Using ATT iPhone for International Travel - 3GS, 4 & 4s

Using ATT iPhone for International Travel Without Breaking the Bank (3Gs, 4 and 4s)

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When I traveled internationally for the first time after buying my iPhone, I was concerned about the potential for racking up huge phone bills. I’d heard horror stories about people who used their ATT iPhone for international travel, only to discover they had mounted up thousands of dollars in cell phone charges upon returning home. As an underpaid writer, I needed to make very sure this didn’t happen to me.

iPhone 3GS

I started by calling AT&T and was told that I needed to add an International Calling Plan for $24.99 per month. Initially that seemed like a reasonable solution, until I read the small print. The plan provides 20MB of usage within 65 countries, and the list of countries did not include my destination. Additionally, usage over 20MB would have been charged at $.005 per KB. If that all sounds like a lot of gibberish, let me put it in perspective: opening an email with a five megapixel picture in it or downloading a three-minute video on YouTube each require about 2MB of data, so it wouldn’t take long to eat up 20MB of data. Additionally, there are 1,000 KB in each MB, so if I was over my limit, opening a 2MB email would cost me $10! Obviously, this plan was not acceptable.

Since I intended to access my email and the Internet solely through the hotel’s WiFi network, I asked AT&T for instructions to block the cellular network completely. Although it was a struggle to get the rep to agree to send me the appropriate information, she finally offered to send an email with instructions. The instructions were somewhat incomplete, but with research I was able to fill in the missing details and the steps I took successfully shut off the 3G network (I have since traveled internationally for months without incurring any roaming charges). The following are the specific instructions for using ATT iPhone for international travel without incurring high international roaming charges (3Gs, 4 and 4s):

Settings for iPhone 3GS:

  1. Make sure that standard International Roaming and International Long Distance feature, if it is included in your cellular plan, is removed (call AT&T and make sure the rep adds a note to your account confirming that you requested this)
  2. If you are going to forward your number, do so before you change any other settings (Settings->Phone->Call Forwarding->Turn ON->Enter number to which you want calls forwarded)
  3. Disable 3G (Settings->General->Network-Enable 3G->OFF)
  4. Turn off data roaming (Settings->General-Network->Data Roaming->OFF)
  5. Make sure WiFi is enabled (Settings->WiFi->WiFi->ON)
  6. Turn of automatic pushing of email (Settings->Mail, Contacts, Calendars->Fetch New Data-Push->OFF and set Fetch to Manually)
  7. Put the phone in airplane mode (Settings->Airplane Mode->ON)
  8. Although not absolutely necessary, I wanted to be very sure I was not mounting up the MB’s, so I reset the usage counter to zero in order to monitor it throughout the trip, ensuring my usage remained at zero. To do so, go to Settings->General->Usage->Reset Statistics (scroll to the very bottom).

Settings for iPhone 4 and 4s:

  1. If you are going to forward your number, do so before you change any other settings (Settings->Phone->Call Forwarding->Turn ON->Enter number to which you want calls forwarded)
  2. Disable 3G (Settings->General->Network->Cellular Data->OFF). Also check your Data Roaming; it should be off by default, but for some reason if it is on, turn it off here as well
  3. Make sure WiFi is enabled (Settings->WiFi->WiFi->ON)
  4. Turn of automatic pushing of email (Settings->Mail, Contacts, Calendars->Fetch New Data-Push->OFF and set Fetch to Manually)
  5. Put the phone in airplane mode (Settings->Airplane Mode->ON)
  6. If you wish to reset the usage counter to zero in order to monitor it throughout the trip and ensure usage remains at zero, go to Settings->General->Usage->Cellular Usage->Reset Statistics
  7. NOTE: In my 4s I do not turn off Location Services and Notifications, as they both work over wifi as well as a cellular network. Disabling 3G and putting the phone in Airplane Mode ensures that they will use only the wifi network and not rack up expensive roaming charges.

When I arrive in an international destination, I simply log into an available WiFi network and Voila! I have access to the Internet, email, Twitter, and can even make international phone calls with the iPhone Skype app without incurring cellular charges. When you return to the U.S., simply reverse the process, although you may choose not to reinstate the International Roaming and International Long Distance feature.

