If all this international phone plan business feels overwhelming, you’re not alone. That’s why call and text apps were created.
Not only can an app be easier to use (you’ll just need to worry about a Wi-Fi connection or data), it can be cheaper too. And chances are you’ve heard about and maybe even used some of these apps before.
OK, while we did say these apps could be cheaper than buying an international plan, you’ll need to be careful. Unless you’re connected to Wi-Fi, using any app on your phone means you’ll be paying for data.
If you’re lucky enough to have a phone that runs on a GSM network, you might be able to swap your SIM card out for one that works overseas. (And some CDMA phones allow you to do this too.)
If you’re not sure if your phone uses a GSM network, you can check which network it uses with this guide. (If you’re on an AT&T or T-Mobile plan, chances are your phone uses GSM.)
Once you’ve confirmed your phone uses GSM, you’ll then need to unlock it, which can take several hours and requires you to make a few calls.
It’s usually cheaper to buy a prepaid SIM card once you’ve reached your destination, though you can buy them in the states if you really want to. Be aware, though, that once you pop in your new international SIM card, you won’t be able to check messages sent to your US phone number.
You don’t need to be Jason Bourne to take advantage of burner phones overseas.
Grabbing a cheap prepaid phone once you reach your destination may be less expensive than paying for an international plan, especially if you plan on staying abroad for a while. But check the fine print first.
For instance, when we moved to Japan for a few years, we ditched our stateside cell phone plan (sorry, Verizon!) for an NTT plan and phone. One thing we didn’t know at the time is that our contract was re-upped without our knowledge. So by the time we were leaving—three years later—we had to pay an early termination fee to close out our contract.
Long story short: if you’re buying a phone and plan overseas, research all the fine print beforehand.