Using Your Mobile Phone Abroad: Everything You Need To Know

August 12th, 2014

Everything you need to know before taking your mobile phone abroad. Find out how much it costs, what are the pitfalls and how to reduce data roaming charges.

Going Abroad

Each year, an increasing number of us are travelling abroad. Whether you’re travelling for business or for pleasure, your mobile phone is an essential tool for staying in touch, finding your way around and also researching local destinations.

In this article, we present our guide to everything you need to know when using your phone abroad.

Roaming: Cost of Calling & Texting

When travelling abroad with your UK SIM card, you should expect to pay more than when you’re in the UK. Normally, within the UK, it’s possible to use the inclusive minutes and texts that are included on your contract. When travelling abroad, this won’t normally be possible. Instead, you’ll need to pay extra for every call and text you make from your phone. You will also need to pay when receiving an incoming phone call (normally free when you’re in the UK).

The amount you’re charged for using your phone abroad will depend very much on the network you’re using. It’ll also depend on the country you’re visiting. In general, it’s much cheaper if you’re using your phone in the European Union (this is because mobile roaming charges are capped in the EU). Outside of Europe, you can expect to pay up to £1.50/minute and 50p per text. Bundles will sometimes be available to reduce these costs.

Typical roaming charges compare as follows:

Activity Roaming within the EU Roaming outside the EU
Making phone calls 18.8p/minute £1.50/minute
Receiving phone calls 4.9p/minute £1.00/minute
Sending Text Messages 5.9p per message 50p per message
Receiving Text Messages Free Free

You can find the exact costs by referring to the table on your mobile operator’s website: see the web pages from EE (includes Orange and T-Mobile), O2, Three and Vodafone.

The costs for people calling you. There are no extra charges for the person calling you or sending you a text message. Providing you’re still using a UK-based SIM card, family and friends continue to pay the standard rates when calling you or sending you a text. All roaming charges are incurred by the person going abroad (hence why there’s an additional charge for receiving a phone call).

Voicemail. You should be aware of additional charges for receiving and picking up voicemails when travelling abroad. If calls go to answer phone, you may still be charged for receiving a call abroad. To avoid these charges, disable your voicemail before you leave the UK.

Free calling & texting when travelling abroad. If you’re travelling abroad to one of 16 selected countries (includes the USA, Italy, France, Australia and Republic of Ireland), Three’s Feel At Home offer allows you to call and text using UK allowances. You can pick up a free Pay As You Go SIM card: a £10 top-up gives you 500MB of data, 100 minutes & 3000 text messages. Allowances can be used abroad in any Feel At Home country.

Full Price Guide. For full details on how much your network charges for using your phone abroad, it’s worth consulting their official roaming price guide. Please see the EE, O2, Three and Vodafone websites.

Roaming: Cost of Smartphone Data Usage (3G/4G)

Smartphones StackedRoaming costs really begin adding up if you use data abroad. Data is consumed by most smartphone apps and is normally charged on a “per megabyte” basis. Example activities that consume data include reading your e-mail, sending instant messages (e.g. WhatsApp) and viewing maps on your phone. For an indication of how much data will be consumed by different apps, see our guide to download limits.

The typical rates for data roaming are 19.8p/MB within the EU and approximately £8/MB outside the EU. The average smartphone user consumes about 10MB per day so this corresponds to £2/day in Europe and £80/day outside the EU. Thankfully, bundles are available to reduce the costs of using your smartphone in Europe. Operators are also required to notify you if your data roaming bill reaches €50 (about £40). This can help you to avoid unexpected charges.

Data Roaming within the EU Roaming outside the EU
Using Smartphone Data 19.8p/MB Approx. £8/MB
Approx. Daily Charge £2/day with EU data bundle Approx. £80
Data Roaming Cap £40 £40

Bundles for Cheap Data in USA, Italy, France & Others

If you’re visiting one of sixteen selected countries (includes the USA, Italy, France, Australia, the Republic of Ireland and others), it’s worth signing up for a Pay As You Go SIM card from Three.

By getting one of Three’s Pay As You Go SIM cards and inserting it into an existing unlocked smartphone, you can take advantage of the Feel At Home offer. Feel At Home allows you to use your airtime allowances abroad at no extra charge. On Pay As You Go, a £10 top-up gives you 500MB of data, 100 minutes and 3000 texts (all available to be used abroad). A £15 top-up gives you 25GB of data, 300 minutes and 3000 texts (again, also available to be used abroad).

