If there were a competition for making mistakes when using a phone abroad, I’d probably win. Top of my ‘oops list’ has to be relying on roaming to access maps when on a safari in South Africa. I did finally find a route around a rather angry looking rhino, but I racked up a ridiculous bill in the process.
In this sponsored post, Recharge.com share their top tips for using a mobile (cell) phone abroad.
Recharge.com enables clients to top up phone credit online for prepaid plans in over 140 countries. It offers worldwide recharge for mobile phones, anytime, anywhere, for yourself or someone else.
Here Recharge.com share four mistakes to avoid when using your phone abroad, and how to avoid them.
4 mistakes to avoid when using your phone abroad
1. Failing to prepare before you travel
Depending on where you are travelling to, you might find it hard to find a power plug adapter in your new country, so try to buy it in advance. Pack a charger, power adapter and if possible an extra phone battery with you in your hand luggage, alongside your mobile. This way, if your suitcase goes missing at the other end, at least you won’t be scrambling around for a power source to get it all sorted.
Back up your phone data before you travel, including your contacts. This way if you switch or lose your handset, you’ll still have access to your data.
Just in case, note down your most important data, such as emergency contacts, booking references and flight confirmation details.
If you decide to switch plans and go for a prepaid SIM card, you can top up online on Recharge.com from anywhere in the world. To use a new SIM in your handset however, you need to make sure your mobile device is first unlocked (i.e. you can use it with a different operator’s SIM card).
If your handset needs unlocking, you’ll need to contact your local mobile carrier company, or ask in an independent phone shop. Trying to unlock your phone from abroad can be complicated; generally it’s most convenient to unlock your phone in the country it was purchased.
To get the handset unlocked, you’ll need your IMEI number. This number can be found in the documentation when the handset was first purchased. It can also generally be found in the phone data itself. For iPhones, go to ‘Settings’ – ‘General’ – ‘About’, then scroll down to ‘IMEI’.
Also, check you have access to the recovery phone number for any apps you use. Otherwise, consider temporarily switching this security step to another verification method, e.g. facial recognition plus card reader, or a confirmation via email link. Then, when using your phone abroad you’ll still have access to the apps you need most.
2. Choosing the wrong contract
If you decide to switch to a new plan for using your phone abroad, always go for the plan which suits your needs.
Firstly, deals which offer a freebie fancy handset might seem tempting, but they might not work out as the most financially sensible. Contracts can lock you in for a definitive period, and if you need to break the contract you’ll need to pay the fees for the remaining time left within your contract. Sometimes it works out cheaper to buy the handset separately to the plan.
Secondly, while some might offer thousands of ‘free text messages’, if you don’t send SMS messages then it’s probably not the best option for you.
Finally, you might not need a lot of call time or a high text limit in your phone plan. Make use of apps such as WhatsApp, Skype, FaceTime and Facebook Messenger. All these apps offer the option of voice calls and messages for free when using Wi-Fi.
In fact, you might go for a prepaid SIM card that only includes mobile data (not call credit), and top that up as needed.
For many, pre paid SIMs offer the least complicated way of getting up and running. From here, you can top up online on top up online at Recharge.com from anywhere in the world. This is possible both for US prepaid SIM cards, or SIM cards local to the country you’re travelling to.
Ask around locals for the best options. You might find that one network offers better coverage, cheaper calls or even discounts, such dining out, at the cinema etc.
If you decide on a pre paid plan, check the expiration timeframe for top ups. For some network providers, a top up expires after 15 days, for others they will last a month. Consequently you may need to top up little and often. With Recharge.com, you can top up by as much or as little as you like, from wherever you are in the world.
If you’re switching to a new plan indefinitely, check roaming fees in any countries you might be visiting, for example for holidays back to your home country. It might work out cheapest to keep a SIM for each country, or you might prefer to go for an international SIM.
Bear in mind, that SIMs deactivate after a period of time, so you may need to purchase a new SIM. If this is an issue for you, you may prefer a contract plan.
