How to Use Your Phone Internationally Without Charges

If you’re going to travel, you need to know how to avoid international roaming charges. There are so many sneaky things our phones are doing in the background that can rack up data usage and create hundreds of dollars in roaming charges. Ain’t nobody got time for that. 

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It can feel really daunting and complicated to figure out how to use your phone internationally without charges. It’s tempting to throw your hands up and resort to not using a phone at all while abroad. You start trying to rationalize it by thinking things like, “It’s ok, I can just use my camera to take photos and upload a month later”, or “I’ll have email to connect to people when I’m on my laptop”, and “I’ll get really good at using those big paper maps if I can figure out how to fold them.”

While those are totally viable options (we believe in you), it doesn’t have to be that way. Let’s face it, we all want access to our phones abroad. How else are we going to let our loved ones know we arrived safely, post stunning pics of our travels, or have a lifeline in case of an unexpected or murky situation?

The best way to avoid international roaming charges may technically be to lose the phone altogether, but it doesn’t have to come to that. We have some tips that will teach you how to avoid roaming charges overseas so you can keep us up to date on that Insta story while abroad. ? 

[Ready to go international in 2021? Stay inspired with 20 DAYS OF TRAVEL INSPO FROM GOABROAD.COM!]

How to avoid international roaming charges FAQ

1. Does mobile data cost money abroad?

Yes, it sure as heck fire does! And it can cost way more than your typical bill if you’re not careful due to international roaming fees. But don’t worry, there are ways to work around exorbitant data charges.

You may be wondering, “Should I turn off mobile data when abroad?” While that’s not a bad idea, you have to remember that you won’t be able to use your phone unless you connect to WiFi. However, if you are willing to rely on only WiFi for phone use, just turn off that data and don’t worry about it.

woman texting on cell phone
If you want to avoid roaming charges overseas, you must try to resist the ‘Gram.

If you’re trying to figure out how to avoid data charges abroad, you should look into your cellular carrier’s options for international travel. Some carriers have specific international plans you can add on, while others, like T-Mobile, come equipped with international ability with certain domestic plans

TL;DR: Mobile data DOES cost money abroad, but it’s possible to cut the cost with an international plan or by avoiding data usage altogether through airplane mode. 

2. How much does data roaming cost?

Quick lesson in mobile technology: When you get a cellphone, you also have a service plan. You have a contract with a carrier like Verizon, T-Mobile, or Sprint, and you essentially pay to access a certain amount of data each month.

When you are using your phone outside a provider’s coverage, it latches onto a local network and uses that instead. Major carriers have roaming agreements so that you can still tap into that sweet sweet data, but you have to pay an extra fee for that right to use it. Here’s a helpful blog about Data Roaming by Lauren Hannula.

It definitely adds up when you’re traveling because the networks aren’t the same overseas. In the US, you may have a plan with Verizon. But as soon as you land in India, Vodafone is the top dog and Verizon is nowhere to be seen. 

So how much does data roaming cost? It really depends on the carrier and your plan. It’s very possible to be charged hundreds of dollars for mobile roaming charges. There was a man who was charged $62,000 because he downloaded a movie abroad. Pro tip: Don’t do that.

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TL;DR: Data roaming can cost boatloads. Learn how to avoid roaming charges overseas so you don’t get a hefty bill! 

3. Should I turn off mobile data when abroad?

A lot of people are asking the question “Should I turn off mobile data when abroad?” Simple answer, yes. If you don’t want to mess around with changing your cell phone plan or getting a local SIM card abroad, just turn off mobile data when abroad and use your phone as a mini computer via WiFi.

Just get used to the fact that you won’t be able to make calls, use apps, or do… most anything without WiFi. But never fear! There are ways to use your phone without data. 

  • Tip 1: Use alternate messaging apps
    • If you’re not using data, you can still text and call on WiFi. Use apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Skype, or Google Voice to connect with friends and family while abroad.
  • Tip 2: Use apps that work offline
    • There are a surprising number of apps that work without any type of connection (data or WiFi). Look for conversion apps, translation apps, and maps that work offline. Google maps has an option to download sections of maps, but CityMaps2Go,, and HereWeGo have more options. 

TL;DR: If you’re wondering how to avoid international roaming charges, just don’t use mobile data. Boom. Done. If you’re still confused and want to know, “But like…why does mobile data cost money abroad?”, see #2. 

4. If my phone is on airplane mode will I get roaming charges?

iphone on a table top
This thing right here has the potential to be both your best friend and worst enemy when traveling abroad.

Nope. Definitely the best way to avoid international roaming charges while abroad is to simply switch to airplane mode. Don’t freak out when WiFi and Bluetooth stop working, you just need to switch them back on manually. 

TL;DR: Really? No way was that too long. If you want to know how to avoid data charges abroad just turn on flight mode, yo!

