GIVEN THE pandemic’s twists and turns, picking a travel destination can be dicey these days—and the need to stay on top of potential obstacles has left globe-trotters extra-reliant on smartphones.
In uncertain times, data is a traveller’s best friend, and quickly hopping on the internet to research sudden changes to Covid rules has become as essential as accessing Google Maps, scanning restaurant QR codes or summoning an Uber or a Lyft. You want to cut loose and be carefree, not spend your vacation hunting down free Wi-Fi.
Here, are three different ways to let you maintain access to the internet overseas, wherever there’s cell coverage:
1. The Old Standbys
Stepping off the plane, turning on your phone and instantly having service is the simplest option for travellers not looking to drop off the grid. Of the three major U.S. carriers, T-Mobile offers the least expensive way to stay connected abroad. If you have either the company’s Magenta or Magenta Max plans, which cost $70 and $85 a month, respectively, you’ll immediately have service upon reaching your destination at no additional cost. The catch: Although you get unlimited data overseas, service can feel exceptionally slow (about 2G velocity). If that proves too sluggish to efficiently power navigation and ride-sharing apps, you can purchase T-Mobile’s day passes starting at $5 a day, which will boost functionality to speeds on par with what you’d experience stateside.
Best for: Time-pressed road warriors looking for the simplest, if not necessarily the cheapest, way to stay on the grid.
2. Unlock and Load
Most smartphones come either “locked” or “unlocked.” The former means that the phone can’t be used with any carrier other than the one from which you purchased the phone. The latter means that you’re free to swap out the phone’s SIM card, its tiny memory chip, anytime, handy when you’re travelling overseas. That’s because, as peripatetic penny-pinchers have long known, the cheapest way to travel with a smartphone is to purchase a local SIM card as soon as you land (often sold at phone stores or supermarkets) and pop it into your phone. With a local SIM card, you can access several gigabytes of data, usually more than enough, for as little as $5 to $25 a month, depending on the country. The downside—or upside, depending on how incommunicado you’d like to be—is that you’ll have a new phone number during your trip.
3. Google It
For the past few years, Google has been offering its own wireless service that rivals that of Old Guards such as T-Mobile and AT&T. At a monthly rate of $70, Google Fi’s “Unlimited Plus” plan offers customers 4G data speeds in more than 200 destinations. You can either use Google Fi with the company’s own Pixel smartphone or on many unlocked phones, though you’ll need to do a little research on the Google Fi website to make sure your phone is compatible.
Google Fi’s tethering features are also ideal for people who want access to loads of high-speed data when using their phone to connect to the internet with their tablet or laptop by creating a mobile hot spot. The only problem (a giant one for some): Google’s international tethering doesn’t work with iPhones.
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