The cost of wireless abroad
AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon charge extra for international connections, from about 50 cents to $5 per minute for calls and 10 to 50 cents per text, depending on the carrier and the part of the world you're visiting.
You’ll also pay a surcharge—about 2 cents per kilobyte—to your carrier for wireless data access overseas. You can get a discounted rate by adding an international plan (comparison chart) to your existing plan, which is ideal for users traveling for an extended period or for a student overseas.
One way to keep communications costs down is to send short text messages instead of calling. (“Just arrived in Rome. Weather is beautiful. Off to hotel.”) Some U.S. carriers, such as Verizon, count those messages as part of your monthly plan limit. Others offer international messaging as an option at about $10 to $50 per month. While texting can be cheaper than talking——as low as 20 cents per text per recipient compared to 60 cents per minute of voice—bear in mind that you might face overage costs by exceeding your plan's monthly allotment of messages.
You can also buy a prepaid "disposable" SIM card and install it in your phone. This small plastic card contains the account information that gives some U.S. phones access to a carrier’s network overseas. Because the SIM is tied to the service provider wherever you’re visiting, you'll no longer be tethered to your U.S.-based mobile-phone number. But you'll typically still have access to most of your phone's capabilities, including snapping pictures, shooting videos, and using apps. And when you return stateside, all you'll need to do is swap SIM cards to return the phone to normal. Prepaid international SIM cards can be cheap, starting at about $5.
Note that not all mobile phones—even ones described by U.S. carriers as "world" or "global"—from U.S. carriers are "unlocked" or otherwise able to accept SIM cards from other service providers.
In such cases, you might want to simply rent or buy a disposable mobile phone online (as low as $19) in advance or on arrival, say from a self-service kiosk at your destination airport. These temporary cell phones operate on local wireless service providers' networks. But like prepaid SIM cards and calling cards used for landlines, you'll need to be wary of connection costs and service fees, which can vary wildly, from free to $5 per minute of talk time if you're calling from a cruise ship or far-flung destination.
Technology makes it easy to stay in touch when you’re abroad. But if you’d prefer not to incur the expenses or just want to get away from it all, you have a simple option: the off button.