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A Complete Guide to Using Your iPhone Abroad: For Dummies

This complete guide to using your iPhone overseas includes comprehensive details so that after reading, even the least tech-savvy people should know how to use their smartphones abroad by following the instructions below.

Whether you want to just use the Wi-Fi functions or if you want to go to the extent of using an international SIM card, adding international service, or even freezing your service in the States, the answers for how to do it are right here. For you Droid users out there, I believe you will get the same great information out of this post, but the specific images and instructions are straight from my iPhone. Just apply the same steps to your own smartphone, and hopefully you’ll get the same results! Let’s get to it.

Note: if you don’t happen to have a smartphone at all (OR if you’re interested in buying a cheap phone overseas), skip to the “Dumbphone Users” section at the end.

Related Post: Portable iPhone Charger: Anker 2nd Gen Astro E5 Review

Which Traveler Scenario Applies to You?

We’re going to break this down into three traveler scenarios:

Traveler A: Going on a short trip and wants Wi-Fi capability to keep in touch with family and friends or check Facebook, mail, post to Instagram, etc., but doesn’t necessarily need an international SIM card.

Traveler B: Going abroad for a significant amount of time and would like an international SIM card to have all the bells and whistles (calling and data capabilities) of the smartphone abroad.

Traveler C: Going on either a short or a long trip, and is interested in adding global services to your already existing plan, so that you can just pay a little more to use your phone overseas.

Choose the one that best fits your situation, and proceed.

Traveler A: Using Your iPhone Abroad for Wi-Fi Functions

You don’t need to do anything special to your phone before you go abroad, unless you are leaving for at least a month. If you are not going to be needing your US cellular service at all for a month or longer, I suggest that you put your service on hold. You should be able to do this online or by calling your carrier’s customer service. I know that for Verizon you should do this online in your MyVerizon account. If you call customer service and ask them to do it, they charge a $15 fee. On one trip to Mexico, we waited until we arrived, then we did this online and it took effect immediately. When you get back into the States, you can go back online and have them reactivate your service. If this is possible to do with your service, it could save you a significant amount of money that would otherwise be wasted.

Note: You will not be able to receive texts or calls while your service is on hold.

After you arrive in your destination country:

Step 1: In your Settings or by swiping up your control panel, turn Airplane Mode ON. This ensures you will not use any data or incur any unexpected charges. Why is this important? If you don’t freeze your account and your phone happens to pick up service in foreign countries (this depends on your carrier), you might be tempted to use apps or answer calls that will sky rocket your bill. International charges will be applied to your account, and the sight will not be pretty.

iPhone Settings

iPhone Airplane Mode

iPhone WiFi Settings

Step 2: In your Settings, select Wi-Fi, and turn your Wi-Fi ON. Airplane Mode automatically turns Wi-Fi OFF, so you will want to go in and turn it back ON. Your only chance to use your phone’s Wi-Fi-capable apps and functions will be when you are connected to Wi-Fi. If you aren’t picking up any free signals, you’ll want to head to a coffee shop or your hotel in hopes to find one.

Related Post: Forget Texting. Talk to Your Friends for Free with Voxer, Even Overseas!

Step 3: To connect to a Wi-Fi signal, go into your Settings, select Wi-Fi, and select a network. If your hotel or a restaurant provides Wi-Fi that takes a password, you’ll need to get the password from them, then select that network and type in the password to connect.

While connected to Wi-Fi, guess what you can do on an iPhone, even if you’re in a foreign country? (Sorry Droids, iPhones only on this one, also- these won’t work if you suspend your service) You can use:

FaceTime icon
iMessage icon

  • Facetime: A nice way to chat with family and friends back home as long as they have iPhones and are awake at the same time as you! (Mind the time zone!) Just open your Contacts, select the person you want to FaceTime, and hit “FaceTime” in your options. If they don’t have an iPhone, it won’t work.
  • iMessage: Yes, iMessage functions on Wi-Fi (between iPhones only), so you can text all you want with others who also have iPhones and iMessage, even overseas! You don’t have to do anything special to make iMessage work (as long as it is turned on in your Settings), your phone already knows what to do. Simply text anyone else with an iPhone. If you aren’t sure who has one, you can look back in your texts. Anyone you text that has blue text bubbles is an iPhone, anyone with green text bubbles is not.

You can find a great resource of travel apps here for even more options of what you can do with your phone abroad. One of those apps is Voxer, the free app I highly recommend for staying in touch with family and friends across the world. Any apps that function on Wi-Fi (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Mail, Voxer, etc.) are accessible as long as you are connected to Wi-Fi.

