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How to prepare your phone for international travel

You remembered sunscreen, a good book, the right clothes, and your passport. Heck, you even remembered to bring a compatible phone charger, so you're all set, right? Before saying yes, double-check that you've prepped your phone for your travels abroad. Without easily accessible internet for last-minute accommodation changes, enough storage for those stunning photos, and a backup plan if it's lost, all the SPF in the world isn't going to salvage your trip.

In this guide, you'll learn how to prepare your phone for traveling so it stays charged and connected, back up your info properly, and ensure you have the apps and entertainment you need for the best vacation ever. We'll also teach you how to use your phone abroad without coming home to an enormous roaming bill. 

In this article:

Woman holding a smartphoneUnsplash

Why You Need To Prepare Your Phone For Traveling Abroad

When our phones seamlessly pick up Wi-Fi and automatically adjust to new time zones, it's easy to forget that data, internet, and even charging cables don't work the same everywhere. 

Without some basic preparation, you could find yourself disconnected, short on storage, or worse — racking up huge roaming charges. And what happens if your phone gets stolen, damaged, or lost on an adventure? 

7 Simple Ways To Prepare Your Phone For Traveling Abroad

These days, having a functional phone is essential for getting around and staying safe, not to mention checking TikTok for must-dos in each city. Let's look at several ways to prepare your phone before you go. 

Download Your Photos and Contacts to a Safe Space 

Our phones can do it all. They take fantastic photos, store all our contact information, and keep us connected no matter where we are. They're so capable, fewer people are bringing separate cameras and devices when they travel, using their phone for just about everything. 

While smartphones are great for packing light, they're a bit of a gamble — if you lose your phone on a trip, you lose everything. Luckily, there are two simple ways to keep important information and precious photos safe while you're away.

Automatic Phone Backup

Automatic backup services like iCloud and Amazon Cloud take periodic snapshots of the data on your phone, including settings, purchases, photos, videos, messages, and app data. Since your information is stored safely in the cloud, it's easy to restore everything to a new device. 

Automatic backup services only work when you're connected to Wi-Fi, so there's no worry about roaming charges throughout the day. We suggest doing a manual backup whenever there's reliable Wi-Fi. That way, you won't lose a single snap.   

Portable Phone Backup

If reliable internet is a concern or you don't love having your information in the cloud, backup your photos to an external hard drive as you need. You can use your laptop if it's coming on your trip or get a smaller, lightweight, portable hard drive. Portable hard drives range in price starting at about US$50. 

Free Up Some Space or Invest in Cloud Space for Photos 

There's nothing more rage-inducing than the "not enough storage" message — especially when it ruins a perfect photo opp. Save yourself the frustration and free up some of your phone's storage before your trip. 

There are two ways to do this:

  • Delete Some Items: Get rid of unwanted photos, message data, large attachments, old music, or apps you no longer need. If you take an average number of vacation photos, traveling with 5-15GBs of free space should be more than sufficient. 
  • Invest in Cloud Storage: Avid photographers may want to invest in cloud storage, which has space for thousands of photos and every amazing moment. And since your pics are stored safely in the cloud, nothing's lost if something happens to your phone.    

Turn on Your Phone's Tracker

Phones can slip easily out of pockets or get stolen if you're not being careful. Before you travel, make sure your phone's tracking feature (e.g., Find My Phone, SmartThings Find, or Find My Device) is turned on. These tracking apps show your phone's exact location on a map so you can see it in real-time. The only challenge is that you'll need another device, like a laptop, to view the map.

Tracking tags like Tile and Apple Airtags may seem like a good idea, but they only have a range of about 30 feet. Great for finding your phone in a messy hotel room, not so great if it's touring the city on the floor of a taxi.

Download Useful Apps Before Traveling 

Traveling can make downloading apps more complicated than usual. Certain apps aren't allowed everywhere, and without Wi-Fi, downloads can be expensive. The simplest solution? Download all the apps you think you'll need before leaving your home country.

First, consider the apps that will make your trip easier, like ridesharing, maps, translation apps, music and video streaming, banking, and more. Then, make sure those apps are available in the country where you're traveling. For example, Lyft is only available in the USA and Canada, so it won't be much use for getting around Europe.

We also recommend downloading WhatsApp, Telegram, WeChat, or another app that's designed for international communication. Calling and texting from abroad can cost a fortune, and these apps make it possible to use your phone overseas.

Download Music, Movies, and Maps Ahead of Time 

Nothing in life is guaranteed — especially a great Wi-Fi connection. And even with the world's best roaming plan, using data to watch Netflix isn't smart. Before you go on your trip, download some music and a few movies or TV shows on your phone. You'll appreciate the free entertainment for long waits in train stations or on those cost-friendly flights that don't come with a movie. 

Worried about getting lost or using all your data for navigation? Download some maps along with your movies and TV. Google lets you download maps of the areas you want to explore, so if you find yourself without Wi-Fi, you can still find your way.

Buy an eSIM

eSIMs are the perfect solution to pricey roaming packages or hunting down a local SIM card at your destination. Rather than fussing with a physical SIM card, download an eSIM before your trip and connect instantly to cell networks when you land. You can also use data without worrying about your phone bill.