Network Minutes Texts Internet Monthly
Cost
Three 100 3,000 500MB £10.00
Three 300 3,000 25GB £15.00

The “All in One” Pay As You Go tariffs can be used with Three’s “Feel At Home” offer. The inclusive minutes, texts and internet can be used in the UK as well as abroad in any “Feel At Home” country. The £15 bundle has a fair usage policy of 25GB/month when in a “Feel At Home” country.

For more information, please see our full review of the Feel At Home offer. You can also refer to the info on Three’s website.

Order Three Pay As You Go SIM card (Free with £10 top-up) »

Bundles for Cheap Data in Europe

Main article: Best SIM cards for roaming in Europe

If you’re travelling within the EU, the best thing to do is to grab an EU data roaming bundle. For £2/day, a roaming data bundle allows you to consume up to 25MB of data on your smartphone. This should easily be enough for staying in touch with your friends, researching destinations and using mapping applications.

EU FlagOur top pick is the Vodafone Data Traveller bundle. This is available on Vodafone’s Pay As You Go tariff. For £2 per day, you’ll get 25MB of data to use across Europe.

To get started, simply order a free Vodafone Pay As You Go SIM card and top-up by £10 or more. This will allow you to use your smartphone in Europe for 5 days. As it’s not linked to your normal phone contract, you also don’t need to worry about a surprise bill after you arrive home.

Order Vodafone Pay As You Go SIM card (Free) »

For a full review of data offerings in Europe, see our guide to the best SIM cards for data roaming in Europe.

How to Disable Roaming Data

To avoid the high costs of roaming data when travelling outside the EU, we strongly recommend turning off data roaming on your handset. Follow the instructions appropriate for your handset:

  • iPhone: Navigate to Settings > General > Mobile Data > Data Roaming and select Off.
  • Android: Navigate to Settings > Wireless & networks > Mobile networks and un-tick the ‘Data roaming’ box.
  • BlackBerry: Navigate to Device Options > Mobile Network > Data Services and select ‘Off whilst roaming’. Press the menu button followed by “Save”.
  • Windows Phone: In the Applications list, navigate to Settings > Mobile > Data roaming and select ‘Don’t roam’.

Even after turning off data roaming, you can still access the internet abroad using free wi-fi hotspots (e.g. in your hotel or a cafe). Any data used over wi-fi will not appear on your mobile phone bill.

Buying a SIM Card When Abroad

SIM cardDepending on the length of your trip, it can sometimes be cheaper to buy a SIM card in your country of travel. This would be a new Pay As You Go SIM card that slots into the back of your existing handset. It’ll give you the same calling rates as local residents of that country (the savings are particularly big when using data on your smartphone outside the EU).

Before you can use a foreign SIM card in your handset, you’ll need to make sure your phone is unlocked for use on other mobile networks. Your handset may already be unlocked, otherwise you may need to pay up to £20 to unlock it. We’ve got in-depth guides on unlocking your iPhone, your Galaxy S3, your Galaxy S2 and your BlackBerry smartphone.

The following table shows the savings that can be expected from buying a SIM card in your country of travel. Whilst the cost of calling and texting can vary substantially on SIM cards from different countries, it’s normally cheaper than using a UK SIM card providing you’re travelling outside of Europe.

Activity Using Your UK SIM (Roaming Outside EU) Using Local SIM
Making phone calls £1.50/minute 20p per minute
Receiving phone calls £1.00/minute Free
Sending Text Messages 50p per message 10p per message
Using Smartphone Data £8 per MB (approx £80/day) < £10 per month
Minimum Charge None ~£10 (minimum top-up)

For travel within the EU, it’s normally better to instead get a specialist SIM card from within the UK.

In the UK, you can obtain a new SIM card without any ID. However, this is not the case in all countries. For security reasons, many countries require proof of identity before you’re able to obtain a SIM card. Your passport or UK driving license will normally suffice as a form of ID. We recommend checking the local regulations before you go abroad. It’s also worthwhile to bring your passport to the mobile phone store.

Finally, when obtaining a SIM card from abroad, make sure you obtain the right size of SIM card. Mobile phones use one of three types of SIM card: Standard SIM, Micro SIM and Nano SIM. You will need to choose the size that is appropriate for your phone. To find out which one you require, see our in-depth guide to SIM card types.