5. Are there any special Android or iPhone settings for international travel?

If you’re planning on learning how to use your phone internationally without charges seamlessly, you’re going to need to dive into the settings. There are some things your phone does in the background that you can switch off the save data while traveling abroad. There are subtle nuances between Android and iPhone settings for international travel when it comes to navigating the device, but the end result is the same. 

When you’re using Airplane or Flight mode, you don’t need to worry about data use. So before you even get off the plane, make sure these settings are turned on (or off). Even if you decide to get a local SIM card, these tips will help you out by saving data abroad. 

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  • Turn off roaming. This stops cellular data use so you won’t be paying extra for a plan you don’t have. You can still get calls and text with Wi-Fi, but your phone won’t send or receive data on networks.
    • iPhone: Settings > General > Cellular > Data Roaming > toggle off/white.
    • Android: Settings > Mobile Networks > Data Roaming > toggle off/white
  • Stop apps from sucking your data in the background. There are tons of apps that use cellular data in the background. It doesn’t hurt to check your settings to make sure you’re not wasting data on apps you aren’t even using.
    • iPhone: Settings > General > Cellular > Cellular Data > scroll down and toggle/white apps you don’t use
    • Android: Settings > Data Usage > App Data Usage > tap app you want to turn off > toggle background data off/white 
  • Turn off automatic downloads. Make sure videos, calendar, email, software updates, and backups don’t sneakily download in the background by turning off any automatic download settings you have. Just remember to go back and download updates when you’re on WiFi to ensure all your apps are working properly and that your photos are backed up!
    • iPhone: Settings > [your name] > iTunes & App Store > Use Cellular Data > toggle off/white. Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendars > toggle off/white 
    • Android: Google Play> Hamburger icon top-left > Settings > Auto-update apps> do not auto-update apps 
  • Track cellular usage. It’s a good idea to reset your data tracking when going abroad to see how much you’re using. On Androids, you can set an alert for when you get to a danger zone in data use. 
    • iPhone: Settings > Cellular > Scroll to bottom and tap Reset Statistics
    • Android: Settings > Wireless & Networks > Data Usage > Billing cycle and tap reset

TL;DR: If you still don’t know the answer to “Should I turn off mobile data when abroad?”, go back and just read. It’ll help your wallet and your travel anxiety, we promise.  

6. What is the best way to avoid international roaming charges?

view of apps on iphone screen
Learning how to avoid data charges abroad may help you detox from phone usage.

Hands down best way to avoid international roaming charges is to not use data abroad. But like we’ve gone over before, that just seems silly. Instead, set yourself up for success by learning how to avoid data charges abroad before you go. 

If you want to use data abroad instead of relying on WiFi, first thing to do is call your carrier and see if they have any good deals for international plans. It’s typically a daily add-on where you pay $5-$20/day (depending on your carrier) and have a bit o’ data to work with. That way you can just use your phone as you normally would; just pay attention to how much you use so you don’t go over your limit.

Another option is to use a local SIM card. Most smartphones have the ability to function globally, as long as they are unlocked and set up to function with Global System for Mobiles (GSM). Here’s an article about the difference of CDMA and GSM.

Most phones these days are set up to work globally, so you shouldn’t have to worry about this. Just call your carrier and ask two things: “Is my phone unlocked?” And, “Will it work with another SIM card?”. In some countries you’ll only pay $10 to $20 for a decent amount of data (like in Southeast Asia), so think about how much you want to pay to use data abroad. 

Avoid roaming charges overseas—use FundMyTravel!

Just because you know how to use your phone internationally without charges doesn’t mean travel is free. Does mobile data cost money abroad? Yes. Do you need to pay extra for it? Nope! Use FundMyTravel to alleviate some of the global mobile fees you’ll run into. Raise some extra cash to buy a local SIM, get an international plan, or for juuuuust in case you use a little more data than had you planned to. 

Now you know how to avoid data charges abroad

picture of food on iphone screen
You don’t have to know how to avoid roaming charges overseas if you’re just taking photos. (Something like this won’t cost you anything but dignity.)

That’s right, now YOU are the expert! When your friend asks you, “How much does data roaming cost?” you can tell them the horror stories of people being charged hundreds, even thousands of dollars. But you also know exactly how to avoid roaming charges overseas, so as long as they listen to your sage advice, they won’t need to worry about that. 

Our phones are amazing tools that help us connect with people, navigate the world, and learn new things. If you’re ready to go abroad, you’re going to need to get that baby ready, too! Sift through all those pesky Android or iPhone settings for international travel, call your carrier, and get your show on the road.

For more tips and tricks on how to save and raise money for your adventures abroad, go to our homepage and sign up for the FundMyTravel Newsletter!

This article was written by Rebekah Glebe.

Comments (4)

very good advice, well written and most useful for Novice/s who need to learn fast. Thanks.

wow.. it’s just fantastic ideas to avoid data charges via international calling. Using these tricks, we can do internationally calls without any data roaming. I will surely try these tricks. Keep sharing your ideas!

Hi there this is a very helpful article for me

Thank you for this. One less stress to worry about especially in this time of financial challenges.

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