Here’s a common scenario for travelers: you are preparing your itinerary and your packing list for an international vacation, and suddenly you realize you’re not sure how to access the Internet on your phone or make calls through your cellphone while you’re abroad.
Sure, you can use WhatsApp when you’re on Wi-Fi, but you’ve read that the public and hotel Wi-Fi hotspots may not be secure, or might have low bandwidth speeds. You call your cellphone provider, who gives you outrageously high quotes on international roaming, calling minutes and text messages.
There must be an easier and cheaper way to do this, especially in the year 2017! Luckily for you, there is an easy and affordable travel hack to make your international travel headache-free. ANY cell phone, regardless of brand or provider, can become a cheap and very secure international roaming phone if you simply take advantage of local data and a free international calling app.
- Buy or Rent a Mobile “Portable Hotspot”
All you have to do is rent or buy a mobile “portable hotspot” when you get to your destination country. These are usually pocket-sized devices that use a local mobile carrier’s cell towers so you get internet data directly and securely, rather than being dependent on public Wi-Fi. Connect your phone to the device wifi via secure password (also called “tethering”) and voila! You are now holding a secure way to access the internet anywhere you can get a cell signal from the local carrier.
- Set Your Phone to “Wi-Fi only” and turn off your home country carrier network access. Double check you have turned off roaming so you won’t get charged accidentally by your home carrier.
- Launch an Internet Calling App to Make Calls
Once you’re all connected, you make calls using your phone just like normal except you’ll launch a calling app first. Popular apps such as WhatsApp and Skype will allow you to make free app-to-app calls. But if you need to call a local hotel or a friend back home who doesn’t have the app, lesser known apps like QuickCall.com and Viber offer low cost prepaid rates, so you can call landlines and mobile phones directly for pennies a minute with no contract obligations.
The benefits of this travel hack are myriad, namely that you don’t have to swap your SIM card, or rely on spotty or insecure free public Wi-Fi. Most portable hotspots will allow you to connect multiple devices such as your laptop, phone and tablet, and usually they’re lower cost than any international calling/roaming plans that a US carrier offers.
For instance, at the Narita Airport in Japan, you may go to the Telecom Square booth on the way to the train station and rent a Wi-Fi mobile hotspot device for 1,260 JPY/day ($11USD/day). In Indonesia, buying a mobile hotspot in the country will set you back around $35USD and includes a generous budget of data.
In many countries, you can buy prepaid mobile hot spots at convenience stores as well as “telecom shops” that sell mobile services. Make sure you ask which is the best provider for speed and network coverage, though—just like in the US, there are differences. This is especially important if you’ll be doing any island or rural exploration.
Hopefully, this travel hack will make your next international trip much more convenient (and less expensive). It’s been a total lifesaver for me, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the coverage I’ve gotten even in remote rural and island locations.