SIM Form Factors
There are three different types of SIM cards. From left to right: Standard SIM, Micro SIM and Nano SIM. You will need to get the right one for your handset. Figure adapted from Wikipedia (CC-licensed).

Your Handset’s Compatibility with Foreign Mobile Networks

In the UK, our mobile phone networks are based on GSM technology. Most other countries now also use GSM-based networks. Hence, a handset purchased in the UK should work almost universally across the whole world. Before using your phone abroad, double-check to make sure it’s unlocked. You should also check the local networks: make sure they’re using a frequency available on your handset.

There are a couple of countries that have non-GSM networks. Non-GSM networks include Sprint (USA), Verizon (USA), China Telecom (China), PCCW (Hong Kong) and LG U+ (South Korea). You won’t be able to use a UK handset on these networks but your handset should automatically pick up a GSM-based alternative.

A full list of GSM-based mobile networks can be found on the GSMA’s Mobile World Live website.

Using Wi-Fi Networks

WifiWhen travelling abroad, your mobile operator will never charge you for using a public wi-fi hotspot. You can often get online for free by making use of wi-fi networks in hotels, restaurants, coffee shops, train stations and airports. This can be combined with a voice-over-IP application such as Skype for cheap calls home.

Please note: most public wi-fi hotspots are totally unencrypted. Any information transferred over the network can be potentially intercepted and read by other people. For this reason, you should avoid sensitive activities when using public wi-fi (e.g. online banking). You should also refrain from transmitting personal data or logging in to websites that don’t yet use SSL encryption. Ideally, only use websites with https at the start of the address (they’re encrypted and provide much better security).

Calling Home

If you’re calling home, you can save substantially by asking your friends and family to call you instead. This is because the cost of receiving a phone call abroad is much less than the cost of initiating the phone call yourself. For a 10 minute phone call, you can save £1.39 within the EU simply by asking the other person to call you back immediately. Outside of Europe, the saving is £5 for a 10 minute call.

Activity Within the EU Outside the EU
Making phone calls 18.8p/minute £1.50/minute
Receiving phone calls 4.9p/minute £1.00/minute
Potential Saving 13.9p/minute 50p/minute

Remember, even when you’re abroad, your friends and family will always pay the standard rate to call you on a UK number. Your friends can still use their inclusive minutes. The only difference to being in the UK is you’ll pay an extra fee to receive the call abroad.

Saving Money by using Skype over Wi-Fi

SkypeA cheaper way of calling home is to use a voice-over-IP application such as Skype. You’ll need to have the Skype application installed on your smartphone and you’ll need access to a wi-fi connection.

With Skype, calls to a UK landline number are 1.7p per minute. For calls to a UK mobile number, expect to pay 5.8p per minute. This represents a substantial saving over what your mobile network charges.

Skype Calling Over 3G/4G

If you don’t have access to a wi-fi network, it may be possible to make a Skype phone call using a 3G/4G connection. A Skype voice call consumes approximately 0.55MB of data every minute. If you were to roam on a UK SIM card, the data charges would be approximately 10.9p/minute within the EU and £4.40/minute outside the EU. This should be added to the per-minute cost of using Skype’s service (the total amount is likely to be more expensive than making a normal phone call). If you were to instead use a SIM card purchased locally, Skype calling over 3G can be a more competitive option.

Please note that some mobile operators block the use of Skype on a 3G connection. Skype calls are not always possible using 3G due to bandwidth limitations.

Voicemail when Abroad

EarthIf you miss or reject an incoming phone call, it’ll normally be diverted to your mobile network’s voicemail service. This is problematic when travelling abroad: on some networks the call is diverted at international roaming rates. You’ll be paying the roaming charges even without answering the phone.

The best way of avoiding voicemail charges when travelling abroad is to temporarily disable the voicemail service. Call the following phone number to disable voicemail for your account:

Network Disabling Voicemail Re-enabling Voicemail
EE 150 150
O2 1760 (automated) 1750 (automated)
Orange 150 150
Three 333 333
T-Mobile 150 150
Vodafone 1210 (automated) 1211 (automated)

Rather than your friends and family leaving you a voicemail, it’s more cost-efficient for them to send you a text message instead. They’ll pay the standard UK text message rate when sending you a message (normally included on most contracts) and you won’t pay a single penny to receive the message. You’ll only pay if you respond to the message.

