Stay Connected While Abroad | Cell Phone Options While Overseas

Many first-time study abroad students and travelers alike struggle to figure out the best option for staying connected, meaning how they will be able to use their cell phones while abroad. People use their phones for travel suggestions, maps, tickets, talking with friends and family and so much more, so it is important to consider every phone plan option. There are countless international phone plan options, but many seem expensive or difficult to understand. This guide outlines the multitude of options, allowing you to choose the plan that works best for you.


Free Options

The first option is to, well, not get any phone plan at all. Most large metropolitan areas have ample WiFi throughout the area, meaning you can easily get by on WiFi alone. Although you won’t be connected 24/7, you will still be able to access the internet in most schools, restaurants, train stations, etc. Some cities even have WiFi available throughout their public transportation networks. There are many different apps that allow you to message, call and video chat with people across the globe at no cost to you, including:

  • iMessage and FaceTime for iOS users
  • Skype, Google Duo, etc. for video chat
  • Google Voice
    • You can make free phone calls internationally, as long as you are connected to WiFi


Affordable (but sometimes difficult) Options

The most affordable non-free option is to get a foreign SIM card in whichever country you are studying in. Although they vary in each region, local phone carriers offer monthly SIM card plans at an affordable price. For example, the German phone carrier Aldi-Talk offers 5 GB data for only €15 per month. These plans do not require any long-term commitment, which is perfect for students studying abroad. The only caveat is the difficulty in signing up for these plans, as some countries require proof of residency or a local bank account to set up a plan. Look into your country’s regulations for more specific information.


Easy (but often expensive) Options

Most American phone carriers offer add-on international plans for your current phone plan. Below is a detailed breakdown of each major carriers’ offerings:

  • Verizon
    • TravelPass: Keep your current plan, while paying $10 each day that you use data
  • AT&T
    • International Day Pass: Keep your current plan, while paying $10 each day that you use data
  • T-Mobile
    • International Pass: Up to 512 MB data for $5 per day


Although it may seem tempting to just keep your current service and pay each time you need to use data, it will likely pay off in the long run to invest in a local SIM card, and to pay month by month for affordable data. If you are unsure about your options, or you think that paying for data is unnecessary, try out living without any data plan at all for the first few weeks, and then re-assess later.

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