Related Post: iPhone Trick: How to Take the Perfect People Sunset Photos

The only functions you cannot do with your phone in this scenario are receive and answer phone calls and text anyone who doesn’t also use iMessage. And of course, you can’t access anything that needs Wi-Fi to function if you’re not connected to a Wi-Fi signal. I hope I have made that clear by now.

travel phone charger


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Traveler B: Using Your iPhone with an International SIM Card

Similar to Traveler A, if you will be gone for at least a month, go online to your account or call your carrier’s customer service and ask them to put your account on hold or freeze, and be sure to give the date of the day after you leave the States for it to take effect. If this is possible, you may pay little or nothing for the time you are gone, rather than your regular bill amount. You can re-activate your phone once you are back Stateside.

Before you leave the States:

Step 1: Unlock your phone. This is really easy. You just call your customer service and ask them to unlock your phone for international use, they send a request to Apple to unlock, the request comes back approved, and presto, your phone is unlocked. It took all of 10 seconds for them to unlock my phone. The phone call took a bit longer, of course. Click here for more information about how to unlock your phone. Why is this important? It’s important if you want to be able to use your own phone once you get abroad. If your phone is locked, you will have to buy a local phone rather than use your own. Unlocking your phone gives you the ability to use an international SIM card. Read more about international SIM cards here.

Related Post: How to Unlock Your iPhone and Use an International SIM Card

After you arrive in your destination country:

Step 2: Purchase a micro SIM card. There are a few different sizes of SIM cards, regular, micro, and nano. Getting one might be as easy as purchasing one from a vending machine like this one in the London Heathrow Airport. In most cases, however, you will need to locate a store where they are available for purchase. SIM cards usually cost between $5-20.

Editor’s Note 1/14/15: iPhones 5 and 6 now use the nano SIM card (see comments for details)

iPhone SIM Card
iPhone SIM card slot with micro SIM card

SIM Cards
Regular size SIM cards- NOT for iPhone, micro SIMs are about half this size.

SIM Card Vending Machine
I wish it were always this easy

Things to keep in mind when you buy an international SIM card:

  • If you purchase it from a cellular carrier, you may be required to show your passport (bring it with you).
  • Some SIM carriers are better than others, offering better deals or cheaper prices. If you have a chance, ask around to see which carrier the locals prefer before you commit.
  • Some SIM carriers might simply be a better option because they exist in more than one country. For example, in Italy you could go with an Italian SIM carrier (i.e. Tim), or a general European one (i.e. Vodafone) that will recharge your data or minutes in more countries than just Italy. This is a good thing to keep in mind if you’ll be traveling through multiple countries.
  • Make sure it is the right size and will work for your phone, whatever phone you decided to buy it for.

Step 3: Purchase any extra credits or data that might not have come included on your SIM card. These will be available in the same store that you buy your SIM card, and many convenience stores also sell them. They come in the form of cards with scratch off codes, or it may be an automated system that the store clerk can do for you. Your SIM card provides your phone number, while credits and data provide your service. It is pay as you go with SIM cards, so once you use up your credit, you will need to buy more. On that note, you will still have all your apps on your phone, switching out the SIM is simply switching out the phone number.

Related Post: How to Set Up a Mexican Telcel SIM Card with Your iPhone

Step 4: Insert the SIM card into your phone. For iPhones, make sure your phone is off, take off any case you might have, and find the tiny slot on the side with a little hole in it. Use a paper clip to push into the hole (push hard), and that little tray will slide out, where you can remove your SIM card associated with your account in the States (be very careful not to lose this!) and replace it with your new international SIM card. Turn your phone back on to set up your new SIM.

Step 5: Add any credits/data that you purchased. If you’re using a card with a scratch-off code, just follow the instructions on the card. Usually you dial a number, and a recording tells you what to do, entering your scratch off code to activate your credit. Be careful if you are in a country that speaks another language, perhaps ask someone else to help you load your credits to make sure nothing gets lost in translation.

Once you have activated your credit, you should be good to go! You will have a local phone number, and you should be able to use everything on your phone just as you would in the States.

iPhone 6 cases Amazon

Traveler C: Adding global service to your plan

This part is a little tricky for me to write about because there are many different cellular carriers within the US and each carrier’s services and rates are going to vary. However, I use Verizon and can tell you what I know about Verizon, then you can take this and apply it to your own carrier so at least you will know what to look for. There is such a thing called Global Services within Verizon, and if you look at the plans and pricing, you will see that it’s an add-on deal that goes on top of your already-existing service. It enables you to use your phone while overseas, and it gives you several options of how you’d like to pay for it.