After returning to the UK, be sure to follow the instructions above to re-enable the voicemail service.

Instant Messaging Apps

WhatsApp & Facebook Messenger

Instant messaging apps allow you to save on text messaging when travelling abroad.

One way to save money on text messages abroad is to use instant messaging applications such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. They require a working data connection but the amount of data consumed is normally minimal (you can send around 300 text messages in only 1MB). Because of minimal data consumption, the costs of instant messaging will normally be less than sending a standard text message. The downside is you’ll need to enable data (other applications can use data in the background and can hence quickly build up a large bill for roaming).

If you choose to use an instant messaging app, be sure to set it up whilst you’re still at home and whilst the UK SIM card is still in your phone. Even if you decide to use a different SIM card abroad, the application will remain registered to your UK-based phone number. This will make it much easier for your friends to contact you.

Maps

Access to Maps and GPS location can be incredibly helpful when you’re travelling abroad. They can help you get from A-to-B in a new city and to find local restaurants, attractions and hotels. Smartphones are a great tool for accessing maps but you’ll normally need a working data connection in order to use the app. One way of avoiding this limitation is to download the maps before you leave home.

On Google Maps for Android, it’s straightforward to make your maps available offline. Start by finding a map of the area you’d like to visit (e.g. type in the name of the city in the search box at the top of the screen). Once it’s loaded, tap the menu button followed by “Your places”. Under “Offline maps”, there’ll be an option to “Save a new offline map”. After downloading the offline map, it’ll remain available without an internet connection. Please note: you’ll still need data for search, navigation and transit directions.

Other Useful Applications

Google TranslateThere are a whole range of applications that can also be useful when travelling abroad. Some recommended applications and resources include:

Google Translate. The free Google Translate application for iPhone and Android can help you to break down language barriers. Supporting translations between 80 languages, the application also features voice recognition and optical character recognition. This should help you to converse with local people and to read signs and restaurant menus in another language. Google Translate requires a working data connection.

Touchnote. Touchnote is an app for iPhone and Android that allows you to create and send your own personalised postcards. You can upload a photo taken on your smartphone and add a personalised message to the back of the card. Touchnote will then print the finished postcard and will deliver it anywhere in the world for £1.49. It’s a great alternative to the time-consuming task of finding a post office and buying stamps locally.

Tripadvisor. Tripadvisor have a range of free travel guides for Android. The applications feature restaurant reviews, a list of popular tourist attractions and suggested travel itineraries. The applications don’t require a working data connection (just make sure you download the app and related databases before leaving home).

GOV.UK: Foreign Travel Advice. Whilst it’s not an application, a website that all travellers should utilise is the GOV.UK page with foreign travel advice. GOV.UK hosts the UK Government’s official travel advice for countries around the world. There’s information pertaining to health, safety, local laws and customs. You can also find out on entry requirements and recommended vaccinations.

We hope you have a safe and enjoyable trip!

    

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About Ken

Ken Lo

I'm a freelance writer specialising in mobile technology. I've been blogging at Ken's Tech Tips since 2005 with the aim of demystifying mobile technology for the rest of us.

Before writing about mobile technology, my background was in space & atmospheric physics. I have also worked in software development. Nowadays, I help companies to explain mobile technology to their customers. Please check out my portfolio or get in touch for more information. I'm also on Google+.

Your Comments

We'd love to hear your thoughts and any questions you may have. So far, we've received 53 comments from readers. You can add your own comment here.

  1. Sam said:

    Hi, I’m a Tesco mobile customer and I’m unable to use whatsapp on public wifi, (eg in shops or airports) either in the UK or abroad. Private wifi, such as someone else’s home network, is fine. I use a nexus 4. When I open whatsapp and try to message, I get a ‘ not secure’ message and an error message stating that the app can’t be used from this connection.
    Is this a setting on the phone or a block by Tesco mobile and is there any way around it please?

    Finally as my nexus 4 is erratic now, I’m updating to a Samsung S5 or Note 4 soon. I love google’s native keyboard. Is Swype the closest approximation on another android phone – and does OK Google work? Many thanks!

