Using a Smartphone on International Trips: 5 Important Tips to Keep in Mind | AD

*This is a collaborative guest post

International travel has been restricted for a while now, but borders have reopened for non-essential travel in some places for travellers from a select few nations. As the UK is among those nations in 2021, it is time to make the best of it. Before you go on any international trip though, make sure that your smartphone functionalities and network coverage is not disrupted while you are there. After that, there is also the question of effectively utilising your phone while you are travelling. To help you do both, we have a short list of five important tips for you to go through next.

Phone Compatibility: Will Your Smartphone Work there?

Almost the whole of Europe uses similar frequencies as the United Kingdom, so any smartphone that you are using right now should work just fine over there too. However, if you plan to go outside the continent, that is when you should consider getting an internationally compatible, unlocked smartphone. These are models which support a much wider range of antennae frequencies rather than just the ones used in the UK. However, the most important aspect to consider here would be the specific frequencies used by carriers in your destination. Only then can you cross-check and be sure that your new phone will indeed be compatible with the nation’s carrier frequencies, prior to purchasing an unlocked smartphone.

Universally compatible triband smartphones will have support for GSM frequencies 900/1800/1900 or 850/1800/1900. Even better would be a quad-band phone which has support for all four GSM frequencies (850/900/1800/1900). Almost any decent smartphone released in the last 3 to 4 years should have at least triband support. If you are looking to buy a new phone this year after a long time, go with any one of the flagship models below to make sure that it stands the test of time well.

  • The entire Samsung Galaxy S21 series of smartphones
  • The entire iPhone 12 series, including the new Mini
  • OnePlus 9 and OnePlus 9 Pro

SIM Compatibility: Will Your SIM Work there?

Whether or not a SIM card will work in a foreign nation depends on where you are going and whether your network service provider has a presence in that country. If they provide cellular services in your destination nation, call up the customer care and ask about your roaming options. You could be able to save some money by opting for one of their international plans, prior to leaving the UK. There is a better way to save money during an international trip, irrespective of your current SIM network service provider’s presence or absence there. In fact, this leads us to the next point…

Opt for a SIM Only Deal to Prevent Shocking Phone Bills

A SIM only deal is a pre-set plan which provides the user with an international SIM card. Depending on the plan chosen, the user will have access to a fixed amount of data, talk time minutes, and text messages for national and international usage. However, if they choose an unlimited plan, there will be no caps or extra fees charged to them for any international usage beyond the initial price.

Check out this website for all different SIM plans and compare SIM only deals to find the best suited option for your upcoming trip. Their capped plans help to keep data and roaming costs under complete control while travelling outside the UK. However, Lebara also offers unlimited talk time/data/text plans for national and international usage. These are particularly beneficial if you are travelling in a group. As all Lebara SIM cards allow for seamless tethering, you can turn any unlocked smartphone into a portable Wi-Fi router, connect everyone’s smartphones to the hotspot, and forget about international roaming costs altogether.

Investing in a small SIM router would be even better for complete independence of use for everyone during the trip. Those would also come in real handy if you are using a locked phone. There is a high chance that you won’t want to cancel, but just in case you don’t wish to continue using the SIM card beyond your trip, you can stop the recurring 30-day plans at any time.

Smartphone Usage: Sat-Nav in Your Pocket

Now that we know how to keep international roaming costs at bay, it is time to focus on what you can actually do with your smartphone’s flawless network service. As a lot of us already use our smartphone’s A-GPS system while driving on a regular basis, and this should not feel any different. In case you are not used to smartphone-powered satellite navigation, there isn’t too much of a learning curve. As long as you have an A-GPS enabled smartphone and proper network coverage, you will only need to set your destination into the app (Google Maps, Waze, etc.). Complete with audio-visual directions, they can save you hours of aimless wondering and anxiety, while driving in a foreign nation.

Use Your Smartphone as a Translator

Is your smartphone the best translator you can get on your travels to non-English speaking parts of the world? No, because human translators still lead in that department for obvious reasons. That being said, smartphones are definitely the most convenient and the safest translators you can get in any foreign nation. Rather than trusting a stranger blindly in a place where you know no one and do not understand the local language, trust your smartphone more.

Of course, no software is perfect, but AI-assisted translation software has become surprisingly adept at getting the job done. For directions, commuting and occasional guidance from the random local, any one of the following apps will do a fine job of seeing you through:

  • Google Translate – The single most comprehensive and widely used voice translation app in the world
  • Microsoft Translator – Not as popular as Google Translate, but Microsoft Translator is accurate and feature rich
  • Apple Translate – Translate is new and only supports a limited number of languages, but what little Translate does have to offer for the time being is polished and useful

Do not forget to load the language packs in advance, and before you get onboard the plane. This will help to save on mobile data later, since you will be able to utilise offline translation features most of the time.

When you are using a limited international data plan, you should be trying to save as much data as possible. There are public Wi-Fi spots everywhere these days and hotels in particular should have Wi-Fi networks available for their customers to access. Even cafes, restaurants, lounges and other public places provide free Wi-Fi access to their guests. Use them to upload your social media posts, interact with people on video calls, listen to songs, watch YouTube, or do just about anything else that can be considered as secondary during the trip. However, if you use a public Wi-Fi connection without rerouting it through a VPN first, you are risking your phone’s information from being intercepted mid-transition. Never use a public Wi-Fi network without a proxy server, whether it’s inside or outside the UK. Those not willing to get a separate VPN service should instead get a complete cybersecurity package from Norton or McAfee. Use their included VPN service for maximum protection on public Wi-Fi networks.


  • Donna Wishart

    Donna Wishart is married to Dave and they have two children, Athena (12) and Troy (11). They live in Surrey with their two cats, Fred and George. Once a Bank Manager, Donna has been writing about everything from family finance to days out, travel and her favourite recipes since 2012. Donna is happiest either exploring somewhere new, with her camera in her hand and family by her side or snuggled up with a cat on her lap, reading a book and enjoying a nice cup of tea. She firmly believes that tea and cake can fix most things.

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