PSA: Ways to stay connected while traveling overseas

Earlier this month, we sent two editors overseas to Berlin, Germany for IFA. That coverage was appropriately sponsored by XCom Global. Appropriately, because our two editors were coming from the United States with their United States-based carriers which, if one wasn’t careful, would lead to really high cellphone bills and a hard-to-explain expense report. Fortunately, not only was XCom Global helping us out by sponsoring our trip, but those fine folks also helped keep us connected as well.

Now, hold on, this isn’t an ad. Sure we’re thankful to XCom Global for hooking us up – literally – but it got us to thinking about connectivity and traveling abroad. There are a few different options one can pursue if traveling from the US overseas while still staying connected, so we thought we’d give some of them a look.

Staying connected

Living in a connected world is a wonderful thing after all. Staying connected to friends, work, family, work, colleagues, work, and work really is productive refreshing. If you’re like me who does 99% of traveling in your home country, this isn’t a really big deal. But once you step across those thicker lines on the map, things become very confusing. I had a personal experience with this just a couple of months ago, while vacationing in Canada.

First of all, what I did is something that’s very accessible to someone living in the United States – I bought a 1-month plan on T-Mobile. I was only planning on being in Canada for a couple of days – hardly worth the $60 plan, $10 SIM, plus tax etc that the plan costs. But as it happened, I was also planning on testing the network in my home area to potentially make the switch. FYI: I’m still on AT&T. Anyway…

celltowerCarrier versatility

But the fact remains that T-Mobile has wonderful connectivity in many countries around the world, and at the moment, Canada and Mexico are included in your US plan. Another carrier with world-wide connectivity is Project Fi. Honestly, what could be easier than taking out your phone and finding out that it’ll work just the same as it does at home? Since this is a PSA, I need to point out that in order to actually get data to work correctly in Canada, I had to turn on a “use data while roaming” switch, buried in the settings. As it happens, when you’re using T-Mobile in Canada, you’re actually “roaming” but without the high bills. But honestly, how the back-end stuff works doesn’t really matter to the average Joe. It just works. It should also be mentioned that other US carriers have similar deals with Canada, Mexico, or both – check your local listings.

MiFi

If you are traveling literally overseas, your local carriers also have foreign plans that you can pick up. AT&T in particular has “Passport” plan that gives you some data and calling overseas. Other carriers have their own equivalents, so maybe it’s worth a phone call. But what if that just won’t do? That’s when services like XCom Global come into play. These providers have MiFi hotspots that you can rent for, in XCom’s case $7.77 per day – lucky you! (See what I did there?) Basically these MiFi hotspots will handle all of your data needs if you’re on a short trip into a foreign country. I probably wouldn’t count on a service like this for any stay longer than a week, if that long, but for a short jaunt to the Duty-Free shop, services like this will suffice. Of course, the downside is, you get data, but no voice. But let’s face it, who uses voice these days? Especially with a multitude of data-centric communication platforms like Allo, Duo, What’s App and more, a MiFi hotspot might be just what the doctor ordered.

idol-3-sim-trayLocal SIM

But what if you absolutely positively have to be able to call and order pizza? Ok, we can help you there too. Most countries will have local-based SIM cards that you can buy with prepaid plans. You simply pop these SIMs into your phone, and suddenly you’re speaking French like a native. Well, actually, you’re still a stupid American speaking stupid English, but you are connected to a French network with a French phone number. And yes, for purposes of this paragraph, you are in France.

You won’t have your personal phone number, of course. And the other main caveat is your phone needs to be unlocked. Since unlocked phones are becoming more and more popular these days, that’s not as big an obstacle as it has been in the past. All the same, you should check to see if your phone is unlocked. Also, be wary of band support with your chosen device, lest you find yourself surfing the 2G highway.

Take a break

Of course, there is always one last option – unplug. Put your phone in your pocket, or drop it into airplane mode and make it a nice camera. Connect when you find WiFi, but otherwise, enjoy your time abroad. Granted that advice doesn’t work when you’re at IFA for work, but it’s still worth mentioning.

It should also be mentioned that this isn’t necessarily a comprehensive list of every option ever. There may be other ways you stay connected while traveling abroad. Which is what comments are for. Got a tip or trick about any of this that you’d like to share? Hit us up down below and let us know how you roll across the pond.

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About The Author
Adam Doud
Adam joined the tech world after watching Jon Rubenstein demo the most epic phone ever at CES 2009. He is webOS enthusiast, Windows Phone fan, and Android skeptic. He loves the outdoors, is an avid Geocacher, Cubs/Blackhawks fan, and family man living in Sweet Home Chicago, where he STILL hosts monthly webOS meetups (Don’t call it a comeback!). He can be found tweeting all things tech as @DeadTechnology, or chi-town sports at @oneminutecubs. Read more about Adam Doud!