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Sam,
      Regarding WhatsApp, have you taken a look at this WhatsApp help article? Hopefully it’ll help to solve your problems! Tesco Mobile isn’t able to block WhatsApp over a wi-fi connection.
      Regarding the keyboard, you’ll be glad to know that you can also download this onto Samsung devices. I personally use the Google Keyboard on my Galaxy Note and it works incredibly well! If you’d like to look at alternatives, I’d also recommend downloading SwiftKey.
      Ken

  2. Dinah said:

    Excellent site. Do you know if there is a way for people who call from UK on my UK Tesco Mobile number to go to voicemail and get my greeting which tells them that they should email me and not leave a message…so that i won’t be charged for their call? I know I can just switch off voicemail but as they are for business I would prefer callers to hear my message so they have an alternative way to reach me.

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Dinah,
      Thanks for your comment. As far as I’m aware, the only way to do this would be to keep your phone turned off abroad or to leave it in “flight mode” where it wouldn’t connect to the mobile network abroad. As soon as your phone connects to the foreign network, Tesco Mobile will remember that it was last seen on a network abroad. Hence, it would forward your call over to the other country (and the call would subsequently need to be diverted back to your UK voicemail). If you never connect to the mobile network abroad then it wouldn’t be necessary for Tesco to do this.
      Ken

  3. Karen Soley said:

    I have an iphone 5 that has just been unlocked by Orange/EE. I would like to send this out to my son in New Zealand. Will it work with a New Zealand Sim? Or will he have to pay for further unlocking to be able to use it out there?
    Kind regards, Karen

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Karen,
      Yep – once you’ve unlocked the iPhone from Orange UK, it’ll work in New Zealand without the need for further unlocking. New Zealand mostly uses the same frequencies as we do in the UK so the iPhone should would on any of the major networks.
      Hope this helps,
      Ken

  4. emma ryan said:

    Hi there am off to Tunisia in a cpl weeks. I just wanted to know if using my mobile to call a UK landline will it just show my number or show as an international call?

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Emma,
      The caller ID will continue to show your normal UK phone number (that’s assuming you’re still using your UK SIM card abroad).
      Hope this helps and have a great trip!
      Ken

      1. emma ryan replied:

        Hi ken thanks for quick response.
        So if Iam calling a landline that doesn’t have my number it will still just show my number as it will be a UK Simcard?
        Thanks

        1. Ken Lo
          Ken replied:

          Hi Emma,
          That’s right… as long as you’re using your normal UK SIM card then the caller ID will still continue to be your normal UK phone number :)
          Ken

  5. Jassim said:

    Hi ken

    Now I’m in Germany I call from my uk phone abroad to my cuz that has a Qatari phone number and he is in Egypt every time I call him I don’t get a ring on my phone to hear that’s it’s ringing yesterday was fine but today it was weird please help me thnx

  6. David said:

    Hi Ken

    I’m in New York at present and want to use my UK O2 Pay as you go mobile to make calls within the US. What, if any, prefixes to I need to add before the US number?
    Thanks.

    David

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi David,
      Thanks for your comment. You’ll need to prefix US phone numbers with the international dialling code for US phone numbers. Do this by adding a + symbol at the start of your US number (you can get the + sign by long-pressing the zero button on the dialling pad). To give an example, 1-800-555-0199 would become +1-800-555-0199.
      Hope this helps and enjoy your trip in the US!
      Ken

  7. sophie said:

    Hiya! thank you for your very useful page. I’m going on a year abroad to the usa next year but I live in France and have been wanting to get a new phone for a while now. If i bought a ” galaxy s4 mini” here in france but bought a sim (maybe year contract) over there:
    1. would that work ?
    2. would I then be able to use it when i come back from the usa and will be living in the uk? so basically could i then switch over to a new contract in the uk on the same phone?
    thank you so much for our help!

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Sophie,
      Thanks for your comment! You can buy a SIM-free or unlocked smartphone in France and still use it when you’re in the US. There are only two networks on which you can use a European smartphone: AT&T and T-Mobile USA. Be sure to double-check your smartphone is unlocked (otherwise it’ll only work on the specific network in France from which you bought the handset). For more information, take a look at my guide on using a UK smartphone in the USA (smartphones sold in France are the same model as those sold in the UK so the same info applies for French & UK devices). In answer to your second question, this would also be possible if you have an unlocked handset :)
      If you’re also considering buying the handset in the UK, I would recommend you investigate the Moto G 5-inch (£145 SIM-free and unlocked). It’s newer, better and cheaper than the Galaxy S4 Mini (£214 SIM-free and unlocked) – the display is higher resolution, the software is newer and the processor is a bit faster. Maybe worth a look as I find lots of other readers are currently choosing this handset as a SIM-free purchase!
      Hope this helps,
      Ken

  8. Aleiya said:

    Good day. Thanks for this article. Just to clear up matters. My friends have instructed me to put my android phone on airplane mode when I travel. That way – mobile data is off but I can still use whatsapp to communicate. However you stated: “The downside is you’ll need to enable data” about whatsapp. So now i’m a bit confused. I want to be able to use whatsapp when travelling but not other data using products. How can I do this?

