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Cell phone hacks for anxious millennials abroad

My recommendation for anyone going to a new country without an international phone plan and traveling without anyone else with a phone plan, is to buy a pre-paid sim card upon arrival. I have a few reasons for this recommendation that I elaborate on below!

If you are traveling solo or with a small group of friends it is important to be aware of where you want to go and how to get there. The easiest way to make sure this goes smoothly, is to have a sim card, so you can have data wherever you are. Honestly, this will help you feel rest-assured because you can use map apps, and it is more safe than being lost on the side of the street. Nowadays, many people rely on finding wifi, but again if you are not traveling with a professional group, get a sim card so you have data to avoid getting lost. Depending on my length of time in a certain country and location determines if I invest in a pre-paid sim card or a phone plan.

My first time in China, I used a pre-paid phone card for maps and emergencies. I was in China for two months, so this was the most cost efficient option for the city I was living in at the time and my length of stay. I regularly used gaode ditu (高得地图)to check subway schedules and directions, so it was very necessary for me to have regular access to data.

I also bought a pre-paid sim card when I was in Israel for about a month. During the first part of my trip I was participating in a group trip, following I went on to work at a permaculture farm for three weeks. It was important for me to have a sim card because I was often traveling on the weekends from city to city and I had to have access to the bus schedule regularly. Additionally, it is very important to have access to data and a phone plan in case of emergencies.

During my time in Israel, I got extremely sick (which I will blog about at another time), so it was very important I could reach out to one of my friends to make a plan on how to get to a hospital, find the bus to get to the hospital, and keep in contact with someone to make sure I was okay.

During my second time in China, I was there for a longer period of time, approximately four months. This time, I was in Beijing. The most important sim card associated knowledge I learned here was that, no one understands Chinese phone plans. If you are going to be in China for a long period of time, I would recommend just getting a pre-paid sim card. I was fortunate to have a native speaker come with me to the phone store, which is something I would recommend for anyone who is not a native Chinese speaker because setting up a Chinese phone plan is honestly the hardest, most expensive things I did during this trip. After setting up, I constantly wish I had just done the pre-paid sim card as opposed to the phone plan. Additionally, it is important to note that depending on what province you live in, determines the cost of phone plans, so living in Beijing was more expensive than Guangzhou. Also, most phone plans will work when you go to other provinces, but definitely check with your carrier before traveling to make sure you will have minutes, data, and coverage.

Exploring phone options on one of my first nights in Beijing.

Currently in Ireland, I went for a phone plan. I always talk with the phone companies and express to them my number one concern is data. How can I get the cheapest phone plan with the most data? During my conversation with 3 (a phone company in Ireland), they have a plan that does a set 60 gb/month for a fair rate, so this is the plan that I recommend and have had great luck with it thus far!

As for the phone itself…. it all depends on if your phone from your original country is locked or unlocked. In the US, besides Verizon, I am almost positive you need to have had your phone for at least two years before it can be unlocked. If your phone is unlocked you can buy a sim card and pop it in your phone to use! If locked, buy a burner phone or bring a cheap phone to use when abroad!

For making calls when abroad back home or for work, I recommend using Skype. Skype calls are extremely cheap and only charge you so whoever you are calling does not need to worry about international expenses. I have used Skype calls for business, my therapy sessions when abroad, and calling family. So if maintaining your relationship with your at home therapist is a concern, Skype is a great option! Skype also works all around the world. It works in China, which can be very difficult to find a high-quality communication app besides WeChat, which not many people have. I typically put about $15 in my skype account every 4–5 months and probably use it for an hour every couple of weeks. Pro-tip: when in China use skype without your VPN for the best connection.

Overall, when abroad, if you are not with someone who has data and phone coverage, buy a sim card for safety!