Travel Smart! How to travel with your smart phone without racking up huge roaming charges.


These days, your smart phone is an essential travel accessory, like sunscreen or good walking shoes.

After all, you need to stay in touch with the office, the family, and your friends on Facebook. But the cost can be frightening. People have returned from trips with roaming charges totaling thousands of dollars!

Renting a phone when you get there isn’t a great option either. All your contacts will be missing along with your apps, and you probably don’t want to load that info on a rental.

Most travelers settle on buying a “travel package” from their mobile carrier. For around $100 you can make 50 minutes of phone calls, and use 100MB of data. Unfortunately, many of us can use that up in a couple of days, or even a day if you’re a heavy user. You can spend more and buy a larger package, but you could wind up spending as much as the cost of a new phone.

There’s a much better solution. Get your phone unlocked.

All Canadian mobile carriers and several U.S. carriers use the GSM standard. GSM phones have a “SIM” card which contains your phone number and other identifying information. If you change your SIM card, you can get service at local rates anywhere in the world.

The problem is that most GSM phones are “locked.” This means that your phone company has arranged with the manufacturer to lock it down so that it will only work with SIM cards supplied by that carrier.

The good news is, that it’s usually pretty easy to get your phone unlocked. In Canada, your carrier will usually unlock it for $50. Or if you’re feeling adventurous you can buy an Unlock Code (with instructions) online for $20-$40. Unlocking your phone will not damage it in any way, nor will it void the warranty. In fact, the only thing it does is allow you to use any SIM card.

Once you get to your destination, ask where you can get a local SIM card. In many countries you can buy them at a convenience store. In other places you may have to go to a phone store but these are usually easy to find. Most of them speak English and will be happy to help you out. Make sure you put your original SIM card in a safe place so you’ll have it when you return home.

With a local SIM card, you can make calls at local calling rates instead of the ridiculous roaming rates you’ll pay to your home carrier. You can also get local data plans, which means you can check your email, surf the web and yes - even update your Facebook status - without worrying about racking up a huge bill.

And here’s a sweeter benefit: in most foreign countries, incoming calls are free as long as you have a local SIM card. So your friends and family at home can call you at low long-distance rates, and you’ll pay nothing at all.

If it’s really crucial for your original mobile phone number to reach you, you can even call-forward it to your foreign phone number. You’ll still have to pay for the long distance charges from home, but you won’t incur any mobile charges.

If foreign travel is in your plans any time soon, it’s worth your while to get your phone unlocked!