*Editor’s Note July 2016: I have since switched to T-Mobile, here are my thoughts on who should also do this

The options will vary and be limited according to what country you will be in. I am currently in Mexico as I write this, and there is a special plan between the US, Mexico, and Canada, which would allow me to pay $15 per month for 1,000 anytime minutes to make and receive phone calls. Period. By the way, this can be shared among phones on the same share everything plan. The only bummer about this plan is that it also costs you 50 cents to send a text, and 5 cents to receive. I do not know for sure if you could still send free iMessages via Wi-Fi or if they will charge you if you have this plan enabled, if anyone has the answer to that, please share in the comments!

I have opted not to get the plan, because I have Skype credit and can make phone calls as necessary through that, and I can still check my voicemail via Skype to see if I’ve received any messages. (Make sure you add a passcode to your voicemail if you want to do it this way! It can be done online). The reason I would choose this plan if I were getting one is that the only thing I can’t do on my iPhone when I’m abroad is make and receive phone calls, and this would solve that. With my Wi-Fi capabilities, I can still use all my apps for free, as long as I’m connected to Wi-Fi of course. This means that I could have full use of my phone while in Mexico for just $15 more per month if I wanted to. The other option for me here would be to pay $4.99 per month for the use of the phone, and then pay by the minute, MB (data), or text, but I can see that getting expensive quickly.

Related Post: 7 Travel Apps I Can’t Live Without

The point here is that there are possibilities to use your phone abroad just by adding some global services to your plan. Get online and do your research to find out what kind of international services are available to you for a decent price. Watch out, because if you opt for a plan like the $4.99 one where you pay as you use minutes, etc., that could easily get out of hand. Watch out as well because if you don’t opt to add an international service plan, yet your carrier picks up some foreign carrier in your destination country (AT&T and T-Mobile are known for this), you will find that your phone works, phone calls and all, but you will NOT like what you see when the bill comes, because any minutes and data you use will be charged at full international rates (YIKES).

If you opt for this route, I suggest taking care of it before you leave the US, for convenience.

Download two free audio books from audible

Dumbphone Users: Buying a Cheap International Cell Phone

You won’t be able to use your dumbphone abroad unless it is SIM card-compatible, and even then some countries are strict about what phones will work with their carriers. Check behind the battery to see if there is a little SIM card in there. Most dumbphones in the US are not SIM-compatible, but don’t worry, because your destination country is bound to have many international cell phones for you to choose from for cheap. The phones will already be SIM-capable and some might even come packaged with a SIM card and credits included. This means that you do not need to have a smartphone overseas, you can still have a regular phone, but the ones overseas will be SIM-capable, and that is the key to using it abroad. Read more here if you are confused about SIM cards. You will simply need to purchase a new phone, and in most cases this won’t cost you much. I have paid as little as $10 (Brazil) and as much as $65 (Italy) for a phone abroad.

SIM Card Dumbphone

SIM Compatible Phones

Traveler A may also opt to purchase a local phone and SIM card for use abroad. It’s a really simple process, much easier than it is to get a cell phone through a major carrier in the US. Refer to the steps in the Traveler B section for buying a SIM card, and you will just also need to add the step of buying a cheap phone while you’re at it, something to put the SIM card in. If you go this route, you will also need to add credits, or minutes, as you go.

Finally, I must throw in a disclaimer that the way SIM cards are obtained and how they function throughout different countries may not be exactly like I have said above. I’m sorry but until I go to every country in the world and try it out, I can’t tell you exactly how they work everywhere. However, this is how it works in most of the foreign countries that I have been to, so I hope you are able to at least get the gist of it, even if you have to figure it out a bit differently in your destination country. The bit about the Wi-Fi should be legit everywhere. Unless you end up somewhere that has some sort of block or limited use on their public Wi-Fi, you should be able to use your Wi-Fi and apps just as I said above.

Now it’s your turn! I would love to hear about your experience taking your phones abroad. What did you do right? Is there something you wish you knew before you left? Can you add anything else to the information here? Please share in the comments!


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  • Peter Gray

    I always bring with me a cheap unlocked T-Mobile or AT&T phone and buy a sim card there when traveling to Europe. It’s inexpensive, there are no hidden charges and some cards are very generous when it comes to calls to the US (gotta check around when you get there). Moreover, you can always refill your card at a convenience store or a supermarket.

