Over the past couple of months, I’ve left the country twice for work. Being without internet and phone is not an option for me, so I’m forced to plan ahead in these situations; otherwise, I’ll rack up a huge phone bill due to roaming.
During these trips abroad, I’ve used two different methods for maintaining internet and phone service, both of which had their own pros and cons.
The first option was pocket wifi. These are pretty popular, and they’re commonly available at major international airports. I prepaid for mine online for a period of one week.
The cost for this weekly pocket wifi rental was about $100 and it would be delivered to my upon landing by a company rep. I used the free airport wifi and WhatsApp—a useful app for international travel—to text the rep when I landed to set up the rendezvous.
This process was simple, the device was easy to use, and the internet speed was decent. My partner and I both used it throughout the trip and we had no serious complaints. I left my phone in airplane mode during the entire trip and made calls and texts using phone apps.
The only downside was the device’s battery life. The pocket wifi had to be constantly charged, so much so that the company supplied a portable battery backup with it. Carrying around a pocket wifi, a battery backup, and a wall charger ended up being pretty bulky, forcing me to carry a bag around.
The second option I used is only possible if you have an “unlocked” phone. If you do, you can simply go to any local phone store and buy a SIM card to use while you’re in the area.
In my case, my phone was not unlocked, as my provider was very slow in processing the request. Luckily, a friend I was traveling with had an extra phone to use, so this ended up being very easy. We just set up a mobile hotspot on his spare phone using the local SIM card, and I was able to hook my locked phone up to the hotspot.
The cost for this was around $45 for 3GB of data. I had about 1GB left after eight days of using it for most of my internet needs, so it was a good value. If you don’t want to, or can’t, unlock your phone, you could always unlock an old phone and use it as a mobile hotspot.
The benefits to using a SIM card over pocket wifi are potential longer battery life, and a lightening of your load. Plus, it’s usually a little cheaper. If you have multiple people using the same hotspot, however, I’m not sure how long the data would last, which could drive up the cost.
Another downside is that you might have to roam in order to use your phone for directions on your way to get set up with a new SIM card. It helps if you can find a phone store without having to do so.
Both of these are viable options for international travel, and which one I use in the future will likely depend on where I’m traveling to.