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How to Survive Abroad without an International Phone Plan

One of the biggest things I was worried about while planning my study abroad trip was what I was going to do about my phone plan. I’m a phone addict obviously. I had heard of people getting new phones, just new SIM cards, paying for an international phone plan, or just surviving off wifi. After talking to friends who I knew had already been abroad and talking to my parents about money, I decided to just go with the last option. So I’ve been living off only wifi for the last three months.

I know that seems insane. We’re all so used to being on our phones 24/7 and being able to randomly Google something should our hearts desire. But yeah no, I haven’t been able to do that. That alone seems to scare people off. Then adding on the tidbit about possibly not being able to look up directions should you be lost in a foreign city? Yeah, that scares literally everyone. Myself included, especially since big cities already give me anxiety.

But honestly, not buying a new SIM card or phone plan was totally the right way to go. It’s been way easier to survive than I thought it would be, and I saved money!! Always a plus.

survive abroad without an international phone plan wifi only | College with Caitlyn

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iPhone is golden

I’m not an Apple fanatic in any way. But Apple does a really good job of having features that make you never want to leave their grasp. Especially features that are insanely useful when all you have is wifi and still need to be able to contact people!

iMessage

Obviously, you are able to text people over wifi. This is essential because texting is most people’s primary medium of communication nowadays, and without it contacting people in your home country may get a little difficult. Of course, this means the person you are texting has to have an iPhone as well.

If you don’t have an iPhone, Androids can also send text messages over wifi. However, I’m not sure if the phone receiving the message has to be an Android as well.

Wifi Calling

This is a feature I didn’t even know existed until I was playing around in my phone’s settings one day. By switching on this feature you can place calls without a signal, using only wifi. The only catch is it has to be a phone number with the same country code as you have, otherwise the international charges still apply.

So for example, I had a USA phone number so I was able to call people with American phone numbers as well. But, if I tried to call a number here in the UK using wifi calling my phone company would still charge me like it was a normal international phone call.

Facetime

Again, everyone knows what Facetime is. It’s the handy feature that allows you to video call your other friends with iPhones or iPads. Of course, you could also use other video chat apps like Skype if you have an Android because as far as I know, they don’t have video chatting as a built-in feature.

Facetime audio

Now here’s another thing I doubt a lot of people know about. So basically Facetime audio is just like calling someone. But you don’t have to turn on Wifi calling to do so! This also means you can use this feature with international people who have iPhones, without getting charged!! Just make sure your cellular data is turned off and punch in the number.

coffee shop

Wifi is basically everywhere

Okay, but Caitlyn I’m not going to have wifi all the time!

Yes. You’re right. But you’re also wrong.

If I’m in desperate need of wifi I’ve always been able to find it. Now, this may be because I’m studying abroad in a big city and have only visited other big cities. But I don’t think people really study abroad in small rural cities so you shouldn’t have an issue either.

Here are places that you can always siphon wifi from:

  • Big shopping stores – Think H&M and GAP. I literally ran into an H&M while in Ireland because I needed to send an email otherwise my next hostel reservation was going to be canceled
  • Starbucks – Literal holy grail. They always have wifi! Plus, you almost never have to log in like other places in the UK. There’s no long form to fill out, you just have to accept the terms like you do in most places in the US
  • City wifi – yes this is a thing. At least here in Glasgow it is, and if I remember correctly, parts of Edinburgh had it as well. It’s only available in the very heart of the city, though. Not on every street and corner
  • Train stations, bus stations, airports – These places always have free wifi!! Some buses and trains do as well! Super helpful for weekend trips and school holidays

Do be wary of trying to just pop into a cafe and get free wifi. While this is normal in the US, almost every restaurant or cafe wifi here is locked and needs a password which you have to either ask for or hunt the walls for a poster telling you the secret words. Plus, most places require you to sign your life away to get access to their wifi. Like I swear all these places know more about me than the FBI agent tracking my laptop.

There’s always Hotspots

If you don’t know what a hotspot is, it’s basically a little device that just emits wifi. I found them on Amazon starting at $50 and going up to around $150. Then you literally always have wifi as long as it’s charged.

Let’s compare this to an international phone plan through my phone company, AT&T. Their basic international plan STARTS at $60 a month and you get 1GB of data, still pay 35 cents per minute of call time, and get unlimited texts. A typical study abroad semester lasts four months, so that’s $240. Obviously, you would be saving money by using the hotspot over an international phone plan.

But what about buying a new international SIM card? These can be pretty cheap as well. I actually broke my iPhone and have been using an Android for a couple weeks now with a European SIM card. For £5 a month I get 500 texts, 150 minutes (both only for local UK numbers only), and 150 MB of data. The data is gone already. So you obviously would need to pay more than that monthly if you’re wanting to have internet access at all times and not just wifi.


I hope I was able to help you figure out your phone situation before you go abroad! Like I said, it was one of the things I worried most about. No joke I was literally asking people a year before I even left. But I’m really glad I decided to just go with wifi and save myself hundreds of dollars that I instead was able to put towards more traveling!

Could you survive off just wifi?

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