  • Maya

    I went to England and purchased a local SIM card. Now I am back in the U.S. And have put my American SIM card back into my phone but I’m not receiving any of the texts I missed while out of the country.

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  • Jocelin Nunez

    I found this so helpful, thank you! I’m traveling to Peru for 11 days, and I was wondering whether it would be better to freeze my service and use the Wi-Fi or to leave it as is and just set it on Airplane Mode and use the Wi-Fi.. what would you recommend? I have an iPhone and a plan with Cricket Wireless.

    • Don’t worry about freezing your service, that’s only really helpful when you’ll be gone for an entire billing cycle (1 month) or more. Just use Wi-Fi and airplane mode! Have FUN!!

  • You can remove and insert SIM cards whenever you want to. It does no harm to the phone, it’s just a matter of whether the SIM card will work in your current location or not.

  • If I’m understanding your question correctly, then I’d say yes to buying an iPhone that uses a SIM card, because that means it can be unlocked (or it comes unlocked) and used overseas. You must have a slot for a SIM card to do this (obviously), but Verizon also is able to put a SIM card in your phone for use in the States. This is why purchasing from a third party vendor (like a cellular store or a kiosk at Target) is a better idea than purchasing through Verizon because they won’t automatically give you a phone that uses SIM cards. I hope that helps!

  • Very helpful even from the 2016 point of view, thanks :-)

  • Anna

    Why is that you have to wait until you reach your destination country before turning on airplane mode? Just curious. Thanks in advance.

    • Hi Anna!

      You don’t have to wait, you can put your phone in airplane mode at any time. :)

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  • Rosemary David

    Mobile phone is very useful when you travel to different places or in any other countries, just be sure that your phone is open to accept different sim card networks to work well or else it’s useless.

  • Spagett

    I am going to Mexico in 16 days. I called up Verizon and was able to add a Canada/Mexico plan that gives me 500 minutes, 500 sent texts, unlimited received texts, and 1GB of data for only $25 extra. That’s really good for when I’m out and about and I won’t have WiFi. When I do have WiFi I use WhatsApp to text and I don’t make phone calls much (but have 500 minutes if I do need to call). But the peace of mind of being able to have some data for google maps and what not is nice.

  • Great post.
    I kept my iPhone 4S when I upgraded to a 6. It is already unlocked. I plan to buy a Telcel Sim card and data when I am in Baja this winter. And the big hope, and I think it is completely possible, is to hook up the phone as a modem, like I do with Verizon in the US. Any knowledge on the subject?

    • Alvin

      I wrote the guide on setting up data with Telcel, and yes you can use a prepaid Telcel SIM card in your iPhone 4s as a wifi hotspot, just follow the guide I wrote for adding data

      • Yeah, Alvin! Thanks.

      • One caveat–be sure to text back to Telcel with the code for the plan you bought when you add $$–or the $$ will be used by the minutes instead of the plan. (That detail that I learned after burning through my data in 2 days was a $60 Spanish lesson.) I learned my mistake from a call to Telcel requesting English speaker.

  • Myssi Sirbe

    I recently went to Greece for two weeks and swapped out my iPhone 6
    SIM card for a prepaid one and it was great! However, now that I’m home
    and have my real SIM card in, my iPhone is weird. The name of my phone
    is back to “iPhone,” iTunes thinks it’s a new phone, all of my saved
    wifi passwords are gone, and even though Location services is on and
    apps that use it are configured correctly, I can’t seem to use apps that
    need locations. Is this a common side effect of swapping SIM cards? I’m
    wondering if loading a backup from pre-Greece will solve the issue?

    • That is strange! I have not had that issue so I wouldn’t say it’s normal. It’s definitely good that you backed up your phone before swapping out the SIM, and it probably wouldn’t hurt to restore it to your backup. You can always take it into the Apple store if you have one to have them do it or ask questions to feel safer about it. Let us know how it goes!

  • Taylor

    My boyfriend and I have Verizon and he is in Korea right now! He got a Korean SIM card for his phone and I just wanted to make sure the SIM card would still work even if his services with Verizon are frozen.

    • Yes! Your Verizon account is only associated with your Verizon SIM, not your actual phone. As long as your phone is unlocked, it can take any SIM.

  • Rachel

    This was very helpful – thank you. I am moving to New Zealand this winter. I owe Sprint $480 on my current Samsung Note 4 but have no contract with them otherwise. My phone just broke down on me after 6 months so I have an $800 gift card from my best buy warranty. I have 2 options and would love advice/input.