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506 Comments on “Using ATT iPhone for International Travel Without Breaking the Bank (3Gs, 4 and 4s)

  1. Thanks for a great article. I did quite a bit of research on using the iPhone while traveling abroad. For extended travel, I decided to switch to Tmobile. They have a global plan with unlimited data and texting for $80 per month with additional charges to call the US are .20 per minute. I was gone for 6 months and for 2 of the months my bill was $140 because of more frequent calls to the states. I used SKYPE and FaceTime primarily. It eliminated purchasing Sim cards in each country I was in.

    • Thanks for your comment Faith. Things have definitely changed (for the better) since I wrote this article. I now use a world sim from TruPhone, which allows me to call anywhere in the world, from anywhere in the world, for very affordable prices, and it provides texting and voice mail as well.

  2. Thanks for the great info. Would you still have to purchase the $25 call plan for your iPhone to be able to work in a different country? Or does it stay working no matter what? (First time international traveler and I am very new to all of this.) Thank you in advance.

    • Hi Mandee: It depends upon what you are trying to accomplish. If you just want to make calls in the country where you are traveling (call the hotel, call a taxi, etc.), and IF your iPhone is unlocked, you can buy an inexpensive sim card when you arrive in the country. If your iPhone is NOT unlocked, you can do one of two things: 1) buy an international plan from your carrier, or 2) put the phone in Airport mode (which will still allow you access to all apps and email, etc. when using wifi) and use Skype to make International calls when you have access to a wifi network. If you choose to buy the plan, please read the small print carefully. You are allowed a very small amount of data transfer before additional charges begin to accrue, and many people return home to bills in the thousands of dollars. You need to be VERY careful about use of your phone on an International plan – don’t surf the web, turn of all location and notification services that operate in the background, as well as iTunes synching, and set email push to manual.

  3. I really admire you.I am a concierge who gives advices to people but sometimes i feel like unleash the adventurer inside me take my 2 sons and do the same crazy stuff.Good luck with your blogging. You can read my blog about the scams in Istanbul Turkey. Cheers

    • Hi Eric: In my opinion, there’s no better teacher than travel. Hope you can find a way to hit the road with your boys, if only for a little while.

  4. YouRoam is a new app I am using when I travel that allows me to receive calls using my cell phone number and continue to make and receive calls very inexpensively while abroad without paying roaming fees. I also can make calls and message other users for free from anywhere in the world. I am going to Africa for a month and it helps me stay in touch with my family while abroad.

    • Hi Andrea: I took a look at YouRoam. There’s been a lot of these services popping up of late. The language on their site is somewhat misleading, in my opinion. On their FAQ’s page, under the question about whether it is necessary to have an international plan from your carrier, I found this:

      “Once your phone is connected to WiFi, you will automatically receive all calls on your own number for just $4.99 cents per week for unlimited calls to and from the US. If you need to receive calls at all times while on the road, we suggest you contact your carrier and subscribe to an international data and text messaging (no voice) plan. By turning on YouRoam, you can receive and make all your calls while abroad over 3G/4G/LTE/WiFi. Warning: Turn off voice calling while abroad. Otherwise incoming calls will be charged at your carrier’s international rates which will be very expensive!”

      I’d be very careful and check this out. It looks to me like you’d be paying $4.99 per month for the right to call using wifi, which you can do for free with Skype. I’m currently using a Truphone sim, which automatically connects me to a local 3G/4G network in every country I visit and I’ve been pleased with them. They have decent rates in 200 countries, and because their sim comes with a number, I can call someone back home, tell them to call me back, and often pay a much lower price for an incoming call, which costs the caller nothing (except for minutes). None of these plans is perfect yet, but in the next few years, things will be changing drastically. The E.U., for instance, is working on laws to combine all countries in the E.U. into one wireless zone.

  5. Hello, Thanks for all the comments. I leave for Thailand in 4 days and have an iphone 5 with ATT. I will be there a full month.
    I have been there before with other phones and was very successful with local sim cards.
    Here is my question:
    If I buy a monthly plan, which includes internet on my phone, can’t I have folks in the US call me on my US Skype phone number and speak to them on my phone (rather than with my laptop…)? And, if this is so, then it will be at no charge to them. Is this correct?

    Thanks so much. I hope someone sees this.

