How to Use Your Cell Phone When Traveling in Another Country 5

Travel communication has changed so much in the past 10 years. Almost everyone brings an iPhone or smartphone with them and long distance calling cards are only a reminder that dates how old you are. Usually the locals in a 3rd world country even have a nicer phone that I do! Phones are so powerful and can connect us to so much, yet travelers so often don’t understand how to use their cell phone while traveling in another country.

Alyssa talking on a smartphone in a foreign country

I cringe every time someone says their cell phone provider charged them an extra $100 when they used their cell phone “just a little bit” on vacation! In this article I’ll show you how to use your cell phone without fear of extra fees when you’re on vacation in a foreign country.

How to Use Your Cell Phone in AIRPLANE Mode

This is the most important thing to do when taking your smartphone with you on a trip! Everyone’s seen that little airplane icon on their phone before, but you may not know exactly what it does. It’s not just for when you’re sitting in the airplane. It’s good to switch it on airplane mode when you first leave and keep it on during your entire trip.

iPhone airplane mode buttons close-up

What it does is turn off just your cellular connection – saving you money from receiving incoming calls or texts and being charged internationally. When you first switch it on, it also flips off the buttons for your wi-fi and bluetooth connections (because they don’t want those on in the airplane either), but you can turn those back on separately when you need to use them.

Another huge benefit that nobody ever mentions is a way longer battery life. I’ve had my iPhone battery last 2-4 times longer than normal with the airplane mode on. Almost makes it feel like a new phone!

Using Your Phone GPS With Airplane Mode

The GPS functionality on your smartphone should still work fine in airplane mode (if you have an iPhone with iOS version 8.3 or later). Android phones can sometimes toggle their GPS on and off separately, but it’ll work fine when you’re on airplane mode. It sometimes takes a little longer for the GPS to get its bearings with no cell connection, especially the first time you turn it on, but it should work fine after awhile.

Turn ON Wi-Fi & Bluetooth

When you arrive at your destination country, you can switch on your wi-fi connection and use Skype, Viber, WhatsApp, iMessage, or any other calling/messaging service that uses the internet. You can connect to any free wi-fi that is available like a restaurants, hotels, or terminals. Be sure to keep the airplane mode on though, because you want to keep your cellular connection off. You’re free to use the wi-fi, bluetooth, and GPS functions of your phone without needing to take it off airplane mode.

Confused yet?

Airplane mode ON means the cell signal is turned OFF. When wi-fi, and bluetooth are ON, that means they’re on and working.

To be even more vigilant, just take out the SIM card from your phone (if it’s removable) and put it in a safe spot. Then, when you return to the US, just pop it back in and restart your phone and you’ll be back to normal!

Using a Local SIM Card

SIM Cards Sizes - Mini (normal), Micro, Nano, How to cut

The best of both worlds is to buy a new SIM card for your phone when you arrive at a foreign country. They’re usually pretty cheap and you can get local calling and internet data right on your normal phone. I’d recommend this for any trip longer than a week for safety and convenience! Click here for my most popular guide with all the details on how to get set up with a new SIM card and to make sure your phone will work properly with it.

Have fun traveling and be sure to bring your phone with when traveling in another country!

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5 thoughts on “How to Use Your Cell Phone When Traveling in Another Country

  • Gage

    Another tip is to find a sim you can use it multiple countries. It won’t work for everywhere but for example, 3 mobile in the UK offer free roaming in over 40 countries and they have great pre paid deals

    • Landon Post author

      Good idea Gage! Cell phone companies are wising-up lately and offering international plans that aren’t outrageously expensive like they were a few years ago. It doesn’t hurt to ask your local providers.

    • Landon Post author

      “Airplane mode” is just the button you push to turn the cell phone antenna off. It’s not limited to only being used on an airplane.
      GPS is a receive-only satellite signal, so it doesn’t transmit anything that could interfere with the airplane.