Each of our locations has its own set of communication suggestions, but Community Leader Stephanie Bowar comprised a list of her suggestions based upon her experience on GO: Rome 2014. Stephanie is a philosophy major at Oglethorpe University.
Even if you’re not going to Italy, these are fantastic tidbits of information for anyone going abroad!
How will you communicate this summer? Check out Stephanie’s guest post below for some awesome preparation ideas.
One of the most important things you should be planning for before your trip is how you plan to communicate with friends and family back home during your abroad experience, specifically with regard to your phone. You know your mom is going to want to know every night that you’re still alive, and your best friend is going to be bugging you like crazy for pictures of attractive Italians—not to mention it’s not terribly safe to be out and about on your own when you have no way of communicating with anyone (if something should happen).
Never fear—you have plenty of options for communicating while abroad! We’ll start with the basics.
Good to know!
- iMessages, or texts between iPhones specifically, use wifi/data and not SMS, or regular text messaging. Because of this, you can iMessage internationally while on wifi or using cellular data without being charged exorbitant rates for international texting. You’ll be charged nothing!
- In fact, if you have any kind of smartphone, there are lots of apps out there that allow for free, international texting, given the other party has a smartphone as well: WhatsApp and Kik Messenger are wifi/data-based texting apps, and the app Viber uses wifi/data for both texting and calling. NOTE – Make sure you download these apps BEFORE you are abroad. Many require a SMS confirmation, and this will cost money if you are abroad!
- Skype also has options for international phone calls and texts using wifi or cellular data. You can either purchase credit with them, or do what I did—pay $2.99/mo while you’re abroad for free, unlimited calling to any U.S. mobile or landline (though they have other plans that include other countries as well). The major upside to this option for me was that I could communicate with people who didn’t have smartphones—an important (albeit small) group that can be difficult to reach while abroad.
So, what about cellular data?
Now for the important part—having cellular data, minutes, and texting abroad. There are a few options for this as well.
- International data plans – probably the most common option I see people utilize. Just about any carrier these days has options for international data packages that give you a certain allowance for data (Internet without wifi), texting, or calling while outside the U.S. The rates for these packages—especially overage fees—can range from around $20/mo to over $100/mo. If you use minimal data or don’t mind paying quite a bit for your abroad usage, international data plans are probably the most accessible, lowest-hassle option. However, they are also likely the most expensive option for what you get.
- Local phone – Another option for data while abroad would be to purchase an entirely new phone from a local carrier at your destination. Common carriers in Italy, for instance, are Vodafone, TIM, or Wind. Oftentimes, these carrier stores will be placed with pretty high frequency in high-tourist areas, and will have preset plans specifically for visiting tourists. These plans often include different options for a mixture of data, texting, and calling—however, keep in mind that a local option like this likely will not allow for international texting or calling. Rather, this will give you data for while you’re out and about, as well as options for texting or calling other local
- Local SIM card – Probably the most economic option, depending on your circumstances, would be to take an unlocked smartphone with you abroad and purchase a local SIM card once you’re at your destination. An unlocked smartphone is usually a phone that you have owned long enough for it to be eligible to be used with SIM cards from other carriers—in this case, out-of-country carriers. This is perhaps the best option if you have access to a smartphone that you’ve owned for well over a year. (There are also occasionally buying options for unlocked smartphones on eBay, though they can be pretty pricey). If you decide to bring an unlocked smartphone abroad, your next step is finding a local carrier store—the same stores you can buy the aforementioned local phones from—and purchasing a SIM card, rather than a whole new phone. SIM cards will often come with their own tourist plan options as well, ranging from data-only to data/texting/calling. These plans can be surprisingly inexpensive! While in Italy, I purchased a local SIM card from TIM that gave me 20 GB of data for use across three months for about 30 euro (price of the SIM included), or roughly $33. That’s as much as I would have paid for 120 MB of international data with AT&T!
Whatever your circumstances, preferences, budget, or needs, there is a good international option for you when it comes to communicating abroad. Do your research before your trip and decide which option will be best for you—you don’t want to be stuck alone in a different country with no way to communicate with anyone you know, be they people back home or friends on your trip.
Be smart, be safe, and good luck—and remember you can enjoy the Italian beach whether you’ve got texting or not!
The Cape Town programs offer an international cell phone rental, and while it is not required, it is highly recommended. Information on these rentals will be available as soon as possible.
In addition to finding the best system for you and your cell phone, don’t forget to communicate through Email and Facebook! These are free ways to reach your friends and family back home, and you can lengthily write about your day without sending a single text message.
My (Anna’s) personal favorite way to communicate abroad? Blogging. Through blogging, I can reach a wide audience and update everyone with what I’m doing in one document. It’s the most efficient way for me to stay in touch with people back home!
Choose the best options for you, and more location-specific information will be available to you as soon as possible.
-The LeadAbroad Team