    Oh and, if I go into airplane mode, will that also stop my voicemails?

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Aleiya,
      Thanks for your comment. If you place your phone into flight mode, the mobile network connectivity will be disabled (i.e. you won’t be able to use your phone for calls, texts or mobile internet). You can still use wi-fi to access the internet (e.g. in your hotel, at the airport or in a coffee shop). This will allow you to continue using WhatsApp but only when you’re connected to wi-fi (you can’t use WhatsApp when you’re out and about).
      With regards to airplane mode, your voicemails will continue to go to the normal voicemail service (you might be charged for this if you’d normally be charged for voicemail in the UK). If you’d like to disable voicemail for the trip, it’s better to use the shortcodes in the article above.
      Hope this helps,
      Ken

  9. Al Goss said:

    Ken, this is a great site, thank you! My contract with Vodafone has just expired leaving me with an HTC One S. I am moving to Threes 321 because I am a light user. However I am off to France soon and USA after that and Australia early in the new year. I dont think I can use 321 at no extra cost in these places. Someone mentioned an add on, but does that lock me into another type of Three PAYG mknthly contract or can I resume 321 when I get home? I am confused.

    Thanks

    Al

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Al,
      Thanks for your comment. The Feel At Home offer can be used on PAYG but you’ll need to have an All in One bundle. Adding this bundle won’t tie you into any form of contract: you’re still on the 321 tariff (only with a 30 day bundle extra on the account). If you don’t renew the bundle or if you use up the allowances included in the bundle, you still pay the normal rates of 3p/minute, 2p/text and 1p/MB when inside the UK. You can get a SIM card from Three via this link.
      Hope this helps!
      Ken

  10. Adiren said:

    I recently visited Thailand and activated Vodafone roaming.
    A huge disappointment and hassle. I initially could make calls but could not get data even when the network status was strong. Over 3 days worked with vodafone and could then use data and could not make calls or receive calls.

    Would NEVER go with Vodafone again as they charged me for a service that I could not use.
    Big fail..

  11. Eva Talbini said:

    I have a US based AT&T serviced iPhone and will be traveling to the UK. I don’t want people to know that I’m in the UK. When US people call me, will they hear the UK double ringer tone (ring, ring…..ring, ring) or they still hear the US ringer tone?

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Eva,
      Thanks for your comment. It’s a really interesting question about the foreign ring tone. As far as I’ve been able to ascertain, there isn’t a way to force the US ringtone to appear when people call you (there’s a forum thread over at Vodafone UK discussing this very issue). It’s possible that AT&T can offer this service (though it’s probably unlikely) – you could check with Customer Services just to be sure.
      Ken

  12. David O said:

    Great in depth detail here. One thing that we have experienced is the WIFI disconnecting when you are using it for whatever reason. Usually poor reception. If you do not see this then the service may flip back to the overseas network that your providers is working with. This leads to very high charges again. There is a lot of activity in this field but again there has been stories of people buying a bundle from the main provider in the UK before they go abroad and then still being hit with charges. We still prefer to use Go sim or Telestial as they have been providing international sim cards for years now and are specialists in their fields.

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Thanks David! You make a good point about the wi-fi disconnecting: it’s always best to disable roaming data if you don’t have a suitable bundle for using data abroad. Rather than switching to 3G when the wi-fi connection is lost, it’ll simply stay quiet waiting for the wi-fi to come back. You also make a really good point on specialist SIM cards for travelling abroad. It’s definitely worthwhile to check them out if you’re one of the people who regularly travels abroad!
      Ken

  13. Joe said:

    Ken

    Very useful as always. As an aside Google Translate on Android (not sure about iOS) lets you download language packs via wi-fi so you can then use without a data connection. Another task to add to your holiday check list :)

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hey Joe,
      Thanks – that’s a really awesome (and really useful) tip! Anyone reading with Google Translate on their Android smartphone can follow the instructions here to download offline language packs.
      Ken

  14. Alistair said:

    I ordered a PAYG sim from Three before leaving for Australia, but it arrived as I was leaving for the airport. Attempts to get them to activate it remotely have failed.

