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Cell Phone Checklist For The Overseas Traveler

"If there is one important bit of information to learn from reading this is that you need to be extremely sure of what plan you have before venturing off  (overseas) with your phone. Almost all the main carriers, Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, and T-Mobile, offer affordable and even free roaming in Mexico. However, they also all have older plans that offer costly roaming rates. If you don't ask for the cheaper plans, they certainly are not going to volunteer it. Here is another great tip. If by chance you incur huge roaming rates, call your carrier and ask them if they can activate a better plan retroactively and charge you accordingly. If they are not willing to do so, get a supervisor on the phone and remind them that there are other carriers in town." Cellular Abroad



Before departing overseas, contact your provider's customer support and ask about their 

  • international roaming at your destination 

  • SIM card availability

  • rates, and policies 

For example, Our cell provider is Verizon, and our next destination is Mexico. Through Verizon, Mexico, and Canada are considered extensions of our existing plan. That means there will be no change in our usage or monthly billing. 


What Service To Expect At Your Destination 

Check for current information before each departure. 

  • GB data slowdown. Customer Support informed us to expect a service slowdown once 1/2 GB is used up. That means that although our Verizon plan includes 16 GB for the month when in Mexico (international), once 1/2 GB of cellular data is used up, the service slows way down until midnight and then resets for the following day. As long as we use wifi, data is unlimited. 

  • Checking Your Voicemail While Overseas: Check voicemail simply by dialing +1, then your 10-digit mobile number. Not all carriers are alike, so confirm the voicemail procedure for each destination before departing to your destination.



Find Out If your smartphone is unlocked

You can avoid all roaming charges with an unlocked GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) smartphone, a network standard for the world. Carriers "lock" their devices, so if you put an AT&T SIM card into a T-Mobile phone, you'll need an unlock code. Call your cell provider's customer support to find out if your phone is locked or unlocked.  If it is a locked phone, ask if they will unlock your phone for international use.

  • How to Check if an iPhone Is Locked to a Cellular Carrier

    • First, open the Settings app on your iPhone by tapping the grey gear icon.

    • In Settings, tap General

    • In General, tap About

    • In the About screen, scroll down to the very bottom of the page and locate the Carrier Lock item.

    • If you see No Sim Restrictions, then your iPhone is unlocked.

    • If it says SIM Locked (or something similar), then your iPhone is locked to a particular carrier. Call your cell provider's customer support and request that they unlock your phone for international travel.


Buy a Local SIM Card.

With a GSM unlocked device, once you arrive at your overseas, you are ready to remove your existing cell company’s SIM card and replace it with one from a local mobile carrier at your international destination.  

You can buy a local SIM card at a kiosk at your arrival airport or find a local cellphone convenience store.  We purchased a 30 GB SIM card for $20 at a mobile convenience store while in Portugal and Spain. The newly installed international SIM card while only paying local rates. Simply insert in SIM card slot on your smartphone and activate it. It's pretty simple and activates "automatico" with a few key prompts.  You can ask the mobile store representative for assistance. 

  • Learn which size SIM card your iPhone or iPad uses:

    • iPhone 12 uses a nano-sim card.

    • iPhone 14 has eSim capability. Verizon, our provider, charges $100 for 24/7 international services, a monthly plan that includes calls, texts, and unlimited data for phone apps and maps.

  • Find wireless carriers and worldwide service providers that offer eSIM service:


Downside To Using a SIM Card

  • You may get a new cell number.

  • You'll have to change SIM cards as you travel to different countries.

    • I will be bringing the iPhone 12 without adding the eSim service to compare the costs and time in changing the nano-sim card in each country we visit during our next 6-month RV trip in Europe.


Tablets With Cell Capabilities

If you have a 3G/4G tablet, check to see if it is or can be unlocked. Buy a data-only SIM card locally and use Skype or WhatsApp. You can also use the tablet as a hotspot to share the connection among your other devices.



If your phone is not GSM supported and you can’t get it unlocked, you have other options. 