When you do switch SIM cards, store the old SIM safely. You might also like to include a paperclip with your stored SIM, so when you do need to insert your new SIM, you won’t be rummaging around for a means to open your handset. Keep the different SIM card converters safe too, so if you do change your handset you can use the nano, micro or standard size which fits your handset.
In case you don’t have a plastic SIM card holder, you might like to store your SIM card in a small zip lock bag taped in a notebook. You might like to include the carrier, phone number and any other relevant information in a separate notebook, too.
You might like to include the carrier, phone number and any other relevant information in a separate notebook, too.
3. Racking up roaming fees
To avoid hefty roaming fees, turn off data roaming on your phone. Don’t rely on airplane mode alone. Some apps use data in the background to make software updates. This can mean hefty fees, without you even realising.
Check your phone setting to ensure any auto updates can take place when you have access to Wi-Fi. For example, you might like to reconfigure your settings so photo apps such as Lightroom or Google Photos aren’t racking up a bill by updating while you’re out and about exploring.
Before setting out, research free Wi-Fi hotspots to use in your destination. If you do need to access data outside of Wi-Fi areas, try to go for mobile-friendly sites, as they generally require less data usage.
Using maps can incur huge roaming costs, even just to travel a few miles. When you have access to Wi-Fi, downloads the offline version of Google Maps. The size of the file download will depend on the breadth of coverage you need. Maps tend to expire every 15 days, so you’ll need to keep them updated. If you want to keep your maps offline indefinitely, go to the Google Maps offline settings and activate automatic updates. We advise you to choose the option to only to be updated when using Wi-Fi, otherwise it rather defeats the purpose!
You might also like to download any bulky entertainment files such as music or movie files, while you have access to Wi-Fi. This way, you won’t be tempted to rack up roaming fees in downloads while on a long journey.
Take photos of, or note down, any important details, for example addresses and booking references. This way you won’t need to rely on accessing the internet when you need it most.
Most importantly, monitor your data usage. Reset your data usage statistics every so often to get an idea of your expenditure.
4. Underestimating security concerns
Handsets can be expensive pieces of kit, especially in places where they are hard to come by. In some countries you might feel safer using your phone only in spaces such as hotel lobbies or malls, not in the open public. What’s more, it might be deemed insensitive or inappropriate to flash an expensive phone around.
You might also like to look into insurance options for your handset. Some travel insurance providers will insure your handset up to a agreed limit, while in most cases you may need a specific phone insurance policy.
In terms of cyber security, remember that public Wi-Fi hotspots, are just that – public. Avoid accessing sensitive password protected material, such as bank statements when using public Wi-Fi. Be careful using Bluetooth also, for example when pairing your phone with a rental car.
Other scams such as fraudsters impersonating loved ones to solicit money are also common. If in doubt, always speak directly through a live video or voice call to check the situation.
Monitor your monthly statements and report any suspicious activity immediately with your mobile phone network provider.
Sadly, even if you do take precautions, you might still have your phone stolen, so install a phone tracker in advance. Make sure your phone is passcode protected, too. Enable two-step password verification for any sensitive apps, e.g. banking.
Tips for using your phone abroad
- Pack your adapter and charger in your hand luggage.
- Back up your data before you travel, including contacts. Note down important details, including travel confirmation references and addresses.
- Unlock your phone in the country it was purchased before you travel.
- When setting up a new phone contract, calculate which plan works best for your personal needs. Read the small print!
- When out and about, turn off data roaming. Don’t rely on airplane mode alone.
- Reset your data usage and monitor your usage regularly.
- Make use of apps for free calls and text messages with Wi-Fi, such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger
- Download Google Maps for your area, with automatic updates set only for when you have access to Wi-Fi.
- Be cautious when using public Wi-Fi. Do not access sensitive material, such as bank details.
- Don’t flash an expensive handset around. Check your insurance options.
For more information, including details on topping up a mobile from abroad, visit Recharge.com