Using The Internet While Abroad
We’ve all heard horror stories of people who have traveled out of the country and arrived back home to find a massive cellphone bill. But sometimes there is no avoiding it. Using the internet abroad is now a necessary part of life. You need it to stay in touch with friends and family, work, pull up hotel reservations and transit maps, and even have fun listening to podcasts and playing games. But that doesn’t mean that connecting is cheap. If you don’t have a plan on how you’ll connect, you could be in for a shocking bill. Here are some of the main options to choose from.
- Get an International Cell Phone Plan
- Use Public Wi-Fi for Internet Abroad
- Buy a Local SIM Card
- Purchase or Rent a Personal Mobile Hotspot
1. Get an International Plan With Your Current Cell Phone Provider
For the short term, occasional trips, getting an international plan with your current cell phone data provider is an easy choice. Many major companies offer “international day pass” or “roam like home” packages that allow you to use your regular data plan in up to 100 different countries for just a small additional daily surcharge of $5 or $10 a day. There’s usually nothing special you have to do to activate this plan. You don’t have to worry about picking up a SIM card or connecting to a local Wi-Fi hotspot. You just use your phone like you normally would. However, for longer trips, daily surcharges can add up quickly.
2. Use Public Wi-Fi for Internet Abroad
The world is anything but consistent when it comes to providing uniform access to the internet. In some countries, public Wi-Fi is all but nonexistent. However, in many others, Wi-Fi is free, easy to find, and easy to use. Public libraries, hotel lobbies, cafes, bars, airports, train stations, museums, and government buildings are all popular destinations for free Wi-Fi. Starbucks, McDonald’s, and 7-Eleven are three chains that are well known for offering free Wi-Fi for their customers.
To feel the benefits even when you’re no longer connected, download any maps you might need from Google Maps and to update other apps like those for currency exchange so you can use them offline with ease. And remember, while using public Wi-Fi is usually free and easy, it’s not without risks. If you need to access personal financial information, it’s wise to do so from a more private and secure setup.
If you plan on using public Wi-Fi hotspots exclusively while abroad, take steps to avoid unwanted roaming charges. Go into your phone’s settings and switch off roaming before you head out for your trip. Relying exclusively on public Wi-Fi hotspots isn’t for everyone but there’s no denying that it’s a frugal choice. If you’re interested in trying it, one of these cities known for its connectively is a good place to start.
Register for a Wi-Fi Program in Taipei, Taiwan
Taipei is home to an extremely user-friendly Wi-Fi program. Visitors can register ahead of time to get 30 days of free access to over 5,000 different hotspots across Taiwan, several hundred of which are located in Taipai and can be found on this map.
Access Free Wi-Fi hotspots in Tallinn, Estonia
Tallinn is one connected capital, with dozens of free Wi-Fi hotspots available in the Old Town. However, it’s not just Tallinn that’s connected. Estonia is one of the most connected countries in the world and many small cities and towns have followed Tallinn’s lead.
Access the Free Network in Tel Aviv, Israel
Tel Aviv is known as Israel’s startup capital and thus it’s only fitting that since 2013 it’s had a free Wi-Fi network. There are over eighty hotspots around the city, including in Old Jaffa, listed under the “free_tlv” network.
Free Wi-Fi in Barcelona, Spain
Barcelona has a widespread free public Wi-Fi network. Hotspots include beaches, markets, museums, street signs, and lampposts. Visitors can find a listing of locations here.
Public Squares in Helsinki, Finland Provide Password-Free Hotspots
Helsinki is filled with password-free hotspots in nearly every public building and square, plus buses and trams and the airport itself. There is a large cluster of hotspots downtown, which is perfect for visitors and tourists.
Moscow, Russia has Thousands of Wi-Fi Points to Access
Moscow has more public Wi-Fi points than nearly any other city. There are more than 18,000 points of access including libraries, 43 parks, 3,500 cultural centers, 10,500 university and college hostels, and even streets.
Access Over 200 Hotspots in Paris, France
Paris is one of Europe’s most connected cities. There are over 200 public Wi-Fi hotspots in Paris that allow for two hours of connectivity at a time. Visitors can search for the “Paris Wi-Fi” or use this handy map to plot out where they’ll connect.
Perth, Australia is the Most Connected
Australia’s western capital is its most connected city. Since 2013 there is free Wi-Fi throughout the central shopping and business districts. There’s also free Wi-Fi in most cafes, hotels, and the airport.
3. Buy a Local SIM Card
A favorite choice among frequent travelers, buying a local SIM card is a good choice for people who are on the road for long periods of time. A SIM card is a smart chip for your phone that gives you a new number and a local data plan. You can often pick them up in airports when you land at your destination. You can buy a set amount of data upfront and adjust your needs depending on your usage.
The key advantage of a local SIM is that it’s affordable and it works just like a local phone. However, in order to use a SIM card your phone needs to be unlocked. This means you can switch out your regular SIM card for the local one you picked up. You also will only receive phone calls and texts to your new, local number – not the number associated with the SIM card you use at home. This isn’t a problem if you normally only receive texts from a few loved ones you can easily give your new number to. However, if you receive frequent texts from a wide variety of colleagues and friends, you might miss some important messages if you’re overseas and they don’t have your new contact info.
4. Purchase or Rent a Personal Mobile Hotspot
When you purchase or rent a personal mobile hotspot, you can travel with confidence. Your data transmission is secure and you’re able to stay connected no matter where you go. You use a secure wireless network and a unique password, just like you would at home. You also don’t have to worry about connecting and reconnecting as you exit one public Wi-Fi spot and later enter another one.
Personal hotspots start at about $100 for 16GB of data and increase with the number of options you choose for your package. Rentals start at about $10 a day for unlimited internet but in some areas, they are more expensive. Some rental options mail the hotspot to you at your house before your trip so you can familiarize yourself before you hit the road. Others have the option of pick up or drop off at airports.
On the downside, having a personal hotspot is one more device for busy travelers to keep track of. It can be annoying to have to pack one more item in your day bag and the cost of rentals add up quickly on a long trip.
Security Measures When Accessing Free Internet Abroad
There’s little value in using Wi-Fi connections or hotspots around the world if they make you vulnerable to hacking. Hackers love to entrap tourists with enticing network names like “Free Tourist Network” in order to steal personal information. Installing a virtual private network (VPN) on your phone, tablet, and laptop will help enhance your security.