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Using your smartphone when travelling

Smartphones are a brilliant addition to our lives, especially when we travel. With a number of apps, GPS features as well as the ability to keep in touch with loved ones, the smartphone is quickly becoming the number one travel device.

But before you step on the plane to travel overseas, there are a number of things you need to check to ensure that you get the most out of your phone and don’t come back to any nasty bills at the end of your journey.

How do I know that my phone will work overseas?

This is one of the most important checks you need to make before travelling. Many countries have a wide range of differing frequencies as well as technologies. If your phone is not compatible with them, it will not work at all.

Luckily, most do operate on a cellular technology called GSM. Other options include CDMA, which works in the USA, but not very many other places. If your phone uses CDMA technology, it is probably not going to work elsewhere.

The easiest way to find out before you go is to chat to your travel agent. They will have a clear idea of which cell phone technologies work in which countries. You could even do a little research yourself on the internet before you leave. Bear in mind to double check frequencies as well. Most countries operate in the quad bands which are 850/900/1800/1900 MHz. Modern smartphones support all four.

Network locked?

The next thing to check is if your phone is locked for the network you use in your country. This used to be a massive problem in the past, but lately, not many phones are locked to a specific network only. Having said that, it doesn’t hurt to check. A locked phone will still work in another place, but you will pay your service providers roaming rates while out of the country. These can sometimes be very pricey.  Although many phones work across multiple networks, locked phones can be a problem if you are from the United States, Australia or New Zealand.  The benefit of unlocked phones is that they can use local sim cards, which significantly lowers costs.

What about roaming?

What is roaming? Well in most cases, a cellular contract does not include travel overseas. For this reason, the rates you are charged when travelling will be far higher than regular rates. This includes any call, texts, and even data usage. Many travellers who have no idea how roaming works are thrilled when their mobile phones work overseas. They are less ecstatic however, when they return to exorbitant bills. Always check roaming rates with your service provided before you leave overseas. If they are higher, rather use a local sim card when you arrive at your destination.

Other options

Should your current contract or phone prohibit you from making calls, sending texts or using data on your overseas trip, there are a few other options that you could consider.

  • Buy a budget phone

Should you just need to make the occasional call or SMS, consider a budget cell phone that will work in the countries you visit on your overseas trip. Now use local sim cards in it to operate in a cost-effective manner.

  • Rent a phone

Many airports, as well as hotels, allow for phone rentals. This is a good option, especially if you are not in a country for particularly long.

  • Consider a tablet

Don’t forget about tablets! Many have cell capabilities and can make calls. Always check that it will work in the countries you will be visiting and use a local sim to drive down costs even further.

  • Disposable phones

Well, we call it a disposable phone, because you probably will throw it away at the end of your holiday, but consider buying the cheapest phone you can find in the country you are visiting. This is a great idea if you are staying for a long period of time and just need to make some calls or send a few texts.

If you do take your expensive smartphone with you on a trip, make sure you take out adequate insurance. Petty thieves look for tourists to steal from, and mobile phones are a top target. Having said that, insurance may also help should you drop your phone and break it, or lose it overboard on a sunset cruise!