This post is a quick tutorial and explanation of what it means to put your phone on airplane mode and use WiFi to connect when you are overseas. If you want a detailed, comprehensive solution to using your iPhone abroad, click here for a Complete Guide to Using Your iPhone Abroad.
How to Use Your iPhone Abroad with WiFi and Airplane mode
When taking your US smartphone abroad, you can do one of two things to stay connected:
1. Unlock your iPhone and use it for full cell service with an international SIM card. If you do this, I recommend freezing your account at home so you won’t be paying for it while you’re away (assuming you’ll be gone for long enough to make it worth it).
2. Put it in airplane mode and use it strictly for access to WiFi. Airplane mode turns off data to your phone, which means you won’t pay exorbitant amounts for international data that you shouldn’t be using. With WiFi, you can do almost everything except make regular phone calls and texts (unless they are iMessages). See this post for clarification.
Easily pre-order an international SIM card before your trip!
I own an iPhone, and now I have T-Mobile, which works almost everywhere in the world, but unless you have Sprint or T-Mobile, chances are your international data is NOT included.
Click here to read more about cell phone plans for travelers.
If you don’t have international data coverage, here’s what you do:
1. Turn on airplane mode.
Find the airplane icon and click it so it’s highlighted.
Turning on airplane mode will cut off your data and guarantee that you won’t use any of your data accidentally. If you don’t place your phone in airplane mode, you may find that your phone picks up service abroad through foreign carriers. This is dangerous simply because any calls you to make, texts you send, or data you use will skyrocket the charges on your phone bill. If you do pick up service, you could potentially use your phone for emergencies and that could be very helpful, just be aware that you will probably be paying over a dollar per minute.
Airplane mode is basically a “safe mode.” Although airplane mode shuts off access to your data and calling service, what you can use with airplane mode is WiFi.
2. After putting your phone in airplane mode, turn on WiFi.
You need to manually turn it on after switching to airplane mode because it usually turns off automatically. Once it’s back on, you can connect anywhere that has WiFi and use any app or service on your phone that functions through WiFi.
While many apps do require WiFi to function, like communication apps, there are many apps that download their information to your phone and therefore are still useful even when you cannot connect to WiFi.
Some of my favorite apps to use with WiFi.
1. One of my favorite communication apps is called Voxer. It’s a walkie-talkie app, sort of like texting with voice messages, and you can also send photos through Voxer. This is a genius app for communicating with friends across the world. I use it at home too, but I especially love it for travel, because it’s almost like talking to the person over the phone, but it’s free, and it’s more personal than texting since you actually talk to each other. When connected to WiFi, you can talk on Voxer to anyone else who has Voxer.
2. WhatsApp, the world’s most popular texting app, is another great example. Any of your apps that can be accessed with WiFi, whether they are informational, games, websites, etc., can all be available to you abroad with your smartphone.
Related: 7 Travel Apps I Can’t Live Without
Would you like to keep your cell phone number and have calls and texts forwarded to an international phone number/SIM card? Use Tossable Digits, which can keep your number safe for you while you cancel your service at home, and you can have calls and texts forwarded to your new number abroad. You only pay for what you use, and you can cancel anytime.
Travel Planning Tip: Order a prepaid SIM card before you travel!
For iPhone users, you can send iMessages from abroad over WiFi. Even in the States, if you don’t have service but you do have WiFi, you can use iMessage. This is similar to what your situation would be abroad.
Using your iPhone abroad will save you time and money, you’ll be glad you have it with you!
Still have questions? Check out my comprehensive guide to figuring out how to use your iPhone (or another smartphone) overseas: A Complete Guide to Using Your iPhone Abroad, for Dummies
Shop Our Cell Phone Travel Essentials
Ready to Book Your Trip?
Some of these links are affiliate links.
Use these BMT-approved travel resources to plan your best budget-friendly trip yet!
Flights – Learn our tried and true strategies for finding the cheapest flights.
Accommodations – Using Booking.com to search for hostels and budget hotels has many benefits, including free cancelation and member upgrades.
Travel Insurance – Now more than ever, we encourage the purchase of travel insurance for every trip. Insurance protects you against cancellations, lost luggage, theft, injury, and illness. Compare plans at:
Activities – Find amazing things to do that won’t break the bank in destinations worldwide on Viator.
Need an international SIM card? We suggest pre-ordering from SimOptions.