Airalo offers a variety of affordable eSIMs that cover 200+ countries and regions worldwide. Search for eSIMs by country or region, or purchase a global eSIM that works in 87 countries. If your travel plans change and you need more data, eSIMs are easy to purchase or top up, no matter where you are. 

Something to consider before you buy an eSIM: Not all phones support eSIMs, and some don't allow you to use your eSIM alongside your regular SIM. Before you grab an eSIM, make sure your phone is compatible

Make Sure You Have the Right Adapter and Charger

Plug shapes and voltages are different all over the world, so without the right charger and adapter, you'll run out of battery fast (or completely fry your phone). 

What's an adapter? A North American plug won't go into the wall in the UK, India, Switzerland, and a number of other countries. Adapters help the plugs on your electronics fit into the outlets in a foreign country. Before a trip abroad, purchase a region-specific adapter or a universal adapter that adjusts no matter where you go. 

With the appropriate adapter, you shouldn't need to worry about voltage. Most phone chargers are what's known as "dual voltage," meaning they'll work pretty much anywhere, and there's no danger of short-circuiting. If you're not using the charger that came with your phone, quickly check the fine print on the bottom. Dual voltage chargers will say something like "Input 100 – 240V, 50 – 60 Hz."

Man using a smartphoneUnsplash

Overseas Cell Phone Plan vs. eSIM: What's the Difference?

A roaming plan from your provider is one of the most common ways to use your cell phone abroad. But is it the best option? Let's look at the pros and cons of roaming as well as the eSIM — a smart alternative to traditional overseas cell phone plans. 

What's an Overseas Cell Phone Plan?

An overseas cell phone plan, also known as a roaming plan, allows you to use your domestic cell phone abroad for a daily fee. The fee varies from provider to provider, but it includes a daily allowance for data, calls, and texts. You simply turn on data roaming at your destination and start using your phone. You'll typically get a message letting you know that you're on a foreign cell network. 

How Much Is a Roaming Plan?

Most North American providers change between US$12 and US$15 a day for roaming. 

Your cell phone plan may already include roaming. If it doesn't, you'll need to call your carrier and purchase a package ahead of your trip. 

Using an overseas cell phone plan is straightforward, but it might not be the most cost-effective option. You're charged the same amount every day whether you use 1GB of data or 5GBs, and you don't get a warning when you're near your daily limit — it can be easy and expensive to go over. 

What's an eSIM?

An eSIM is an embedded SIM card (the "e" is for embedded). Like a traditional SIM, an eSIM identifies you as a mobile subscriber and connects you to a cell network. Unlike a removable SIM card, it's built into your device and works 100% digitally.

eSIMs are simple, much like roaming plans. You just purchase a prepaid eSIM plan before your trip, install it on your device, and instantly connect to a mobile network when you land. 

How Much Is an eSIM?

Instead of a flat daily fee, eSIM rates are highly flexible. You can choose how much data you need, how long you need to use the eSIM, and what's included in your package. For example, do you need calls and texts, or just data? Airalo has plans starting at just US$4.50.

One of the major pros of eSIMs is that they're prepaid. You know exactly what you're getting, and there's no chance of unexpected charges. You can also top up eSIMs or purchase them on the go without contacting your carrier. 

Airalo eSIM app

Use Airalo For All of Your Overseas Cell Phone Needs

Airalo offers eSIMs (digital SIMs) for 200+ countries and regions worldwide. Getting connected is a breeze: Choose a package, install an eSIM, and instantly connect to a mobile network at your destination. Forget your provider's pricey plan — Airalo is the easiest, most affordable way to use your phone overseas.

Heading on a trip overseas? Get your eSIM from Airalo.

How To Prepare Your Phone For Traveling Abroad FAQs 

How Do I Use My Cell Phone Overseas?

To use your cell phone overseas without roaming charges, you'll need a roaming plan from your provider, a local or international SIM card, or an eSIM. 

A roaming plan gives you a set amount of data, calling, and texting for a flat daily fee, typically US$12 to US$15. Roaming plans connect you to a foreign carrier as soon as you're in range, so you can use your phone as soon as you land at your destination. Just be careful not to go above your daily limit, as it can be expensive.

Local or international SIM cards must be physically inserted and removed from your device. They come with their own mobile service contract, which connects you to foreign cell networks at your destination. Because they're physical cards, they can be swapped between devices, but they can't be activated or updated online. SIM card vendors are easily found at airports or train stations all over the world.

An eSIM is a digital SIM that connects you to cell networks without hunting down a local SIM vendor. Starting at US$4.50 per day for an eSIM package, Airalo allows you to choose how long you want to use the eSIM and if you want data, calling, texting, or all three. Simply turn on your eSIM when you arrive at your destination to use your phone immediately. Because eSIMs are prepaid, there's no chance of racking up a huge phone bill, and you can top them up as you need.

What is the Best International Cell Phone Plan?

The best international cell phone plan is an eSIM from Airalo. Available for 200+ countries and regions and starting at just US$4.50 a day, an eSIM from Airalo gives you the best connectivity and flexibility without expensive daily rates. 

Can I Use My Phone Overseas Without Roaming?

Yes, you can use your phone overseas without roaming as long as you're connected to Wi-Fi at all times. The second you’re out of Wi-Fi range and start using data on a foreign cell network, you'll be charged roaming fees. We recommend an eSIM or an overseas cell phone plan to avoid huge phone bills while you're traveling. 


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