    I can buy a new Sim and have it sent to my home so my elderly parents can forward it to me, but they barely know how to switch a phone on.

    Is there a network that will supply a card that I can activate here in Australia where I will be working for a few months? Preferably one that will give me good rates both back home and here. I will only use it for occasional texts home and they might ring me very month, so I want them to only pay local call rates.

    I am a very moderate user, and don’t use my phone for data. Because of small usage I prefer credit that does not expire for 6 months.

  15. Chris said:

    Hi Ken,

    I am traveling to China next year and am taking Windows phone. Will it be better to buy a sim over there, or is there a sim cheap enough in the UK that I could use. My phone is unlocked.

    Regards
    Chris

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Chris,
      It’ll be really expensive to using your UK SIM card in China – expect to pay around £1.50/minute, 50p/text and £8/MB (approx £80/day for using the internet). The best thing to do would be to buy a local SIM card (either from China Mobile or China Unicom) – have a look at this helpful article over at TravelChinaGuide!
      Cheers,
      Ken

  16. Senko said:

    Hi Ken,

    I use a Droid Mini/Motorola and will be traveling to India this summer. Do you have any tips as far as SIM cards go? I believe they use GSM and not CDMA in India. What should I do in order to use my smartphone in India?

    -Thanks

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Senko,

      Thanks for your comment! According to the Motorola website, the Droid Mini works on the following GSM networks:
      EDGE/GSM 850/900/1800/1900
      HSPA/UMTS 850/900/1900/2100
      LTE 700/1700 (Bands 13 & 4)
      Hence, providing your phone is GSM unlocked, you should be able to pick up a local SIM card when travelling in India. I’d recommend checking this guide on Wikipedia for a list of compatible GSM networks.

      Hope this helps!

      Ken

  17. Alan said:

    Hi Ken,

    I have a uk Orange pay as you go sim and would like to use in Hong Kong, however, when I switch on my iPhone 4 there is no network. I have turned data roaming on and manually serached for different carriers but none of them work.

    Any ideas how I can get my PAYG sim card to work?

    Thanks

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Alan,

      Thanks for your comment! I’ve double checked with Orange and all of their Pay As You Go customers should be automatically set up to use their phone abroad. Hence, there shouldn’t be a problem using your phone in Hong Kong. You’ve also tried manually searching for networks (I presume you’ve also tried the Automatic setting?). My only recommendation would be to check out EE’s website: apart from that I couldn’t give you an answer!

      As an aside, if you have an unlocked iPhone, I’d strongly recommend buying a local SIM card. Pay As You Go SIM cards are great value in Hong Kong: you’ll definitely save a ton of money compared to roaming on Orange.

      Ken

  18. Kenny said:

    Hi Ken

    You are clearly a man in the know! It is great that you are sharing your knowledge. Thank you. May I add to your inbox please?!

    I am about to begin a career where I will be living and travelling between countries (across several continents). It seems all use GSM.

    I need to buy a new handset, but at the moment have no preference. Could you advise please?

    Regarding SIM, I had initially intended to buy a pay-as-you-go SIM. However, I will be in Guatemala and Australia for continuously long periods (1 year +), and so perhaps a contract might be preferable to pay-as-you-go in these countries?

    Any advice would be welcomed!

    With best wishes
    Kenny

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Kenny,
      Thanks for your comment! You’re right: it’s definitely good to go with an unlocked GSM handset. To ensure you can use it around the world, make sure it’s quad-band: it’ll need to support GSM at 850MHz, 900MHz, 1800MHz and 1900 MHz (900MHz and 1800MHz are used in Europe, 850MHz and 1900MHz in North America). If you know in advance the countries you’ll be visiting then you can check the 2G/3G/4G frequency bands for the country you’re visiting via this link.

      I don’t have any specific phone to recommend: it depends on price, features required, etc. As a good and reasonably priced option, I would suggest the 16GB Moto G: it’s got a 4.5-inch high definition display, works around the world (quad-band GSM & quad-band 3G) and is available for just £160 SIM-free. Probably the best-specced unlocked GSM phone you’ll get for the price.

      And yes: for extended trips in one country you’ll normally be better off getting a SIM Only contract. You’ll need to check local regulations to see whether a contract is available to you: you often need to undergo a credit check which can be difficult if you’re new to the country.

