After all, posting to Insta isn’t the only use for your phone abroad 

Quick notes

  • International data plans mean you don’t have to rely solely on WiFi when you travel abroad.

  • Check to see what your home cell phone carrier offers.

  • Or, buy a local SIM card in the country you’re going to. 

In today’s hyper-connected world, it may seem crazy that we ever traveled without smartphones—that we needed to plan ahead and use paper maps because we didn’t have unlimited information at our fingertips. There is no doubt that smartphones make traveling easier. 

It’s perfectly plausible that you can get by using your hotel’s internet to plan your day or popping into cafes that offer WiFi while you’re out. (Let’s be real, Starbucks are everywhere!). Some cities even have areas with public WiFi. However, if you don’t want to be without phone service, there are options for getting an international data plan.

Purchase an international data plan through your current carrier 

The most obvious way to get an international data plan for your trip is through your home cell phone carrier. 

To get a Verizon international data plan, customers have three options. One is a monthly plan that gives customers a certain number of minutes, texts, and data in more than 185 countries. The company also offers a pay-as-you-go plan: You are charged a certain rate, depending on the country, for services as you use them. (This plan is compatible for cruises.) 

Lastly, with Verizon’s TravelPass), customers can use their regular minutes, texts, and data abroad for $10 each day (per device). If you don’t use your phone one day while you’re away, you don’t pay the daily fee. 

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Customers have similar options with an AT&T international data plan. The Day Pass plan allows you to use your normal talk, text, and data for $10 each day and only pay on days you use your phone. The Passport option charges a monthly fee for data and unlimited texts in more than 200 countries. AT&T also has package or pay-as-you-go options for cruises.

Opt for an international data plan using a local carrier

The other option for getting an international data plan is getting a SIM card in the country you’re traveling to. A SIM card is what gives you access to mobile networks. If you have a U.S. cell phone right now, you’ll have a SIM card from your U.S. carrier. When you go abroad, you can buy a SIM card from a carrier in that country, which will give you access to data there. 

Prices and plans will, of course, depend on the country you’re in, but one example is the carrier Orange, which offers prepaid plans in Spain that start at about $10. Usually, you can buy SIM cards at places like airports, convenience stores, or the carriers’ stores. 

Before you decide to go with this option, make sure your phone is unlocked and uses GSM, which means it will work with other providers and in other countries. Check with your carrier to find out.

In today’s hyper-connected world, it may seem crazy that we ever traveled without smartphones—that we needed to plan ahead and use paper maps because we didn’t have unlimited information at our fingertips.

However, if your phone isn’t compatible with a different SIM card, you can always buy a cheap smartphone in the country to use with the SIM card, as NerdWallet reports

Re-evaluate your phone plan and get one that includes international data

If you’re on the road a lot and are constantly seeking data in other countries, Google Fi might be a good option for you. This Google phone service automatically includes an international data plan in more than 200 locations around the world. Depending on your plan, you’ll have either unlimited data or $10 per 1 GB, as well as unlimited texts and calls at $0.20 per minute. 

Overall, there are many different ways to get data while abroad, so it’s just a matter of deciding which option is the right fit for you. 

A deeper dive — Related reading from the 101:

Consider another travel essential before a big trip: a travel credit card. 

If you want to stay connected, here’s how to do it on the cheap.