What Should You Do About Phone Data on an International Trip?

Written by |

So you want to leave the United States and go on an adventure. Traveling and experiencing different cultures is one of life’s greatest pleasures.

But even on vacation, most of us rely on our smartphones to stay in touch with family, handle work emergencies, research dinner reservations and navigate to our next hotel.

How can you make sure you have phone service and data when you travel internationally? And how do you manage that without overpaying? That’s what a listener of the Clark Howard Podcast asked.

International Phone Data Recommendations Based on Your Cell Phone Provider

Should I use my phone data to access my GPS in Europe? Or should I rent a GPS from a car rental place?

That’s what a listener asked on the July 25 podcast episode.

Asked Margie in Florida: “We’re going to Portugal for nine days. Do you recommend renting a GPS from a car rental company for $70 or using the GPS on my phone?”

Do your navigation on your phone, Clark says. The car GPS systems are from the dinosaur ages and should not be that expensive to rent for a few days anyway.

The more important takeaway is how to manage your international phone data depending on your cell phone carrier.

“Make sure you check with your cell phone provider. See what they charge you for using data overseas in Portugal,” Clark says.

“Or when you land, buy a local SIM. Make sure your cell phone’s unlocked from your carrier. Or if your phone takes an eSIM, you can upload an eSIM.”

Google Fi Wireless is another cell phone option that many people explore for international travel. But if you do business with one of the biggest cell phone companies in the U.S., Clark has some specific advice for you.

Using data that you buy locally usually is much, much, much cheaper than what you’re going to get from Verizon or AT&T,” Clark says. “T-Mobile only gives you 5 GBs for the course of your trip. And after that you have to buy daily data or a block of data at a big cost.

“And so if you’re going to be in Portugal for nine days, if you’re T-Mobile, you may be OK with 5 GBs. But Verizon or AT&T, again, it would be much cheaper for you to buy that local SIM when you do land in Portugal.”


Final Thoughts

Making sure you have reliable, affordable international phone data is a key part of planning a vacation to another country.

If you have T-Mobile, and your trip isn’t too long, you should be able to get away with using the 5 GB of data that the company offers. But if you have Verizon or AT&T, you’ll almost certainly get a better deal by using a local SIM card that you buy after you arrive.

The best thing to do is to simply ask your cell phone carrier about international phone data expenses. And to comparison shop that price quote against a local SIM or eSIM.


best travel rewards credit card Best Travel Credit Cards: Top Rewards Picks for 2024 - The best travel rewards credit cards! Compare the latest sign-up bonus offers to start earning free flights, hotel stays and more.