Here’s how to get your cell service working when traveling abroad

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Kim recently received a call from Mary in Ventura, California. Mary was traveling out of the country when she was forced to reroute to Germany during a storm. Mary was using Consumer Cellular and couldn’t connect her phone to the airport’s free local Wi-Fi.

There was a lot of time between flights and Mary was stuck. She got a hotel room to talk to her family and use the internet to pass the time. When she got home, Mary asked Kim what she could have done in this situation. Here’s what Kim had to say.

Call your operator

If you ever get stuck abroad, the first thing to do is call your carrier. In Mary’s case, she had to authorize Consumer Cellular to activate her international plan. This would have allowed him to call, text and use data internationally.

Some phone service providers have it enabled by default, but others, such as Consumer Cellular, require you to sign up. Here’s how to activate international call and data services with some of the major service providers.

How to activate international services with T-Mobile

T-Mobile offers free international SMS and data in over 210 countries around the world. International calls cost 25 cents per minute. Data is free, but your connection is throttled when you go over the daily allowance (unless you pay to upgrade).

This basic coverage is included by default in the Magenta and Magenta Plus service plans. If you participate in one of these plans, you do not have to call to activate it.

T-Mobile also allows subscribers to purchase an international data pass that upgrades them to high-speed data while traveling. This add-on is available as a 1-day, 10-day, or 30-day package.

  • Call T-Mobile customer service at 800-937-8997 if you are inside the United States
  • Call 1-505-998-3793 if you are already traveling abroad.

How to Activate International Services with Verizon

Verizon offers several international calling plans to choose from. You can choose from a $10 per day Travel Pass, a prepaid plan, a pay-as-you-go plan, or a regular monthly billing agreement.

  • Call Verizon customer service at 800-711-8300 if you are inside the United States
  • Call 1-908-559-4899 if you are already traveling abroad.

How to Activate International Services with AT&T

AT&T offers subscribers an international calling, texting and data pass valid in more than 210 countries. It costs $10 per day to participate. Participation in this plan is not automatic, so you must activate it by calling customer service.

  • Call AT&T Customer Service at 800-331-0500 if you are inside the United States
  • Call 1-314-925-6925 if you are already traveling abroad.

How to Activate International Services with Consumer Cellular

Now let’s move on to Mary’s operator: Consumer Cellular. Like Verizon and AT&T, the carrier requires you to enable international roaming before accessing local services.

International roaming would have allowed Mary to connect to airport Wi-Fi and phone her family. Consumer Cellular’s international roaming charges range from 10 to 50 cents per minute for calls, texts and data.

  • Call Consumer Cellular Customer Service at 888-345-5509 if you are inside the United States
  • Call 1-505-998-3793 if you are already traveling abroad.

Consumer Cellular’s per-minute roaming costs can add up quickly. Mary also could have considered getting a local SIM card or buying an eSIM code online if she needed to spend more time calling or surfing the internet during her layover.

Buy a SIM card at the airport

SIM stands for Subscriber Identity Module. It’s a small chip that connects your phone to a local provider’s network. Abroad, Mary’s usual SIM card was like a fish out of water. Buying a local SIM card would have given him access to nearby networks.

All you have to do is remove the SIM card from your phone and replace it with the new one. An international SIM card costs around $30, so if you get one, make sure you use it enough to justify the expense.

Mary was only going to be in Germany for a short time, so buying a SIM card would have been a bit of a waste for her. It would still have been cheaper than a hotel.

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Buy an eSIM card online

Mary could also have purchased an eSIM card online if she had known in advance. When you buy an eSIM card, it works like a fast pass to the local cellular network.

You install it before you leave and it works as soon as you land. It will also keep your original SIM information intact and run in the background. This means that your regular phone number continues to work as normal.

Here are some of the best eSIM options for overseas travel:

  • GoogleFi – The Unlimited Plus plan costs $40 per line per month and includes coverage for overseas travel. Calls are still $0.20 per minute, but texts and data are free and unlimited. A flexible plan option includes free texting, 20 cents per minute calls, and $10 per GB of data.
  • HolaFly – Setup is as easy as scanning a QR code. Country-specific plans cost between $20 and $47 per month and include calls, texts, and up to 500MB of data per day.
  • tello – All Tello eSIM plans include free unlimited calls and texts to over 60 countries worldwide with up to 5GB of data for around $20 per month.

Be sure to plan ahead no matter what cell phone plan you use when traveling abroad. This saves you money and makes it easy to make calls once you get off the plane.

When Mary landed in Germany, it was too late for her to set things up easily. She was in a tight spot and her phone couldn’t connect to the airport’s local Wi-Fi. There was no way to buy an eSIM card online or look up Consumer Cellular’s international customer service number.

You will want to take care of other things before you travel. Try to notify your credit card company and take backup photos of your passport and other important documents, just in case.

Kim loves to answer readers’ questions and likes to share technical money-saving tips. If you have a question, you can ask Kim for advice at komando.com/contact-us/askkim.

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