Monthly PC Tips

How To Use Cellular Data Internationally

September 2017 – by Per Christensson

Traveling internationally? Chances are you're hoping to use your smartphone while you're away. While Wi-Fi is always best, it isn't always available. Cellular data is an option — but an expensive one. If you don't plan ahead, you might end up paying more than a dollar per megabyte. A quick web browsing session overseas can easily cost you more than $10. A full day of cellular data use aboard might ratchet your cost into the hundreds of dollars.

So how do you use cellular data while traveling without breaking the bank? There are two steps: 1) sign up for you mobile carrier's international plan and 2) limit your roaming data usage.

Most major carriers offer multiple international options for travelers. I use AT&T and I prefer the AT&T Passport plan, which is a one-time fee and lasts for 30 days. There are different levels, but the basic one is $40 and offers 200 MB of "international roaming data," as well as other benefits like free texts and reduced international calling rates.

To prevent astronomic charges from cell phone companies, most phones have data roaming turned off by default. In order to use data while you're traveling outside the United States, you'll need to turn this on. On an iPhone, this option can be found by going to Settings → Cellular → Cellular Data Options → Data Roaming.

iPhone Data Roaming Setting

I suggest keeping this setting OFF until you need to access roaming data. You can turn it on to load your maps, check your email, or to see if anyone has iMessaged you. (iMessages won't show up unless you are connected to Wi-Fi or have a cellular data connection.) Then immediately turn the setting back off to prevent unnecessary data consumption.

From my experience, most apps are pretty good at not using data while the phone is not active. In other words, they only use a small amount of data in the background. But when you use an app, it can use as much data as required. So I would suggest not using your roaming data to send videos in Snapchat or scroll through Instagram photos. Hopefully you can wait until you have Wi-Fi to perform these and other data-intensive activities.

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