    • Hi Shari: I have also purchased local sim cards and used them quite successfully in Thailand, although with the military coup there have been some changes to cell service that may impact tourists in the future – sorry, but I don’t know the exact details yet. However, I want to make sure you are not confusing cell signal with wifi. You can buy a Thai sim that includes a data plan, which will allow you to download email, get on the Internet, use real-time mapping, etc. However, the Skype app is intended to work ONLY with a wifi connection, so your cellular data will NOT work with Skype. You must be connected to a wifi network to use the app. Having said that, wifi is fairly ubiquitous all over Thailand. You can get it in coffee shops, restaurants, hotels, hostel, etc.

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  8. And by the way, even if you’re still in contract, you might be able to break it and get the phone unlocked for a small fee or even fro free (T-mobile did it for me for no charge whatsoever) if you tell them you’re moving abroad. T-mobile asked for some sort of proof I was moving abroad, I sent them a generic rental agreement in German and that was good enough for them. So even if you’re not officially moving overseas and just traveling for a few months, you may be able to get out of your contract. I would absolutely recommend this if you can swing it. Then get a local or regional SIM (cards that let you call cheaply neighboring countries). I would do this even if you’re not moving abroad but just traveling for a few months.

  9. If you have an iPhone 3GS, that is a fairly old phone by today’s standards and therefore it hsould be no problems to break your American contract and get the phone unlocked. If you’re past your two year contract commitment, and you should be if you have a 3GS or even an iPhone 4, breaking contracts and getting it unlocked is easy. Trust me, I’ve done it. If you’re spending any significant amount of time overseas, it makes absolutely no sense to continue to pay an American phone company with all the potential fees, bad service etc. Just get out of your American contract, unlock the phone, and get a local SIM. Most local SIM are extremely cheap and you only pay for the minutes you use. If you want to spend a little extra money, you can usually get a SIM that includes internet access…also for very cheap, in case you need to access the internet and there is no WiFi around. When you get back to the States, you can also get a pay-as-you-go SIM for much cheaper than most iphone contracts, and these plans are becoming more and more numerous so you have lots of choice. As far as staying in touch with people in the US? Skype and similar services are the best…simply have skype forward a call from the US to your local number. This costs a few cents. When you get a skype forwarded call, just quickly tell the person you’re not online and to call back in an hour or whenever you can get back to your hotel/apartment/wherever you have internet access. If you’re going abroad for a year or more, I think it is worth it to buy a US-based skype number so that people in the US can call an American number and still get a hold of you. Last I checked, a skype number is $60 for a year. I’ve been living overseas for 6 years and it always astounds me when I come across American backpackers that plan to be on the road for a couple of months and they are still paying their American cell phone service provider to make calls overseas! It is completely nuts and only makes sense if you’re going abroad for a short two-three week vacation.

  10. Hello Barbara,
    My daughter is traveling to Thailand for a year to teach. After reading thru all of these comments, I havent seen a thing about having to unlock or jailbreak the iPhone. If we follow these steps, I am to assume that is not necessary, is that correct? Also, would you recommend having her forward her phone number to a new Google Voice and Skype? That way we can communicate via text msgs or phone calls, correct? Love all this information, extremely informative, thanks!!


    • Hi Jim: Jailbreaking is quite easy to accomplish, however it only provides access to apps that are not included in the Apple library. Unlocking allows you to place a foreign sim card into the phone, if her phone is from a GSM service provider such as AT&T or T-Mobile, or has a dual CDMA/GSM capacity (I believe all the newest iPhones have this, regardless of carrier, but check to make sure). GSM is necessary because most of the rest of the world works on GSM cellular technology and their sim cards are only compatible with iPhones that support GSM. Having said that, unlocking is not as easy as it used to be and doing so is a violations of the terms of the AT&T contract. If she unlocks and than accidentally upgrades the operating system after unlocking, the phone will likely turn into a brick and AT&T says it will not be repairable. However, if she has had the phone long enough to satisfy the contract (typically 2 years), she can call AT&T & request an unlock code, which they will then text her. As soon as it is unlocked she can use a Thai sim card with it. Now, that will only allow her to make local calls in Thailand, so it does not solve the issue of calls back home. I rely on Skype with a wifi connection for those calls. I also have a Skype phone number and subscription (total $60 per year), and I forward my cell to that number when I am overseas. The subscription includes voice mail, so when anyone calls my cell they can either reach me live if I happen to be online with wifi, or leave a message, which I can retrieve the next time I am online. If all she wants is to make calls back home, she can do the same and doesn’t have to worry about unlocking. However, with all this, there is one thing missing – texts. Texts require the cellular network to work, which you will have deactivated by following the steps in my article (for newer phones, not all the steps are necessary – in Settings->Cellular just turn off the Cellular Data, which keeps the phone from accessing the mobile network completely). So if the cell network is deactivated, or if she is using a foreign sim, no text messages will get through. The best solution I have found for this is the app called WeChat, which allows both texting and video messages over the wifi. Hope that all helps.

      • Re: I forward my cell to that number when I am overseas — i am a bit slow to understand. Does this mean you maintain a contract w AT&T to have a cell number or does the new SIM card come with a new cell number? Thank you. I have been trying to figure out how to make the phone thing work. Also how do travelers look up restaurants and directions… with the changes you have described?

        • Hi Nur: Yes, I still have a contract with AT&T because I go back to the States occasionally, so I forward my AT&T cell number to my Skype number whenever I am out of the country. However, this year when I’m home for Christmas my 2-year contract will have been satisfied and I will probably have the phone unlocked and turn off my service for good. Then whenever I am back in the States I can pop in a prepaid sim card. Each sim card comes with a phone number, whether in the U.S. or overseas. You can buy a sim that has a data plan, just like in the U.S.; I have one right now in Thailand. Or, you can just buy a sim with phone minuts and rely on wifi to access the Internet to get email, look up restaurants, and have gps mapping services. Wifi is everywhere these days, so unless I’m going to stay somewhere a month or more, I just usually opt for minutes with no data. Hope that helps.

  11. I am having issue calling US only from Indonesia I can call other countries no problem I have an international plan

  12. Are your instructions to disable the 3G network the same if your carrier is Verizon? So what you,are saying if you disable the 3G and solely use a wifi connection there would be no roaming or other charges to your bill?

    • Hi Cindy: Because my article was written for those with AT&T service, I am not familiar with Verizon. However, I am quite sure that disabling the 3G and using only wifi will ensure you get no roaming charges, regardless of carrier. Unfortunately, I do not have a Verizon phone, so there may be some settings on your phone that are different from mine. Just make sure that you turn off all cellular data, and that data roaming is off. You need to be very certain that no services are working in the background, such as location or notification, or email pushing, that would cause your phone to connect without your knowledge. If you have the 4s or newer, turning off cellular data should ensure that, however again, I do not have Verizon, so maybe do a bit more research to make sure that is correct in your case.

  13. First of all I want to say wonderful blog! I had a quick question that I’d like to ask if you do not mind. I was interested to find out how you center yourself and clear your mind prior to writing. I have had a tough time clearing my mind in getting my thoughts out. I truly do take pleasure in writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are lost just trying to figure out how to begin. Any ideas or hints? Kudos!


    When someone writes an article he/she keeps the image of a user in his/her brain that how a user can know it. So that’s why this piece of writing is great. Thanks!

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  16. For international texting, try downloading the viber app. It allows you to text anyone else with that app for free, since it uses wifi. It’s kind of like Skype, but for smart phones. You can also TALK via viber to any other iphone user with viber.
    I will be using it on an upcoming trip, so if it does NOT work I will repost. But I have tried it in the US and it works fine!

    • Thank you Barbara! I’d very much appreciate it if you’d let me and my readers know if Viber works, as the texting is the one missing link for me when I’m traveling internationally. I recently also learned about WeChat and wanted to test it, but it won’t work in my old 3gs, which is jailbroken and unlocked, so I can’t upgrade the operating system.

  17. I have always removed my sim card and left it at home when I travel, that way I can ONLY connect via wi-fi.

  18. Hi Barbara! I was wondering if w can take few pictures from your iphone while in other countries when disabling 3 g ? I will definately follow your instructions when I go to visit Italy this summer ? Also I am hard of hearing so I do text messaging alot but is it ok just to email instead of texting on my iphone ?
    thanks !

    • Hi Marcy: Yes, you can still use your phone to take photos when the 3G is disabled, and you can send photos to friends via email whenever you have an active wifi connection. As for text messages, I’m afraid this is the one thing that I have not been able to resolve to my satisfaction. Sending a text requires the 3G network, and if you turn it on without an International calling plan (pricey), you will be charged quite a lot per message. At the moment, I am using Google Voice, which provides me with a free phone number that I give to friends and family, telling them to use it whenever I’m out of the country. Google converts the text to email and sends it to me. I can then text back using Google Voice, again whenever I have a wifi connection.

  19. Pingback: 3 iPhone Apps That Get The Job Done On The Road | Tech Guide For Travel

  20. Dear Barbara, I have an iphone 4 which doesn’t support a sim card and an ipad. If I understand correctly, During my 5 week stay in Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia I should turn off all the roaming, airplane mode and what else?? I should go thru Skype in free Wi Fi locations and I’ll be able to text and speak on the phone or ipad to others with Skype accounts. I see there are 2 Skype Aps, Skype WiFi and Skype. Which should I use to communicate with my office while I’m gone. Verizon tells me I have to rent their global phone to be able to get service in those countries. Thank you! John

    • Hi John: I’m afraid I am a little confused. First, I’ve never heard of an iPhone in ANY version that does not have a SIM card. They have different SIZE SIM cards (nano-SIM or micro-SIM), but they all have SIMs. My other concern is that my article is written for people who have iPhones that were manufactured for AT&T. Cell phones in the U.S. are specifically manufactured for each carrier, because each one uses a different technology. AT&T uses GSM cellular service, which is the standard in most other places in the world. Verizon uses CDMA, although the new iPhone 5 manufactured for Verizon is a dual technology phone, and the GSM function on it is unlocked, so it can be used with SIM cards in foreign countries. However, the iPhone 4 did not have this capability. Though I do not know if the settings in my article would be exactly the same on a phone manufactured for Verizon, I suspect they are either the same or very similar. I suggest you follow the instructions in my article step-by-step to make sure you are not hit with unexpected charges upon return to the U.S., instead relying on your wifi connection.

      As for Skype, what you need is the regular Skype app. This will allow you (with an active wifi connection) to make calls to any other Skype user, no matter where they are in the world, for free. If you load Skype with credit, you can then also call someone who does not have a Skype account, and I have found that their rates are very economical for most destinations around the world. The Skype WiFi is a special app that makes it possible for you to use your Skype Credit (if you have any) to pay for WiFi access in hotels/airports etc, where the WiFi is not free. You can then use the Skype WiFi App to pay for this access instead of a credit card or similar. By doing all this, you can avoid renting Verizon’s global phone.

  21. I will be driving all around New Zealand’s South Island in February and would like to only use my AT&T iPhone to make a call in an emergency.
    Do I need to activate/pay for any International plan? I believe it is $30 a month at present. If I don’t get a plan will the phone simply roam to a local cellular network and then I would have to pay the $2.50/minute, or whatever it is, charges?

    • Hi Michael: If the only thing you need is to have use of your cell phone in an emergency, the International calling package offered by AT&T may be an option, however be aware that there are data download limits on that plan that are easily exceeded. When that happens, they begin billing you at exorbitant overage rates. Data can add up quickly, just from downloading one photo in an email, so you must make very sure all your connections are turned off (such as email pushing, location services and notifications, as noted in my article). If you put the phone in Airplane mode and leave it there, no data will transfer, and then you could just disable Airport mode when you needed to call and connect via roaming through the local network. However, if the other services are not turned off at that point, you will likely be incurring data charges in the background. Follow the steps in my article to turn them off before putting the phone in Airplane mode and that should ensure that no data is being accessed, even if you take the phone out of Airplane mode.

      • Thanks Barbara, I think perhaps a better option is to buy a Telestial’s Pack Lite Travel Cell Phone. They have them on sale for $19 on their website. It comes with a SIM card with $5 pre-loaded and much lower per minute rates than AT&T’s.

  22. Thanks for giving Useful information.I felt this type problem when i went a trip to German .That was the first time i visit German for 1 month.Thanks your blog is awesome :-)

  23. Leaving for Zambia in a few hours for a medical mission. Viber is a great FREE app for free international texting and email via wifi. Lets hope it works! Thank you for the information about turning off the data and 3g portions of my iphone. Valuable information!

  24. Excellent issues altogether, you just won a new reader. What could you suggest in regards to your put up that you made a few days in the past? Any positive?

  25. No reason to pay for roaming. I got my iPhone officially unlocked and used a local SIM in Germany. It’s a LOT cheaper that way. For example these guys can unlock your iPhone for like $15.

  26. Going to Laos and Thailand, Does the IPhone 5 have the same settings? I just want to use Wi-Fi to check e-mail. Thanks for the great info.

    • Hi Terry: I don’t have an iPhone 5 yet but I suspect the instructions will be the same. Just follow the steps in my post and if you find he menus are the same, you should be all set. And if so, I’d appreciate it if you’d post back and let us all know. Thanks.

  27. barbara I have a feeling you’re going to save my butt. thanks for posting this I just found out I have no cell svc overseas through verizon but will be in peru in 2 days…thanks for the details this is awesome.

  28. It sounds like an ipod touch would have done all you wanted without having to go through all the trouble and expense of an iphone and managing the cell aspect of it.

    • Hi Lara: You are absolutely correct, however I want the phone so I can pop in a sim card for any country that I visit for more than a couple of weeks.

  29. My son will be going to school in England. He has a GO phone with a UK phone number for friends at school, etc. I would like to get him an IPHONE to use to talk in the US. What do you suggest? Is he better off getting an IPHONE in England?

    • Hmmm, Janet. Tough call. If you get an iPhone in the UK it will be unlocked, as all iPhones sold outside the US are unlocked. That means he will be able to pop in a local sim card if he wants, but sounds like you have that covered with the GO phone. If he’s only going to call internationally using Skype with a wifi connection, it doesn’t really matter whether or not the phone is unlocked. However if you buy it here you will either have to pay full price and get it at the Apple Store, or get it through a carrier for a discounted price, but the latter option will require a two year contract for service. The other thing to consider it the warranty.If he buys it in the UK, once he leaves there, it will not be covered by warranty in the US.

  30. Add a whole new level of convenience to your iPhone while traveling with an App called Pushonecode. No more guessing “How do I call?”…or “Where am I?”

    Pushonecode uses GPS to know where you are and all of the local area codes you need are just one push away. It has every country in the world, all the exit codes and entry codes to call between them. The codes appear on your dial pad (like magic!) with a few pushes and then just add the last digits and you are making your call!

    You can save new numbers to your Contact List and save Favorite calling code sequences for later use. Next update will add all emergency contact numbers for countries that have them…if there are no emerg numbers for a country, it might be one to avoid…

    Happy travels and happy calling!

  31. Bless you for this article Barbara,

    In the time it took to read this I went from “how can I stay in touch” to ” it won’t cost me a cent” to spend 25 days in Canada with my Japanese iPhone. You’re awesome!! And since I already have a Skype North America subscription any calls I make will cost me NOTHING!!!

    Thanks for making my day, and my connectedness in Canada cost and worry free:-)


    P.S. Reading your intro felt like my bio, travel, photography, and recognizing that financial success without meaning is failure. Like you, I’m following my bliss, and choosing meaning over money. “Find a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Confucius

  32. Hi Barbara: I am not tech savvy at all!! Will this method work on ipads also? I’d like to take my ipad 2 with me. Thanks, Linda

    • Hi Linda: so sorry but I have no idea about the settings on the iPad.

  33. Hi Barbara – thanks for the great info. I’m having trouble getting on a network here in Barcelona, and wondered if you might be able to punch holes in my method or find an error. My IPhone 4S is in Airplane mode, with Cellular Data set to “off” and Data Roaming “off”. However despite this, if I pull the phone out of Airplane mode it automatically jumps on a local phone network. Is this business as usual?

    So then I’m trying to get on a WiFi network with all of the above settings intact, and over and over again I can’t get two separate IPhone 4S phones on the network. We’re traveling with a laptop and an IPad which are on the network just fine, but we really need to get the phones on the network as well for texting, etc.