    1. Pay off Sprint. Purchase an iPhone w my gift card and sign up with Verizon. Suspend service when we move and purchase a sim card in nz.

    2. Keep my contract with Sprint. Use my gift card to buy an unlocked phone from Best Buy. They carry two brands – blu and some other that I can’t remember. I’d suspend my contract with Sprint upon move and purchase a sim card in nz.

    I’m leaning towards option 1. Any thoughts?

    • Just keep in mind you can only suspend your account for a few months max, check into that before you sign up for Verizon. It may be worth looking into T-Mobile, I just made the switch and I’m loving the international data plan. You could always wait to cancel with Sprint, then just cancel when you leave instead of starting with Verizon before you go. Use a NZ SIM while you’re there, and then get a new contract (if you must) when you return.

    • Alvin

      Option 1, If you are moving to NZ permanently, then buy the unlocked GSM iPhone at full price, if you plan on moving back to the US in the next year, then purchase the Verizon version of the iPhone at full price, sign up with Verizon on a no contract plan until you move to NZ.

  • Karen

    If I purchase and use the SIMS card after unlocking my phone would I still be able to use airplane mode and not use the SIMS card and use WIFI in certian situations?

    • Yes! You can always opt to just use WiFi by turning off the data or switching to airplane mode.

    • Alvin

      If you insert a local prepaid SIM card with data in your phone when you get to your destination, you’ll be able to use your phone like you would at home with no fear of an expensive phone bill when you get home, no need to put your phone on airplane mode unless you are roaming outside of the country you bought the SIM from.

  • Ivy G.

    “Sorry Android”? Not hardly. Skype, Hangouts, Voxer, WhatsApp, Facebook, and others all offer free WiFi calling and video calling on Android. I prefer Hangouts because you can call landlines, and use it on your laptop.

    • This is all true! There are many options for Android, but not iMessage or Facetime, which is what I was referring to.

  • Siri

    Hangouts is an awesome wifi/data app that works across devices and acts as both facetime and iMessage. It can also show up on your laptop/PC when you have messages if you allow it. Overall a very good app.

  • Lolo

    Hi! This might be a silly question, but if you swap out your sim card and have a local number, what happens to any text messages or phone calls people send to your regular number while you are using the international sim card? I am traveling to Australia for 2 weeks and I am wondering if it is even worth it to try and use an international sim card. But I also want to make sure that I do not miss any important texts or calls while i am away. Thanks!

    • It’s a great question! You will NOT be able to receive any texts or calls to your regular number in real time if you switch out the SIM. Voicemails may still come through when you put your SIM back in, and you should still be able to check your voicemail (calling from another phone) even while your SIM is out (because your account is still active), but I wouldn’t count on catching everything that comes through. On an iPhone, you can change your iMessage settings to use your apple ID (your email address) instead of your regular phone number, that way you can still communicate with people via iMessage on your new SIM (just don’t forget to change it back when you put your normal SIM back in). This reply is getting long but I have another idea too – if you have one or two people that you really don’t want to miss anything from, text them from your new SIM as soon as you get it, that way they know you have a new number in case they need to get ahold of you. I hope this helps..

      • Lolo

        Thank you! That helps a lot. Changing the iMessage setting to your apple ID is a brilliant idea!

  • Yes your phone will update timezones whenever it connects to WiFi as long as it is set to “set automatically” in your settings, which it probably is already. As long as your time is up to date, your alarms will work normally. If you can’t connect to WiFi, simply go into your settings: General > Date & Time > and turn off “set automatically” so you can choose your own timezone. Then your alarms will also work just fine. Hope that answers your question!

  • I have an iPhone on a Pay Monthly contract with O2. Annoyingly, I cannot ‘freeze’ my contract, despite the fact that I will be leaving the country and living in Spain for nine months. My only answer is essentially, to purchase their O2 Travel Bolt-Ons, which charge you a flat rate of £1.99 a day if using data overseas. Not bad, really. However, my best option is to — like you recommend — keep my phone firmly on Airplane Mode (if simply to conserve battery life!), and log in to any available Wi-Fi spots that I can. I’m also going to encourage my family and friends to install Skype onto their PCs for free video calls.

    • Interesting, I wish I knew more about O2 to help you. I’m actually about to leave for about 9 months or so myself, I use Verizon and I think I’m just going to cancel my contract, eat the fee, and figure it out from there. I’m considering T-Mobile since it has $50/month unlimited data worldwide, or something crazy like that.. Or I’ll just get SIMs as I go. Let us know how you end up!