      Hope this helps and safe travels for 2014!

      Ken

  19. Seb said:

    Hi Ken,

    This website is very useful for technophobes like myself. I live in the UK but am going home to New Zealand for a month over christmas. I have an iphone 4s but need to keep in regular contact with the UK for business. Im worried that I may incurr alot of costs. Would I be right in thinking if i switch of my data roaming, and enable wifi at my parents house I will be able to use whatsapp, skype and facetime, completely freely whilst in the region of the wifi? I was thinking of getting an ipad as I was so worried i would incurr alot of charges, but if simply by conecting to my parents wifi I could still keep in good contact, then i wouldnt bother!

    Look forward to hearing form you.
    Seb

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Seb,

      Thanks for your comment. You’re right: as long as you turn off data roaming and use only wi-fi connectivity you’ll be able to use WhatsApp, Skype & Facetime for no additional charge. This is because the traffic doesn’t pass through your mobile connection. For extra peace of mind, you can even enable flight mode: wi-fi will still work and you can use WhatsApp, Skype & Facetime.

      If you’re planning to make regular calls or planning to send a SMS, you will of course pay the standard roaming rates. I suggest grabbing a Vodafone SIM card and using the Vodafone Passport offer. There’s only a 75p connection charge when you want to receive phone calls and a flat rate of 8p to send a text message. It works in New Zealand and 41 other countries.

      Hope this helps!

      Ken

  20. letty said:

    If you face time through a wifi net work will it still cost the same? I have off my cellular and data roaming. And every time my phone connects to the carrier from where I am.

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Letty,

      Your carrier won’t charge you for using FaceTime through a wi-fi network. In fact, they won’t even know about it as it bypasses their network fully!

      Ken

  21. chas said:

    When you’ve got a local sim in your phone in Thailand ask about the cheaper numbers to access the international service. For example – instead of the normal 00144…for the UK 00944… was only about 3p. But check current rates.

  22. Jenny Louis said:

    Great tips!! thanks!! I found another solution to stay connected while traveling over seas. Pre paid international SIM card for travelers!! I bought one like this from keepgo for my trip to Europe last moth and last year I used last moth Xcom global, and I very recommend on this option. it is cheap, reliable and works all over the world. try it!!

  23. Suraiya said:

    So if I was to go India with my UK SIM , and I bought a Indian SIM , would my bbm work or would I need a specific SIM?

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Suraiya,

      Thanks your comment. Assuming you don't have a BlackBerry Z10, you'll need to pick up a specific BlackBerry SIM whilst you're in India. BlackBerry devices won't work with a SIM thats designed for normal smartphones. For more information see this article.

      Hope this helps,

      Ken

  24. Sara said:

    Just wondering whether if I phone someone from somewhere abroad from my mobile and they are in the UK and I ring their mobile, do they get a charge too?
    Thank you

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Sara,

      Nope – there is no charge for them to receive your phone call. All of the roaming charges are picked up by the person who is travelling abroad.

      Hope this helps!

      Ken

  25. Lesley said:

    I would like to take customer calls abroad but when they ring they hear the foreign ring tone and hang up as they think I am on holiday but I would still like to take their call. Is there anyway that even though I am abroad if a customer rings they get the UK dial/ring tone.

  26. ket said:

    can you sim to sim call internationally if both sims are Lebara and is it free of charge?

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi ket,

      No. The free network-to-network calls are only when you're within the UK. If the SIMs are roaming, both parties will need to pay roaming charges.

      Hope this helps,

      Ken

  27. Kathy Lance said:

    And here I was thinking taking a smart phone abroad would be easy as pie. I never expected it to be that complicated. Thanks for the heads up.

  28. Anne said:

    The tips about using my new smart phone abroad were so useful !Thank you for taking the trouble

  29. michelle said:

    i have a blackberry curve on a £36 a month contract, includes 500mb internet, i am going abroad do i pay extra for internet or does it come in with my plan?? also with the free Ap FACEBOOK do i get charged for notifications and friends writing on my wall etc?

  30. Katie Anderson said:

    The tips are very interesting and useful. Maybe there should be a little more information about the states in particular! (Simply because I will be travelling there for a long time). The website is great though, well written and easy to follow! Thanks!

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Thank you Katie!!! I will look into doing something for people travelling to the States!

      Ken

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