Saving on Internet Cost While Traveling Abroad

Traveling overseas requires a lot of preparation. Besides packing the clothes, you also have to make sure that your communication needs are met during your stay in the foreign country.

Today, people need the internet almost throughout the day — for messenger chats and phone calls,  booking Uber or taxi through mobile app, viewing maps, replying messages on social media, and so on. However, you cannot completely rely on Wi-Fi in public areas, as you will move a lot during your trip.

Here are some ways to save your data plan while traveling abroad:

1. Turn off the data roaming

When you are in a roaming area, it means your mobile device is out of your GSM provider range and it will connect you to another network. Therefore, you will be charged for "renting" the foreign network.

The first thing you need to do before landing in another country is to turn off your data roaming. This can be found in the setting menu, e.g. on iPhone: Settings > Cellular > Cellular Data Options > Data Roaming OFF (swipe to the left). For a more instant way, you can directly activate the airplane mode while you are still on the plane and only turn off this setting when you have bought a local SIM Card.

"When I’m on transit at a foreign airport, I usually just turn on the airplane mode and use the available Wi-Fi," says Sasa, a travel enthusiast who has visited more than 15 countries within the last few years.

Tip: Some public places that are easy to find and usually provide Wi-Fi, i.e. McDonalds, KFC or Starbucks.

[Read: Ways to Save on Telecommunications While Abroad]

2. Buy Data Roaming Packages from Indonesia

A week before leaving, ask your GSM provider about international data plans that will suit the duration of your trip. Next, compare the prices and convenience with other options, such as buying a local SIM Card at your destination.

Some GSM providers would offer a promotional rate or international roaming programs every now and then, e.g. XL PASS which would enable you to use your current internet quota in 9 foreign countries, for as low as Rp 100,000 for 3 days.

If you choose this option, please note that your phone must be connected to the roaming partner service that cooperates with your GSM provider. The rate may range between Rp 35,000 and Rp 150,000 per day within Asian countries, or between Rp 170,000 and Rp 400,000 per day for European destinations.

Tip: This option is more practical and affordable if your trip only lasts for less than 5 days.


3. Change your mobile SIM Card at the destination country

For us in Indonesia, we are used to the idea of buying a new cheap SIM Card or internet plan, but these two things can be expensive in other countries. Therefore, this option is worth considering if you are planning on staying more than two weeks or if you frequently visit the country.

For example, if you visit the United States 2-3 times a year, you can buy a prepaid SIM Card from T-Mobile for USD 40 that will be active for 30 days, or you can also make use of the mobile virtual network operators (MVNO) service, such as Ultra Mobile that provides phone call and wireless data services using the T-Mobile networks. The rate starts as low as USD 19. You can also keep the SIM Card and use it again on your next visit.

Here's a selection of well-known GSM providers around the world:

Asia: Singtelhi! Card (Singapore), AIS One-2-Call (Thailand), Celcom (Malaysia), Vodafone U (India), One2Free, PCCW (Hong Kong), Smart, Globe (Philippine), ktolleh (South Korea), b-mobile (Japan), and so on.

The United States: T-Mobile, AT & T

Australia: Optus, Boost Mobile

Africa: Vodacom B4IGO (South Africa)

Europe: Vodafone Smart Passport, Lycamobile (Italy), Lycamobile, Lebara (Netherland), Three Pay As you go, EE (England), Orange SIM Holidays (Spain), MyCall, Telenor (Norway), Cosmokarta, What’s Up (Greek).

If you do not want to have a hard time finding a specific GSM operator branch store, try asking the local people while you are at an airport, terminal, or 24-hour convenience stores like 7-Eleven. If you are in a country that requires you to rent a mobile phone and SIM Card bundle, for example in South Korea, it is more practical to buy online internet vouchers per day.

Tip: Before deciding on a data plan, you need to know your data usage needs based on your daily habits. When traveling, you will use Google Maps, Facebook, messenger, or even play Pokémon GO more frequently, so it is better to have at least 2GB data per day or purchase an unlimited data plan.

4. Buy or Rent MiFi Modem

In Indonesia, we are used to tethering or using our mobile phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot for our laptop or tablet. However, not all internet packages overseas allow this. If you have two mobile devices to use while traveling, better check the availability of the service before buying an expensive internet plan.

Another way to limit your data charges without changing the SIM Card is by bringing a MiFi device or Mobile WiFi Hotspot, aka mini wireless router that serves as a Wi-Fi hotspot wherever you are. It could also be a money-saving solution if you are going on a vacation with family, since the MiFi can be used for 5-10 mobile devices at once.

On the downside, these devices usually only last about 4-6 hours and sometimes cannot detect 3G/4G connections — especially in an area surrounded by numerous buildings or tall structures. If you choose this option, always be sure that your mobile phone is in "airplane mode" so that your phone battery can be more durable.

Tip: Some hotels and Airbnb are willing to lend a smartphone or MiFi device, such as a handy device which is available in some hotels in big cities around the world. This will certainly save your internet cost!

Read also: My Challenge Working as an Executive Abroad

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