Staying in Touch
What you need to know about cell phones abroad
Having a usable cell phone abroad is non-negotiable for many students, but the process of making that happen is unfortunately very complex. While you can simply purchase an international plan for your current phone, the cost is guaranteed to be astronomical. The good news is that there are several options that are more affordable. Here are some things to keep in mind:
Your cell phone might not work abroad
Most of the world outside of North America uses a different type of cell phone service called Global Service for Mobile (GSM). Because of this, your current phone most likely won’t function on the differing system and frequency.
International phone plans are very expensive
If your phone is internationally compatible, you can contact your phone service provider and ask about international plans. Be careful, though. These plans are typically extremely expensive, and it is easy to go over minute and data limits.
You don’t need a fancy phone abroad
Though your smartphone might be your prized possession, you really only need a phone with basic call and text capabilities. This will cut down on costs and expand your options to “pay-as-you-go” plans.
Your smartphone can be a handy tool as you travel. If you choose to bring it with you, you will need to turn off all cellular data and use it only to connect to wi-fi. Keep in mind that smartphones are the most frequently lost and stolen item abroad.
SIM cards might be an option
If you have an unlocked phone, a cell phone that isn’t tied to any one carrier, you will be able to purchase a local SIM card for your host country and save a considerable amount of money. If your phone is not unlocked, you will need to contact your carrier and ask if unlocking it is an option or purchase an unlocked phone. You should note that unlocking a cell phone might void its warranty.
You can rent or buy an international cell phone before you leave
One of the best ways to ensure cell phone access overseas is to rent or buy an international cell phone prior to leaving for your program. This will allow you to have a working cell phone as soon as you land.
Several companies specialize in providing cell phones and plans for international travelers or study abroad students. Check with your program to see if they recommend or offer discounts with a certain provider.
Here are a few options:
PicCell (iNext cardholders are able to receive a free cell phone and local SIM card)
You can purchase a cell phone once you’re overseas
Phone stores are far more common abroad than they are in the United States. There will likely be several options for you if you decide to purchase a cell phone once you arrive in your host city. Keep in mind that language barriers can make cell phone purchasing more difficult, but getting a local phone guarantees that it will function in your destination.
Some apps allow you to use your smartphone with Wi-Fi only
There are several great apps that will allow your smartphone or computer to send messages and make voice and video calls without using cellular data:
What you need to know about the Internet abroad
Though wi-fi is often more prevalent overseas, it is also more inconsistent. You will likely find lots of hotspots throughout major cities and free wi-fi in several restaurants and cafes. However, wi-fi at your apartment or homestay could be incredibly unreliable or even nonexistent. Prepare to go without the Internet on occasion or learn to rely on your university’s computer lab.
Contact your family as soon as you arrive
Everyone back home will want to know that you have made it to your destination safely, and waiting to get in touch can cause unnecessary worry. Find WiFi, borrow a friend’s phone if you don’t have one, or use an airport computer to let your family know you are safe and will call them as soon as you get settled in.
Education Abroad would also love to know that you’ve made it to your destination safely. Drop us an email!
Other ways to stay in touch
Social media is a great tool for communication from abroad, and keeping a blog gives you a fun project (that can distract from homesickness) and gives your family and friends access to the updates they’re dying to hear.
Connect with one another using #MavsAbroad, send us your social media posts, or apply to be an official UNO Education Abroad blogger.
Understanding how technology can negatively affect study abroad
Although the ability to stay connected to friends and family is a wonderful thing, over-connectedness can also become a problem when a student is abroad. The strange mix of familiarity (constantly talking to people back home) and the completely foreign can exacerbate homesickness for some students and limit how deeply they engage with the local culture and how much they enjoy their experience. These resources discuss the impact that technology has on study abroad and how to find a balance between comfortable connectivity and beneficial exploration: