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Traveling abroad with your phone without depriving yourself of data

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The free wi-fi networks that can be found everywhere in tourist towns can act as lifelines, if you manage to connect to them. Be aware, however, that these wireless accesses are neither the most reliable nor the safest for personal data.

The best solution is sometimes to resign yourself to using mobile data from your own smartphone, which can be expensive and lead to unpleasant surprises when the phone bill arrives. Here are three options that are available to you, and which are not likely to ruin you.

1- Prepaid local SIM cards

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It’s no secret that mobile data is particularly expensive in Canada. In 2020, the country was ranked 209e world ranking in this field. Adventurers can therefore expect to pick up a SIM card from a local telecommunications company for a fraction of the price paid here.

A SIM card ready to be inserted into a phone.

The SIM card is inserted into the smart phone. The compartment must be opened using a pointed object.

Photo: gettyimages/istockphoto/Andrey Popov

In Europe, for example, you can often find kiosks selling them at airports. And if you’re the type to travel on the go, so you move a lot from one country to another, most prepaid plans include international coverage, especially in other member countries of the European Union.

Once the card is inserted in its compartment, it is ready to be used.

The lessers

On the other hand, you are probably not the only person who wants to get a SIM card when leaving the plane, so the wait can be long. If you can wait and go to a branch outside the airport, you could save time, and possibly money – not all telecommunications companies have a presence where your plane lands.

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If you’re the type to plan everything, it can be insecure to learn your new phone number only at your destination. It’s also less convenient to have to tell others when you’ve just discovered the new regional identifier you’re dealing with.

The choice of packages for travelers is also often limited to monthly coverage, even if you have planned a vacation for only one week. You will still have to pay for the 10 GB of data included in the plan, even if you do not think you need that much data.

2- eSIM cards

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You won’t have to change phone numbers, wait in line, or physically swap your SIM card with the eSIM.

All you have to do is download an application – Airalo, for example –, choose your destination and then install the virtual SIM card on your phone.

This option is offered in 190 countries, and several packages of different durations and for different budgets exist.

The Airalo application allows you to keep up to date on the data and minutes used, in addition to offering the possibility of adding to your package.

The lessers

You have to be a little skilled with technology to activate the virtual SIM card, because it requires a few manipulations in the little-explored phone settings. Doing the wrong thing could cost a lot of data while roaming.

Note, however, that the application offers a 24/7 support service, in addition to step-by-step tutorials to guide you through the process.

eSIM Card plans do not include call or text minutes. It is therefore always necessary to use the Internet to communicate, with channels such as WhatsApp or Messenger.

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3- Additions (addons) to their current plan

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Anyone who has activated their cellular data during an excursion outside Canada can attest to this: the bill can quickly become very steep. If you absolutely want to keep your phone number and not worry too much about another service, consider activating a travel extension with your telephone operator.

Obtaining these add-ons is rather simple: you connect to your account on your provider’s website, and make a request in the package settings. Depending on the country and company you are dealing with, you may need to put money in a wallet to pay for data roaming as you use it. Others offer daily rates, sometimes even without the need to take any steps.

You don’t have to do any technical manipulation once you arrive at your destination, which can be a big plus if you’re less tech-savvy.

The addition often lasts until the end of the monthly cycle, but we suggest that you contact your service provider to be sure.

The lessers

These add-ons are often much more expensive in comparison to local SIM and eSIM. Daily usage, for example, runs around $12 per day for European countries. Some packages of the options mentioned above can total this amount for an entire week.

You also need to make sure you activate it at the right time, because operators – this is not the case for all – can sometimes have processing times before the addition is fully operational.

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