From time to time, we see questions regarding using one’s phone when traveling outside the U.S.
Some but not all service providers offer international cellular coverage (international roaming). As with international calling, international roaming may be restricted to certain countries and/or plans. International roaming, when offered, is often very expensive, so it might make sense to look at alternatives.
If the combination of your phone and service provider’s plan supports WiFi calling, calls to those numbers included in the price of your plan, generally, are treated the same when made on WiFi outside the U.S. as they are when made over cellular in the U.S. For example, if your plan provides calling to U.S. numbers when home, you would be able to call those same numbers over WiFi when outside the U.S. at no additional cost. One should, of course, verify this with one’s service provider.
Testing whether the combination of one’s phone and plan supports WiFi calling before relying on that for international travel is simple. Just place the phone in Airplane mode (Airplane mode disables a phone’s cellular and WiFi radios) then manually reenable WiFi. If, with the phone in this state, you are able to make and receive calls, WiFI calling is supported.
If the above test fails, either WiFi calling is not supported on the phone or WiFi calling hasn’t been enabled on the phone. The method of enabling WiFi calling varies depending upon a phone’s manufacturer but the following usually gets one to the right spot:
- Open Settings
- In the search field, type WiFi calling
- For Android, tap WiFi calling
- For iPhone, tap Phone
If you don’t see an option for WiFi calling, it’s likely the combination of your phone and plan does not support it. If you’ll share the brand, model and (if applicable) generation of your phone, we’ll do our best to confirm.
There are some countries that block WiFi calling. Those known to do so include; China, Cuba, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and Vietnam.
Internet access when connected to WiFi typically works the same as when one is connected to WiFi at home. For navigation when away from WiFi, mapping apps may be used in offline mode. For Google Maps, please see here. HERE We Go with apps for both Android and iPhone is another popular option.
If you need to make calls to local (in country) numbers where you are traveling when connected to WiFi, you’ll want to be careful. Though your provider’s plan may allow for calling numbers outside the U.S., they may charge high fees for doing so even when calling numbers in the same country one is traveling in over WiFi. If that’s the case or your provider’s plan doesn’t allow for calling international numbers, many make use of third party services such as Google Voice, Skype, Viber, Rebtel or Localphone. Some additional detail on international calling is linked here.
Alternatively, you can use an international calling card with a U.S. access number. International calling cards are commonly sold at convenience stores.
If cellular service outside the U.S. is desired and your domestic provider’s plans don’t provide that or are prohibitively expensive, there is the option of using a local (in country) SIM to provide cellular coverage where you are traveling.
A great online resource for locating a service provider where one will be traveling is here. Don’t let the reference to Data SIMs concern you. The Wiki covers SIMs that provide talk and text as well as cell data.
You’ll want to be certain your phone is unlocked for international travel. That’s a question best directed to your service provider. If, like many of us, you purchased your phone at RW’s online store, it may or may not be unlocked.
If you bought your phone from RW on or after December 14, 2021 it was sold to you locked If you haven’t already done so, you will want to request it be unlocked by calling into support. Phones purchased at RW’s store prior to December 14, 2021 are already unlocked.
Dual SIM phones with two physical SIM slots were never popular in the U.S. More recently, however, there are a growing number of dual SIM via eSIM phones. Dual SIM via eSIM phones include Apple iPhone 2018 (iPhone XR and iPhone XS) or later models, Google Pixel 2019 (Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL) or later models and various Samsung models.
If you have a dual SIM via eSIM phone, you have the potential luxury of using both your domestic provider’s service over WiFi and local (in country) cellular service simultaneously. An increasing number of domestic U.S. and overseas providers are offering eSIM.
If your current phone does not sport dual SIM via eSIM, you may still alternate between your domestic U.S. service over WiFi and local (in country) cellular service by swapping SIMs as needed. When swapping SIMs, it’s a good idea to have a safe place to store the SIM not currently in use such as something like this.
Finally, there is always the option of traveling with two phones. If you don’t have a spare second phone available to you, renting is an option.
Upon your return home, please consider sharing your experience by leaving a comment. Have a safe and enjoyable trip!