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App stores stock thousands of traveler-specific apps to help travelers with every kind of travel need. Yet, it can be a problem finding an affordable access to data when you're overseas. The way phone carriers market international roaming plans with their dozens of different rates, allowances and scenarios tends to be extremely complex. Even if you do get one of these plans, they usually only give you about 100 MB of data -- hardly adequate for a couple of days if you use a mapping app all the time that you travel.
You might need to consider other options -- such as a local SIM card or a hotspot pass for your destination. If you don't plan thoroughly for the way you'll get your data when you reach your destination you're likely to be greeted by a bill for hundreds when you get back. It doesn't even take too many mistakes to get into this situation -- using unplanned data a couple of times is all it takes.
International roaming plans by your phone carrier
Every major iPhone carrier offers international travelers special prepaid packages that you buy before you leave home. While these plans tend to be clear about what it'll cost you to make a iPhone call or send a text message, arriving at the cost of accessing data when you get on the Internet on your iPhone tends to be complicated. Verizon, for instance, offers a prepaid package that includes a 100 MB of data for $25 a month -- or a dollar for 4 MB of data. While it's expensive, it's far cheaper than what you'd pay if you simply headed out without making any special arrangements.
Accessing the Internet without arrangements in place, you're forced on a pay-as-you-go rate that costs between $50 and $80 for the same 4 MB of data, depending on what your destination is. A 100 MB package, though, doesn't get you too far. While it's enough for all the text-only emails that you may send or receive while traveling overseas, uploading a single average-resolution photo to Facebook can take up 2 MB. Using FaceTime or Skype for a 2-minute video call will use up 5 MB. The websites of major iPhone carriers have data calculators that help you estimate how much data you'll need for everything you plan to do. AT&T's calculator, for instance, mentions that you need about 1 MB for every webpage that you visit (assuming that it only has a couple of photos). Three Facebook posts use up 1 MB and each song uses up for megabytes. The average YouTube video will use up around 6 MB for every minute. As AT&T and Verizon remind you on their websites, these figures are not set in stone -- they can go up or down depending on the specific photo, song, post or anything else in question.
To save somewhat, you can make your data allowance go as far as possible by opting for the lowest resolution on your videos and photos. You can also save a great deal by forgetting about your regular mapping app and choosing a fully off-line application like OsmAnd or Maps2Go. You can load these up before you leave home and use them without an Internet connection when you get to your destination. When it comes to posting your photos and videos to Facebook, waiting until you get back to your hotel room with its free Wi-Fi will save you a great deal.
T-Mobile has a great plan T-Mobile offers a great, common sense plan -- if you buy their $50-a-month plan for regular use each day, you get free unlimited international roaming use thrown in. You can use all the data and texting that you need in 100 countries and call the US at 20 cents a minute. While T-Mobile intends for this plan to be your regular one year in and year out, there's nothing that stops you from buying the plan for the couple of months that you are on vacation for and then canceling. T-Mobile doesn't impose a penalty.
The downside to the plan is that T-Mobile's standard data speeds aren't great when you're overseas. For high speeds, they sell you a $50 high-speed pass that buys you 500 MB for 2 weeks. International roaming plans, then, aren't the best way to use data overseas. You may need to look at other options.
KeepGo is a service that gives you a new 3G SIM to take with you on your travels. You need to select the specific destinations that you want it to work in and place your order. They send the SIM card to your home and you can use it when you get your destination. You'll pay $5.99 a day for 100 MB. Choosing the unlimited data option costs around $15 a day for a single country and gives you 500 MB a day. If you don't want a SIM card for your phone, they also have MiFi devices, iPhone and other choices. Renting an iPhone costs you an extra $13 a day. You can simply buy a local SIM card at your destination Whatever country you're going to, you can visit a local mobile phone store, buy a SIM card, pop it into your phone and begin using it. You'll be charged local rates then. This method has a couple of shortcomings, though.
To begin, you may not be able to use the SIM card in your American phone if it's locked to your carrier. You may need to get another phone for it. You can usually get a used, unlocked iphone on eBay.
You will also have some trouble getting a local SIM card in certain countries. In India, for instance, foreign travelers can have trouble getting through the verification process that a local number requires. The other problem is that if you have a local number, anyone calling you from home will have to pay international calling rates. That could be tough on them. If you can get past these problems, though, getting a local SIM card is one of the best ways to use your iPhone economically when you're overseas. Buying a Wi-Fi city pass Depending on where you're traveling, you could have plenty of paid Wi-Fi hotspots to choose from. In Europe, for instance, every major city usually has tens of thousands of hotspots. As long as you don't mind going to a hotspot to use your phone rather than using it wherever you may be at the moment, this can be very economical way to use data when overseas.
Boingo is a popular provider of Wi-Fi city passes. They only charge $8 for each month that you use their service. For the money, you get access to more than a half-million hotspots around the world. As long as you realize that these are public networks that may have come with a few risks, Wi-Fi city passes can be a great, cheap option.