  • Hey Jess- I’m not sure if you can suspend your plan for less than a month, you’ll have to check with your carrier. But if you can’t, don’t worry about it (just continue to pay for it), if you take your SIM out, you don’t have to worry about data charges to your US plan, at that point your phone simply becomes a vessel for WiFi, and then you can put any SIM in it that you want to get local phone service and data (in Europe) and you’ll put credit on that SIM, it will have nothing to do with your US account. I hope that helps!

  • AMK

    I am curious that if you suspend the account that all the messages will
    be lost of people who are trying to call you. I will be going abroad for
    40 days. I was thinking of keeping my phone on airport mode and using
    Viber in wifi for calls. The sims sounds much better but my concern that
    I will not receive important calls. Any issues?

    • You are correct – when you suspend your account, your phone number is essentially deactivated for that period of time. It cannot accept calls, nor allow anyone to leave voicemails. If you need to accept phone calls, do not suspend your account. You can always use Skype or another service to call yourself to check your voicemail for important messages (make sure you have a passcode for your voicemail to do this). That’s what I do.

  • Hi Sarah- it depends on his plan. It may still charge him to accept texts, but if it’s the US phone number that he is still using, I would imagine it wouldn’t charge YOU to text him. I can’t promise though! It really is going to depend on the plan that he got and what number he is using. Here is an idea for both of you- just download Voxer and you can text and talk all you want for free! (And no, they don’t pay me to say that) ;)

  • Natalie

    A few
    months ago I found out about Republic Wireless. It’s no contract and
    allows you to pick one of four plans that are as little as $5/month.
    That plan strictly uses WiFi for calls, data, and texts, so it can be
    used internationally without additional fee. We chose to go for the $10
    plan that uses WiFi and cell towers for calls and texts while still
    relying on WiFi for data. They also let you switch plans mid-cycle so
    you could drop down to the $5 plan while abroad without penalty. The
    only downside is that you have to purchase one of their phones which are
    all on the Android operating system. That being said, the phones are
    very reasonably priced and we are very happy with the service.

  • You used to have to call to get it unlocked, but it only took a few minutes, now they save you a phone call!

  • Cathie Keyser

    I Jackie, I hope this question hasn’t been asked yet. I scrolled through the answers trying to find out & I don’t see the answer, so……If I buy an overseas SIM card & install it in my unlocked phone, will I be able to text and/or call back to the US on it? (affordably) Thanks.

    • Hi Cathie- Yes, you will be able to use it internationally to call/text whatever country you want, with international charges according to whoever the SIM is through (the local carrier). You will just have a new (local) phone number.

  • I’m sure you can order an international SIM through a company that specializes in that, but I’ve never done it. I always just get it on the ground. That being said, yes, you can always get WiFi on your smartphone and use it whether it’s unlocked or not. As long as there is free WiFi at the airport you will be fine to use any app on your phone that works on WiFi.

  • Hi Amberly! I have not heard of this new SIM card yet but I’m intrigued, thank you for bringing it up, I’ll try to look into it!

  • Erica

    Very helpful, thank you so much for sharing! Traveller B is definitely going to be my option, since I will travel to Asia for almost three months. Really wish I had seen this sooner…Wasted a lot of time trying figure things out with Verizon customer service people—all of them were trying to put me on an international calling&texting bundle added to my existing domestic plan (very expensive after accounting for everything), instead of recommending a simple account suspension and purchasing local SIM card. Guess money always comes before customers’ real needs and convenience.

  • Alvin

    If you are going to the UK first, get a Vodafone SIM, great roaming program for the EU.

  • Caitlin

    So I will be traveling with school for about a month and wanted to “freeze”, put my service on hold (essentially Traveler A). Do you recommend just doing the whole airplane mode process or calling AT&T and putting my account on hold for the time being- or am I suppose to do both? When I called AT&T to ask about putting my account on hold (they called it suspending it), they said it would just be $10 a month and I would not be able to take or make calls but could operate my applications on wifi (such as vibe, Facebook, etc…). I would do the airplane thing, but I’m just afraid it would accidentally turn on. Also if I suspend my account through AT&T, will I still be able to use IMessage or FaceTime when I’m connected to Wifi? Thank you for your help!

    • If you’re going to be gone for a month, I would do both! Freeze your account just before you leave the US, and then just don’t take your phone off of airplane mode while you’re gone. All airplane mode does is essentially allow WiFi only on your phone, so it’s like an extra security blanket. And yes, you will still be able to use iMessage and FaceTime, I suggest getting Voxer as well. There is SO much you can do with WiFi, who needs phone calls anymore ;) Have a great trip!!

