Preparing your smartphone for overseas travel

Knowing how to use a cellphone during international travel can be confusing. (Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images News/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Getting a passport and visa can be confusing. Coordinating travel connections can be trying. Packing the right clothes for a week-long international trip can be challenging.

And then there’s your cellphone.

Travelers who are perfectly comfortable with their smartphones at home often don’t know whether their phone will work overseas, and many fear exorbitant roaming charges.

Travel guide author Rick Steves says “horror stories you may hear about sky-high roaming fees are both dated and exaggerated.”

In Smarter Travel, Steves says while preparing for a trip, first confirm that your phone will work internationally.

“Find out your service provider’s global roaming rates for voice calls, text messaging and data roaming, and tell them which of these services you’d like to activate,” Steves says.

To minimize costs, you can limit your phone use to when Wi-Fi is available. If you prefer to not ask your provider to deactivate roaming options on your phone, you can switch it to Airplane Mode, and only turn on Wi-Fi when you are set to connect to the network.

Steves says Wi-Fi is easy to find in Europe, and most cafes will share their passwords if you buy something.

Remember that any public Wi-Fi network that doesn’t require a password is vulnerable to hackers — Steves says that if you’re not online, turn your Wi-Fi off, so your device isn’t visible to others.


Web surfing on the go

If you want to be able to connect to the Internet when Wi-Fi isn’t available, Steves suggest you set up data roaming with your service provider before your trip.

“If you do this, it costs about $25 for around 100 megabytes — enough to view 1,000 emails or 100 websites — more than you’ll likely need to bridge the gaps between reliable Wi-Fi,” Steves says.

Steves says budgeting data is easy.

“You can limit how much you use by switching your phone’s email settings from ‘push’ to ‘fetch.’ This way, you can ‘fetch’ or download your messages when you’re on Wi-Fi, rather than having them continuously ‘pushed’ to your device,” Steves says.

If you get an email with a large photo or other attachment, wait until you’re on Wi-Fi to download it.

Here are the international travel links for AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon.

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