by Jon Sender | Back to Guide
Don’t be one of those people who go abroad wifi hunting because they never bought a phone plan…unless detaching yourself from everything is one of your goals. In which case, that’s perfectly acceptable. However, there will be plenty of times when having a fully-functioning phone comes in handy, like figuring out at which bus stop to get off or hailing a taxi using an app. Furthermore, I’m a firm believer that you should try and keep the device most familiar to you, i.e. your current smartphone, because it will be resourceful for you and also one less new thing to adjust to.
First check with your provider if your device comes unlocked. Verizon devices do, but AT&T ones do not. If your device is locked, call your provider and ask for an unlocking code. If they won’t provide it to you, you can bring your phone for wifi but will need to get a local phone elsewhere. If your phone is unlocked, look up which size SIM card it uses.
You can check with your provider if they offer international data plans and how much they cost, but these usually are highly expensive. I wouldn’t bother for Verizon, but I’ve heard T-Mobile actually offers a decent package. If the price is right, that can be a valid option.
For everyone whose phone is unlocked, however, I recommend looking up the major phone carriers in your country and ordering a prepaid SIM from Amazon. Here’s the Israeli one I ordered, as a reference. This will be helpful should you need to make a call after landing, perhaps to someone who is supposed to pick you up, or to the university to say your flight was delayed and you’ll be late to orientation. Swapping out the SIM can be done with a paperclip and is pretty straightforward, even in an airport bathroom.
Once you’re settled in, that’s a good time to migrate from your prepaid plan to a regular one, which will undoubtedly be so cheap you’ll want to punch yourself. In Israel, I could get 6GB of data and unlimited everything else for only $12/month, which is crazy because that would cost so much more in America. You could check a local mall for a kiosk of a major provider, where you can sign up (you can call to cancel right before your flight home). Be prepared, however, that they might ask for your passport and a deposit because you’re not a native citizen.
You’ll want to communicate with your family every so often, and you should agree on a regular interval before you leave. I talked with them roughly twice a week, although not always at a set time.
There’s a magic app I’m going to recommend you download, and it’s actually called that: MagicApp. For $10/year (and tell it not to renew), you get a US number in your area code of choice, which the app uses to call America over wifi or data. This means you can call not only your family and friends, but your bank if someone steals your credit card, your doctor if something goes wrong, etc. Better yet, the app accepts incoming calls and gives you voicemail as well. I used it more than I can convey to you—it definitely saved my life when by bank at home lost a wire transfer—and I highly recommend you check it out.