  • RT

    Be careful as placing a non ATT SIM card in your phone will delete your voicemail!

  • The SIM cards will work in all those countries, BUT you will be charged roaming fees so get a SIM from the country that you’ll spend the most time in, and prepare yourself with plenty of credit so you don’t have to worry about running out in a place where you can’t buy more credits. I would look for Vodafone, or do some research about which SIMs are available in all those countries and get the one that shows up in the most countries. Hope that helps!

  • Alvin

    Here is a video showing an unlocked iPhone 6 swapping SIM cards. Hopefully this gives you an idea of how it works. Don’t worry about the special tool that he uses to swap SIM cards, a paper clip bent open works fine.

    • Katy

      Does this still work if you are using a Verizon iPhone 6? I read a post about having to call Verizon to have them unlock my phone before going overseas. Do I need to do that, or can I just switch out the Verizon SIM card with an international SIM card once I am in Europe?

      • You still need to make sure your phone is unlocked. It only takes a few minutes to make the phone call, so I would recommend calling to make sure. The worst would be to get overseas, switch your SIM, and find out your phone is locked. Also, make sure your Verizon iPhone has a SIM card, many don’t, which is why it’s also a good idea to get your phone through a 3rd party company.

  • The apps and music get stored to your phone (or the cloud), not your SIM card. Therefore when you switch it out, it shouldn’t matter, unless there is a strange glitch everything should be there. However, I would recommend making sure everything is backed up regardless. I do this before every trip anyway just in case anything were to happen to my phone.

    • Alvin

      Exactly what Jackie said, I perform the iCloud backup before I leave and backup every night when I get a new SIM card and connected to wifi at my destination, don’t wait a few weeks to backup your phone while traveling, especially if you take a lot of photos. Backup your photos to iCloud or dropbox when your phone is plugged in and connected to wifi for the night.

  • Thanks for sharing all of the options to suit different travelers. I usually opt to use Wi-Fi, but I’m considering other options for longer visits, so it’s nice to know what’s out there and what might best fit me!

  • Jon

    This was EXACTLY the post I needed. I haven’t traveled internationally in a couple of years, and wasn’t sure what was now the suggested way to use cell phones overseas. I have a few school trips coming up (none exceeding a month at a time) and it seems like using WiFi exclusively is the way to go. Quick question though: instead of turning airplane mode ON, is there any difference with just turning off “Cellular Data” and “Data Roaming”?


    • Yay! Glad you found it helpful. I don’t think there is a difference between turning Airplane Mode on or those two things off. I guess just simplicity. It’s like a security blanket, seeing the Airplane is your ticket to FREEdom ;) and you don’t have to double check your settings.

  • OccasionalTraveler

    FYI – The newer iPhones use nano SIM cards, not micro (as mentioned in this post). Please see this helpful reference from Apple.

  • Rod

    we go to Mexico twice a year for the past 3 years.,I have called verizon each time about the best way use the phone. I’ve gotten a totally different answer each time. I’ve paid for the “Mexican plan.” 3 times, it’s never worked and one time got an international bill from a Mexican provider, a lot of money. The last 2 times we turned everything off but wifi. We had no problems, it,s easy to use. We pay about $10 a week for the service from the resort, well worth it. Last trip a small family emergency came up and I needed to call home. Checked with the resort and it only cost 75 cents a call, what a deal. I highly recommend the wifi plan.

  • Alvin

    I fall under Traveler B, I have an unlocked GSM iPhone 5 that was originally locked to T-Mobile. Two months after I got it, I paid off the full balance of the iPhone and was quickly approved for the unlock, once I got the confirmation from T-Mobile, I connected my iPhone 5 to iTunes via my laptop and performed a backup and restore and got the “Congratulations, your iPhone is now unlocked” message and restored my iPhone from iCloud.

    I have a Telcel Mexico SIM card that I used in my old unlocked iPhone 3GS and had it cut down to fit the nano SIM and installed it in my newly unlocked iPhone 5 and it recognized it as a Telcel carrier.

    A few weeks later I was in Spain, during a layover in Madrid I went to an electronics store in the terminal and bought a Orange SIM card with 1GB of data for €15 and added an extra €15 for voice and text credit. I was in Spain for over a month and was able to use my iPhone like I would at home without the fear of outrageous charges on my phone bill.

