice. You can call people back (or they can call you) through Google Voice when you are on your computer. This is how we called our USA bank until we had a landline that could call the USA for free.
We kept our USA numbers for Whatsapp, Signal and Viber, because our main customers for our wine tours come from the USA and Canada. It just made sense to keep it easy for them to contact us.
Whatsapp is THE Contact Method in Mexico
I was first introduced to WhatsApp while I was working in the conference industry. Lots of countries use WhatsApp instead of texting.
Something we noticed in Mexico is that everyone contacts you through WhatsApp: your friends, the furniture store, your realtor, pizza delivery, technicians, etc. This isn’t a problem, you just need to get their numbers first, put their contact information in your phone, and send them a message. This is the easiest way to set it up. If they have foreign friends or clients, they may know how to set it up the country code and number on their phone, but it’s better to take the initiative and do it yourself.
Mexico Country Code: +52
USA Country Code: +1 or +01
One More Thing… Landline Phones
Most internet companies are offering internet, cable and a landline phone. These landline phones can usually call the USA, Canada and up to 60 other countries for free. It doesn’t cost hardly anything if you get a package (internet and phone, or all three), and it’s worth it when you need to have a lengthy conversation with your bank, tax accountant or family.
So, there you have it. You can easily stay in communication just like you were at home with these tips that we have tested personally. If you have other tips to add, please let us know in the comments below. We know these aren’t the only options out there, but we found what works for us.