Roaming OFF shuts off all cellular data from sending or receiving on the networks (3G, 4G or LTE).  Even if you have cellular on just briefly after landing, data-hungry messages will flow through and make an expensive mistake in an instant.  If you need assistance, contact your provider's customer support and ask them to walk you through the steps on your specific device to ensure your device is set to Roaming OFF. You will still be able to receive phone calls and texts whenever you have WIFI or hotspot access at no cost. 

NOTE: While traveling, set your voice message to "I am currently roaming abroad, will reply when I am on Wi-Fi."


Disposable Phone

You may consider buying a cheap prepaid phone at your international destination and then passing it forward to somebody else when you leave.



WIFI Service. Your smartphone connection over WiFi is free. Plan on only using WiFi when available. The downside is finding available WiFi services in other countries other than hotels and restaurants. It may be a slight inconvenience, but it's a lot cheaper.


You Can Wifi With WhatsApp

  • Message your friends and family for free. 

  • Make voice calls free to family and friends. 

  • Have face-to-face conversations with family and friends for free. 

  • Record voice messages to family and friends for free. 

  • Send photos and videos to family and friends for free.

WhatsApp rules the industry for mobile users offering free and unlimited voice calling over a Wifi connection and not your cell plan's voice minutes. With nearly a billion smartphone users, no username or ID is required. Once WhatsApp is activated, your phone list is all that is needed.  

Before departing overseas, contact those folks you wish to stay connected with and confirm they use WhatsApp or agree to download WhatsApp. You can then enjoy live communication within a group even without an Internet connection or cellular network. 

Life Wire


DOWNLOAD Google Maps

Download map data for your arrival destination before departing from home.  

Google Maps App > Menu >  WiFi only > ON > Offline Maps > Select Your Own Map > pinch/zoom to position the map coverage > selected download. 

When the download is complete  > Select the 3-dot menu > Rename > Give it a name. 

Delete the downloaded maps you don't need, as they take up a lot of space.

How To Use At Your Destination. When you need to use Google Maps at your destination, keep your mobile data signal off,  go to Google Maps App > Menu > Offline Maps > Select your custom map. 

You can navigate and browse the selected map as usual.  You will still get driving directions and basic information on businesses without a data connection. 

  • You won't get traffic reports or walking directions.

  • You won't get public transit reports. However, you can get transit information when you have WiFi, or you can enable cellular data briefly and then use offline mode to get to your stops. 

If you need assistance figuring out how to download Google Maps, contact your wireless provider. They will walk you through the settings to make sure you don't get charged roaming fees or use up your data. Google Maps sucks data.


Before leaving home, download any videos you want for offline viewing at your destination. Be aware there may be streaming rights that won't extend outside the U.S. 

  • Amazon's Prime members can download up to 25 of the videos available for free streaming. 

  • Netflix recently updated its app to offer similar downloads for offline viewing. 





Turn off autoplay

Turn off automatic video play. 

  • Android: Go to Facebook > settings > Data Saver > Switch on.

  • iPhones: Settings > Accessibility > Motion > Autoplay > Switch off


Turn Off Location Services 

Location Service relies on GPS to pinpoint your location, and that uses mobile data for accuracy. 

  • Android. Settings > Connections > Location > Toggle OFF

  • iPhones. Settings > Privacy & Security > Location Services > Off


Turn off Backup Tools or Wi-Fi only

Confirm all apps will auto-backup in Wi-Fi mode only. (For verbal assistance, contact your cell carrier's customer support.)

  • iPhone 12: Settings >Background App Refresh > Wi-Fi only

How to Remove Applications from the Automatic Backup Feature in iCloud​​​


Stop Apps From Refreshing in the Background

Be sure phone software or app updates are set to Wi-Fi only and Roaming is set to off. (For verbal assistance, contact your cell carrier's customer support.)

  • Android. auto-updating off for your Play Store (Android)

  • iPhone: Make sure to either turn off or at least set automatic updates to only run over Wi-Fi. 

    • iPhone 12: Settings >Background App Refresh > Wi-Fi only

  • iPhone or iPad, just before you head overseas, go to Settings > Cellular > Use Cellular Data for >  and disable access for anything.

  •  How to Turn Off the Background App Refresh on Android & iPhone to Save Phone Data​​​​​​​


Download Content

Downloading content is extremely data intensive. Plan on downloading content before you depart overseas.


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