Staying Connected While Abroad

In this day and age, it’s important for us to stay connected when we are outside of the country. You need a way for your loved ones to contact you and access Google Maps to look up directions every once in a while. It’s also very convenient if you get ever get lost, want to look for a place, or just want to do some research while you are out and about. While planning for our trip to Japan earlier this year, I had to figure out how to have internet access while we were going from place to place. There are a few options for staying connected:

  1. Hotel wifi, 7-11, and other free wifi hotspots (Cost: FREE)
    Sure, you can rely on the free wifi that may be located around you whenever you need to connect. You wouldn’t need to spend any money for this option, but you also wouldn’t have the convenience of being connected almost anywhere.
  2. Get an international data plan from your service provider
    If you have T-Mobile with the plan that gives you unlimited international data, then you are covered. Otherwise, this would be the most expensive option if you plan to use more than 200 MB of data. AT&T charges $30 for 120 MB of data per month and it’s added onto your monthly bill. So you would have to add it before your trip and then remove it after your trip.
  3. Buy a prepaid SIM card and put it in your unlocked smartphone
    It’s pretty easy nowadays to get a prepaid SIM card from a local provider in the country you are in. The available plans are usually fairly inexpensive too. With this option, you will need a SIM card for each person in your party and each of them will need to have an unlocked smartphone. Unfortunately, this wasn’t an option for us because our phones were SIM locked and we weren’t able to get it unlocked from our service provider due to it still being under contract.
  4. Rent a mobile hotspot device
    There are companies that rent out mobile hotspot devices that you can connect your phone to via wifi. These devices have a SIM card inside and is connected to a mobile provider’s network. They typically charge based on the length of the rental, the service speed (3G/4G), and how much data you want. This was the option that we went with. They delivered the device to our hotel and we got it when we checked in. They include a return envelope so that you can just put everything back into the return envelope and drop it into a mailbox at the end of the rental period.
  5. Buy a prepaid SIM card and put it in your mobile hotspot device
    After renting a mobile hotspot device for our Japan trip. I decided that we should just buy our own device and get a local SIM card the next time we traveled to another country. This way we just need to get 1 SIM card for both of us to use the internet. I ended up purchasing the Huawei E5330 from Amazon. We used it on our trip to Italy and it worked like a charm. All we had to do was buy the SIM card and insert it into the device, and we both got internet service on our phones.

Remember: Just like with your smartphones, the batteries on these mobile hotspot devices will not last all day. It would be a good idea to carry a mobile battery pack that you can use to charge your phones and hotspot device when the batteries run low.

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