How to Save Money on Phone Bills while Traveling

Traveling is wonderful, but it’s usually important to stay connected to home. The internet makes it easier to keep tabs, and wi-fi is prevalent in much of the world. You can you use Skype to talk to family and friends, but many of us need our cell phone numbers to be available for work as well. So here are several ways to save money on phone bills while traveling!

Contact Your Phone Company Before Heading Abroad

If you’re unclear about your plan, pick up the phone. This is the most important thing to do, to save money on future phone bills, before leaving home. Let the representative know where you’re going and ask what the international rates are and if they have any international packages.

We’re on T-Mobile’s Simple Choice Plan, and Canada and Mexico, in addition to the USA, are included in our unlimited talk, text and 4G LTE data plan. When we travel elsewhere, we receive free 3G internet, and this summer in July and August, 4G LTE data in most European countries. This is certainly enough to keep most people well connected. While 3G can be be slow to upload photos, it’s an excuse to put your phone down and take in the beautiful surroundings!

Antwerp Grand Place, Belgium


Turn off Mobile Data if It Isn’t Included in Your Plan

If data roaming isn’t included in your plan, turn off the mobile data setting when you don’t need it. Stick to free wi-fi where you can get it. But play it safe with sensitive information on public wi-fi. Use your bank’s app rather than surfing on your browser for bank details. Read Rick Steves article on using public wi-fi to stay safe!

You should also disable push notifications because when mobile data is on, and not included in your plan, you could be charged for updates. We’ve all heard stories of that friend who returned from overseas with a $1,000 phone bill. You may have already spent a lot on your trip, so this is the last thing you need when you return.

Download City Maps Beforehand or While on Free Wi-Fi at your Hotel or Elsewhere

People are used to technology and google maps to get around these days. But if data roaming isn’t included in your plan, and you don’t want to extra pay for it, download city maps while on free wi-fi. McDonald’s and Starbucks usually have free wi-fi and most cafes allow usage after a purchase. Here’s a worldwide guide to some free wi-fi spots. For iPhone users, we love Pocket Earth, which allows you download detailed maps of cities before you head out.

A romantic moment on the Great Wall of China

Buy a Local SIM Card to Save Money on Phone Bills While Traveling

If your phone company doesn’t provide a good international plan, it’s a good idea to buy a local SIM card. But if your phone is locked, you won’t be able to use a local SIM card in it. If want to have your current phone number available, you can buy a cheap unlocked phone and carry two phones around. This way people can contact you on your number when necessary and you can use data on free wi-fi. Then you can use the cheap phone to make local calls and possibly call home for cheaper than your current plan.

The best way to get a local SIM card is to find a local phone shop. Most major cities worldwide have plenty of cell phone stores. So it’s usually no problem to buy a local SIM card with credit starting at as little as the equivalent of $10-$20. The store clerk will help you set it up. But if you’re in a foreign country where you don’t speak the local language, you may find it difficult to add credit without going back into the shop. So try and estimate how much credit you need based on local rates. Keep re-ups to a minimum to save time and hassle.

Be sure to have your passport on hand when you go to purchase a foreign SIM card. By law, many countries require identification to purchase SIM cards. But it is usually a very straight forward process. In countries like Germany and Malaysia, we asked the store clerk to help us set up the SIM card, and they were happy to oblige.

Keep Your Old Smart Phone

These days, companies usually lock smart phones while under contract, so you can’t replace the SIM cards easily. But once your contract is up, you can ask the company to unlock your phone. So it’s a good idea to hold on to old smart phones so you can put in a local SIM card abroad without having to purchase a new phone.


Keep Travel Plans Organized to Save Money on Phone Bills While Traveling

Be sure to print copies of boarding passes and hotel reservations before your next stop. This means you don’t have to surf on mobile data unnecessarily. And many discount airlines in Europe, like Ryanair, require you to print boarding passes ahead of time, to save substantially on fees at the ticket counter. Consider utilizing an app like Tripit to keep your travel plans organized.

Get a Paper Map and other information from Tourist Information

It’s a good idea to get a paper map from tourist information, even if you have data roaming included in your plan. Sometimes our phones freeze up, or you may leave it behind in a pub because you were having such a great time. Paper maps serve as a good back up and a way to potentially save money on phone bills while traveling. A stop at tourist information also means you can access other information of interest without needing to use your phone to look up everything. And a local might even pass along an awesome tip you won’t find in any online guide or travel book!


Have any other tips to save money on phone bills while traveling? Please leave them in the comments. At Wanderlust Marriage, we’re committed to providing valuable information to help you get great bang for your buck on your travels. If you want to save on flights, accommodation and receive great tips for an upcoming trip, contact [email protected] to avail of our services. Rates start at just $30 per booking and can save you hundreds on international flights and accommodation!


  • Alex&Bell

    Alex and Bell originally met while solo traveling after finishing university in 2002, in Brugge, Belgium. Alex grew up in the USA and Bell hails from Australia. During our nearly 20 year marriage we've lived around the world, including spending six years living in the Netherlands and Ireland. We have traveled to nearly 70 countries and enjoy giving readers authentic and quality travel tips. Alex is an award winning travel journalist and travel planner, who also freelances for other outlets. Bell is an award winning PhD scientist who currently works for a non-profit lung cancer advocacy research organization called Lungevity. Happy travels and if you have any questions leave a comment or drop an email!

    View all posts

18 thoughts on “How to Save Money on Phone Bills while Traveling

  1. I would also recommend to use Local SIM app from App Store. The app gives you info on local providers, data plans, and shows on map nearest stores

  2. Some great tips here. Wish I still had my old phone to unlock and Pocket Maps sounds useful. If Verizon had a better overseas plan it would be perfect but I need their coverage at home.

    1. Thanks, Sara! Yeah, but for some people who haven’t travelled internationally before or do it very infrequently it’s an easy mistake to make. Hope this post helps some people! 🙂

  3. Great tips! We usually rely on a sim card and WiFi and always turn on airplane mode. Actually since traveling full time I completely cut off my phone service in the states. Feel so free!

  4. I have the T-mobile Simple Choice plan as well, and it is such a great company to use if you are a world traveler! The free texting is great, and having access to unlimited data (even if it is slow) is great for using my phone’s GPS to get us around.

    1. T-Mobile is indeed the best for international travelers. We’ve always been with them when we’ve lived in the States. We even had plans with T-Mobile when we lived in Amsterdam as they’re international.

  5. Really good tips to save money and stay connected. I make sure I download what I need and have screenshots of travel plans/confirmation before I go. I have an old mobile and use wifi a lot overseas. It really helps to make a few changes

    1. Glad you got that sorted, Mags! It’s an easy mistake to make when you first start out traveling internationally.

  6. Thanks for sharing! For now it’s pretty easy to get the local sim card @ the airport and although I can’t use the same number… I am fine just using web data for trip 🙂 @

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.