How to Reduce Cell Phone Data Use When you Travel Abroad

tips to reduce international cell phone data

Photo by Barb Gonzalez

Most phone plans cover you when you are in your home country, but require an international plan when you are abroad. You’ll want to be sure to reduce your cell phone data use when you travel abroad.  I’ve seen a trip for a week to Canada add $700 to a phone bill in years before we relied on so many apps on our phone.  Before you tell yourself you’ll put your phone away, or only use it when you have WiFi, consider the convenience of using the maps app, a guidebook, Yelp or Trip Advisor to find a restaurant, or a translation app. All use data.

Choosing an International Data Plan for your Cell Phone

There are three options when traveling out of the country.  When we went to Europe, I did a lot of research.  There’s a one time pay plan that usually includes unlimited texts and a low price for talk and 1 GB of data.  You can buy a European SIM card but most also limit you to 1 GB.  That gig of data runs out quickly.  Verizon and AT&T have a $10 per day option.  You only pay $10 for the days you use the data.  If you can get done what you need to by finding WiFi in a your hotel or a restaurant, you can save on days you really don’t need it. The $10 plan extends your data plan to international use.  I have unlimited so it was really helpful when I hit the 1 GB mark after just a couple of days.

A lot of people use the SIM card, but you’ll be using a different phone number so you won’t be getting the calls from home if you need.  The benefit of a SIM card is that you won’t be charged as you can’t go over your limit accidentally and find another $50 on your phone bill.

Whatever method you use, you want to keep the data usage down.  Here’s some tips on what to do to minimize data use:

Tips for Reducing Data Use on an iPhone
  1. Reset the cellular usage statistics before you arrive overseas.   This will help you track how much data you are using on the international plan. Go to SETTINGS>CELLULAR and go to the bottom to reset statistics.
  2.  Turn off Cellular Data for MAIL.  SETTINGS>MAIL and swipe to turn off cellular data.Then you can wait until you have WiFi to pickup your email.
  3. Turn off iMessage.  In Settings, scroll down to MESSAGES, and slide the iMessage from green to off.  iMessage uses data.  With it turned off, you will still get Text messages but it will use the Text message plan which is often unlimited.
  4. Go to CELLULAR and turn off Cellular Data then tap CELLULAR DATA OPTIONS and turn off Data Roaming. You will need to turn it back on when you want to use data and are not in WiFi range.  If you are on the $10 a day plan, turn off cellular before you go to sleep so it doesn’t automatically connect the next day.
  5. Turn off location services– PRIVACY>LOCATION SERVICES.  You can turn all location services off but you may want location on Google Maps or a guide app to help you find your way.  If you want to use locations on some apps, go through and turn off each app you don’t need (change to NEVER or WHILE USING).  This can be tedious but it will save battery and data.
  6. Go to iTunes & App Stores and turn off AUTOMATIC DOWNLOADS or be sure that “use Cellular data” is turned off.
  7. Turn off background app refresh and Use Cellular Data for each app.  Yes, it is tedious, but it is ESSENTIAL to not waste data.  Be sure to turn on Cellular data for those apps that you want to use when wandering around.
  8.  When you have WiFi, download web pages, do screenshots of information you find, download guides and maps (and music if you want), so you may not have to use data for that day.
  9. If you have it, under CELLULAR, turn on Wi-Fi Calling to make calls without using the cellular plan.
Tips for Reducing Data Use on an Android Phone

(note: I use a Samsung Galaxy phone–your Android may be different)

  1. Go to CONNECTIONS>DATA USAGE.  Turn on DATASAVER, and
  2. If you chose a limited international plan do the following
    –set your data warning for the data limit on your international plan. and
    –Be sure there is NOT a checkmark next to INTERNATIONAL DATA ROAMING and
    –Under MOBILE DATA USAGE, click the Gear and turn on APPLY DATA USAGE LIMIT, set to the usage limit. Also, turn on DATA USAGE WARNING so you know when you are getting close.

Doing all of this on your plane ride to your destination is a good way to pass some time (and bore you until you can fall asleep).

One more note about Cruises.  There are some cruise cellular services that can end up costing a bundle.  When you are out at sea, be sure to turn off that cellular data!  Cruise plans are extra.  Check with your cell phone provider.

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