Traveling abroad is one of those things that is pretty fun to do. I've traveled to Beijing, Toronto and Barcelona while working for Android Headlines. And I've had to figure out the best way to use my phone or phones while abroad in other countries. Obviously using my smartphone in Spain and Canada is much easier than China due to the different technology China uses for their 3G and LTE networks, as well as that firewall. Over the past year, I've learned some pretty useful tips for using your phone abroad and will be sharing them with all of you.
T-Mobile's Global Coverage
While it's probably not feasible for everyone to get a T-Mobile postpaid account just for traveling abroad, it is great if you get great T-Mobile coverage at home. I've used T-Mobile's Global Coverage in Canada, Spain and China, and it works beautifully. Just remember, you're getting unlimited EDGE speeds, not LTE. I do typically buy one of their data passes, which caps out at 500MB for $50. Which is actually the cheapest of the big four carriers in the US.
Sprint's International Data Add-On
Sprint has also added their own international data roaming plan to postpaid customers. It works almost identical to how T-Mobile's does. However the countries it's available in do differ. So make sure you check out Sprint's site before you head out on your trip abroad.
I learned about KnowRoaming shortly before heading to Barcelona for Mobile World Congress earlier this year. KnowRoaming basically has a sticker that goes on your SIM card and it stays dormant until you leave your home country. Once you land in another country, the sticker is now active as a roaming SIM card. Doesn't sound all that interesting does it? But here's the amazing part. KnowRoaming's roaming charges are pretty low, compared to others. Additionally, you can get unlimited data for around $8 per day. Which isn't bad at all. However, the unlimited data is not available in all countries, and is mostly limited to North America and Europe. You can learn more from their site.
Some major cities around the world do have a very large WiFi network that encompasses the entire city. For example, Barcelona has a free public WiFi. However it is pretty slow, and in certain areas it was unusable. However, if you're someone that doesn't need to be on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or other social networks while you're abroad, the free WiFi should work for most of you. As you can get enough bandwidth to send messages via Hangouts or WhatsApp or another messaging service similar to those. Additionally, WiFi is free, which is always a big perk.
A lot of airports, especially big gateway airports like London Heathrow, New York's JFK and others, have vending machines where you can pick up a prepaid SIM card. If you are going to be abroad for a while - I'd say more than a few days - I'd suggest picking one up. It'll be cheaper than roaming, and you'll also get priority on the tower. As most roaming customers are bumped below those postpaid and prepaid customers on a network's towers.
Avoid Making Phone Calls
If you think international roaming on data is expensive, making calls while roaming is even more expensive. Which is where VoIP services come in handy, as you are able to make calls without using minutes. If you're in another country, say the UK for this example, and you have a US number don't use it. If you can, grab a local number, or use your hotel's phone if possible. Usually when I travel abroad, I try not to call anyone, unless I absolutely have too.
Universal Power Adapters
Not every country uses the same power adapter as the US. Which is why it's important to get a few adapters so you are still able to charge your phone, laptop, or whatever else you bring with you abroad. I have a ton of EU and China adapters, but there are also some universal adapters out there that will work in every country. You can find them here.
If you are traveling abroad on vacation, then you should probably leave your phone alone a bit and take in the experience of traveling to London, Barcelona, Abu Dhabi, or wherever you're located. A number of destinations most people dream about going and never get to go. If you have to stick to EDGE speeds through T-Mobile or Sprint, then so be it. It should be the least of your worries.