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Traveling Overseas with your iPhone/iPad?

An Apple expert offers tips she's picked up on traveling with her gear.

Planning an overseas trip is exciting but figuring out your AT&T iPhone/iPad connectivity can be challenging.  Here’s what I’ve learned after experiencing this first-hand. 

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Calling - If you’re traveling outside of Canada and Mexico, you can sign up for the AT&T World Traveler plan for $5.99/month which gives you reduced calling rates.  Even if you don’t plan on making phone calls, consider this an insurance policy if you have to make an emergency call.  For calling from Canada and Mexico, there is a $4.99/month plan and reduced calling rates.  

Texting - There are separate messaging plans that start at 50 messages for $10/month and include picture messages.  Only outbound messages are counted against the 50 so you can receive an unlimited number of texts.  Additionally, if you are running iOS 5.0 and are texting with another iPhone/iPad user (running iOS 5.0 or above) you can take advantage of Apple’s iMessage service.  This works in both WiFi and 3G but remember if you’re doing this in 3G you’re using part of your international data plan.  Try to stick to WiFi while you’re away.  You’ll know you’re sending an iMessage if the text bubble is blue.   

If you want to ensure you only send iMessages and not text (SMS) messages, you can turn off standard texting on your iPhone.  Go to Settings > Messages and switch “Send as SMS” to Off.  Make sure “iMessage” is set to On. 

This approach has worked well for our family and finding free WiFi is usually fairly easy.  There are apps, which identify free WiFi hotspots by location.  The app I recommend is Wi-Fi Finder (by JiWire).  A word of caution, however, that this app requires online access so either check out the locations in advance of your trip or use it when you’re in WiFi to find other hotspots.

Data - It’s also a good idea to have a data plan when you’re traveling internationally.  Google Maps can help you find your way back from the dead end streets of Venice or locate the nearest Metro stop in Paris.  The minimum data plan is $24.99 for 50mb of data, both sending and receiving.  I’ve found this sufficient for minimal data usage such as finding addresses or routes while limiting my email checking and Facebook or LinkedIn updates to WiFi zones only.

If you’re unsure how much data you need, here is a link to a handy calculator on the AT&T site.  It will help you determine the minimum data package you should purchase.  Keep in mind that all of these activities are free when you are in a Wi-Fi area so I would only rely on data for emergency or routing purposes.  

It’s a good idea to reset your data statistics before you arrive so you can keep track of how much data you’re using while you’re traveling. First, you’ll need to reset your data usage tracking.  To do this, go to Settings > General > Usage > Cellular Usage > Reset Statistics.  Once you’re using data, periodically check the numbers in “Sent” and “Received” to track the total amount of data you’ve used.  If you find you’re nearing your package maximum, call AT&T (+1-916-843-4685 for free international support) and have them upgrade you to the next package.  On a pro-rated basis, it’s probably cheaper than paying to go over the package you purchased.  

When I travel overseas, I subscribe to a data plan for my phone and use my iPad in WiFi only.  If you have an iPad with 3G or 4G/LTE cellular support, you’ll want to turn off the cellular data access.  To do this, go to Settings > Cellular Data and set to Off.  Make sure "Data Roaming" is also set to Off.  If you want to turn off all data usage on your iPhone and only use it in WiFi you can do the same thing.  In Settings > General > Network, disable 3G/4G and turn off "Cellular Data" and "Data Roaming".   

Keep in mind that if you don’t turn off your data, you can automatically receive emails, notifications and updates depending on your other app settings.  

When you return, you can cancel your international plans and the fees will be pro-rated for the portion of the month you used.  However, the data and text usage is also pro-rated so check with AT&T before cancelling to avoid exceeding the pro-rated allowance.

These are some of my tips for traveling with an AT&T device.  There are also data plans available for your iPad from AT&T and Verizon.  For your Sprint or Verizon iPhone, those providers have international plans, which can be found on their web sites.  If you have the iPhone 4S, there is also an option to ‘unlock’ the phone and replace the sim card with one from the local provider in the country you’re traveling to. This has to be done through the local provider (Verizon or Sprint). 

Before you leave, update the Weather and Clock apps on your iPhone to add your destinations.  Both of these apps come built-in to your iPhone and there are a variety of free weather and clock apps for your iPad.  There are also apps for currency conversions and language translations that are useful for international travel.

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Brent Trem. June 23, 2012 at 02:47 AM
Don't forget these apps! TripList is perfect for organizing trips, Kayak is great for flight search, FlightBoard is great for delays!
Bob Williams September 19, 2012 at 08:48 PM
Thanks for this useful post. I also found a similar one useful for traveling outside North America at http://blog.loapost.com/?p=68.
Robert T September 19, 2012 at 09:05 PM
I've tried their software ... been using it for a while; it's nearly free and works without a hitch. I've got lots of email addresses, and it works way better for me than webmail or gmail (which has problems behind firewalls). The site root is www.loapost.com, BTW.
forest barbieri December 26, 2012 at 06:15 PM
Good ideas. As I travel often here is a few added suggestions. First of all unlock your AT&T. If off contract theuy will do it for free. If on contract go to cellunlocker.net and they will send you a code that LEGALLY unlocks your phone and allows for all Apple warranty and updates! Then you can use local SIMS. Obviously if you want to use your USA number it will cost you $$$$. However, Skype, Vonage and many other ways of communicating over WiFi exist for virtually free as well as iMessage over WiFi. Remember to turn off data roaming et al if you are going to still use your USA Sim card.

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