    I traveled to the Philippines earlier this year for a month and bought a SMART SIM for P45 ($1) and month of unlimited data (hotspot too) for P1000 ($21) and added P500 ($11) for voice and text credit.

    After I got back, I travelled to Mexico and used my Telcel Mexico SIM card and bought 1GB of data good for a week for $169.00MXN ($11 US) and extra credit for voice and texts.

    After too many dead spots in coverage from T-Mobile I switched to AT&T on a non contract month to month plan.

    That’s five different SIM cards on one iPhone with no special settings needed, I get to my destination and buy and install a new SIM card and off I go. From my experience, every foreign SIM card I have used has had free incoming calls and texts even if there is no credit on the phone.

    The only special items I needed to bring are the travel adapters from the Apple world travel kit that I paid half price on Ebay and a paper clip to change SIM cards.

    I have tested several of my friends Verizon 4G LTE iPhone 5, 5C, and 5S with my Telcel Mexico SIM card when I was in Mexico and all of them connected with no problems at all, I even helped them get their own Telcel SIM cards for their iPhones.

    I’m not a fan of buying a dumb phone when I travel, most of those phones get tossed out and added the e-waste pile that gets bigger and bigger each year. A SIM is cheaper than buying a whole dumb phone.
    Has anybody tried to text from one? Not fun at all.
    This is why I like to travel with my unlocked iPhone, I’m familiar with my device and able to use it like I would at home much cheaper than any “international plan” through a US carrier.

    • This is so awesome, thanks for sharing, Alvin!

    • Gulf of Tomkin

      What your forgetting is ” what’s app” and “bbm” will ask you to associate all contacts with this new number then reverting back to your primary card will be an issue..

  • Hi Cleo,

    Using Voxer is my absolute favorite (or in your case Viber or Skype), and you can find WiFi in so many places in Europe that this really becomes a personal preference, and you could easily get by without a SIM. It does limit your interactions to finding WiFi, but it’s free…

    I think if you really want to have access to phone calls and data on your phone (without WiFi or Skype, etc.) then choose the country you will spend the most time in and get a SIM card there, but make sure it’s Vodafone or another carrier that exist in multiple European countries. This way you can top up minutes and data when you need to, no matter what country you are in. You will essentially be getting a phone number for one country and then you’ll be charged the international rates as you travel through other countries. If you are sharing it could definitely be worth it because it’ll be cheap for you. Do a bit of research to find out which carriers are present in all or most of the countries you’ll be visiting and be sure to get one of their SIMs over a local carrier. Hope this helps!

  • Katie

    Awesome post! Thank you!

  • Perfect example, thanks for sharing Glenn!

  • Jaye Giglio

    I also have verizon and think that the best decision is to suspend my account, like you mentioned when you went to Mexico. If I do this, will I still be able to imessage and use all of the same wifi functions?

    • I have not done this personally, but my sources say yes- this is when your iCloud stuff kicks in and rather than sending from your phone number, it will come across as your email address in iMessages (and this is iMessage only, so iPhones only, sorry Droids). And Wi-Fi is a for sure yes for any smartphone (just no data obviously).

      • Alyssa A

        So if I suspend my account and just use iMessage from the iCloud, will I still be able to receive iMessages from someone sending a text to my phone number? Or only my email address?

        • Check out this website to see just how iMessage works:

          You can activate your phone number as well as your email address (or multiple email addresses), so when one isn’t available (like if you suspend your account) the other one will kick in. Then what happens (I’m pretty sure) is that when someone tries to send a text to your phone number, the number isn’t available but your email account is, so it just sends “via” your email account instead. It even shows up on your phone as your email account rather than your phone number, but it all still works the same as far as the user experience is concerned. I know this is a confusing subject, I really hope that helps!!

  • Drew

    I have the iPhone 4s on Verizon and spent half a year in Ireland recently. Most of the carriers there (I used Vodafone) give away the standard size SIM cards for free. You can take a pair of scissors and cut this down to the micro SIM card size. I lined up my Verizon card over the full size SIM making sure the metal contact points had the same distance to the side of the card. Use a pencil to draw the outline of the smaller card onto the larger card and cut on the line. Hope this helps!

    My wife and I are really enjoying your podcast. Keep it up!

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  • Maggie Roth

    This was so incredibly helpful. My husband and I are heading to France and I’ve had “phone stuff” on my list to research. I just got off the phone with verizon after reading this and they essentially repeated your instructions and have more specific pricing info. Thanks!!

    • That’s great, Maggie! So glad to be able to help you, have fun in France!