    Any ideas…? thanks so much…


    • Hi Pete: Yes, it’s normal. You have to think of the network separate from the data side of things. The settings you’ve turned off both refer to data, not to the cellular network. If you take it out of Airplane Mode your phone will automatically search for a local cellular network. You should leave the phone in Airplane Mode at all times or you risk mounting up big bills, as there are location services, push services (like email), etc.that will operate in the background, using the local network, if you have not properly turned them all off. You can connect to a wifi network anywhere in the world while the phone is in Airplane Mode – no need to turn it off. When you first activate Airplane Mode, the wifi is turned off automatically; you just need to go back into settings and turn it back on. I have had situations where my laptop would connect to a wifi just fine, but the iPhone would not see it, and/or vice versa. That always has to do with the way the wifi network was set up, not with the iPhone, however if it is happening for all wifi networks, I suspect you just need to turn the wifi back on. As for text messages, unless you’re using an app like Google Voice or Text Free, you will not be able to text using wifi, and if you turn on the cellular network to do so you will also incur big charges, because it uses the international network to send and receive text messages.

  34. Hi Barbara!  Thanks for the instructions and insights.  Is step 1 for the iPhone 3Gs absolutely necessary or is it just precautionary.

    • Hi TLee: It’s precautionary, but I think it’s important, because from what I understand (and AT&T is not always terribly forthcoming with information, as you probably know) if you have this feature, you are giving the carrier permission to use the International network to connect calls.

      • Thanks for that info Barbara!  I’ll be walking some by myself in some of the more remote areas of Ireland on an upcoming trip.  Wi-Fi wouldn’t be available in that situation.  I think I’m going to take the iPhone (while utilizing the instructions above) to use where wi-fi is available but also rent an international phone to have in case of emergencies.  I’m researching those phones and plans now.   

        • Hi TLee: Thanks so much. If you have the time, let us know in a comment here what your research turns up. This is a subject about which I know very little.

  35. Barbara,
    Stupid me… I downloaded the Skype App and it is working somehow, sometimes it still goes to voicemail directly. I thought the Skype wifi app was all that was needed. Regarding turning off cellular data. Do we need to turn it off?
    Thank you.

  36. Barbara,
    We do get an e-mail from Skype through the iPhone that shows the number who called us and a note saying that to listen to the voicemail, we need to sign in to Skype. Originally, I installed Skype wifi on the iPhone, do I also need to install the full Skype application?
    This is so complex :) and the phone does not ring… it goes straight to voicemail when it is available and wifi is available and connected.
    I am lost! Help!!!

  37. Barbara,
    Encore moi! It’s me again!
    I went through the process to set up the iphone. You do not mention turning off cellular data in your instructions. Do we need to turn it off?Also after following all the instructions and being at home with wifi, when I call the iPhone, I immediately get a message that the person is not available. It does not even ring.I have a Skype subscription with credits, an online number, I forwarded the iphone number to the skype number and disabled 3G and other settings and it does not work.What am I doing wrong? or do I have to wait some time before using the skype number?Thanks again for all the help. I am glad to have found you.Thanks.Norbert

    • Hi Norbert: Don’t despair. The fact that you received a notification in Skype that you have a voice mail means that your Skype account is active, your Skype online phone number is working, and that you have correctly forwarded your mobile number to your Skype number. It is not absolutely necessary to download Skype on your laptop, but it is a good idea to do so. Keeping the Skype app on your iPhone signed in all the time will lower your battery time, so when you are working on your laptop you can sign in on it instead of on the iPhone. Remember that once you sign in on your laptop, you will automatically be signed out on your iPhone (you can’t be logged in from two separate devices at the same time), so you will have to log back in again on the iPhone app the next time you are in a wifi zone and want to receive calls.

      Now, having said all that, I am guessing that your problem is that you are not SIGNED IN to Skype on your iPhone. Unless you are signed in, calls will automatically go to voice mail. To do so, click on the Skype app icon, enter your username and password and voila! it will connect. One you are connected, the phone will ring as usual, as long as you have an active wifi connection. Skype will not work with a cellular connection. As for turning off data, I don’t know what version of the iPhone you have, so can’t give you specifics, but please refer back to my original post. For the 3Gs this issue is addressed in point number four; for the iPhone 4, it is addressed in item number two. Please note that data roaming is turned off by default on the iPhone 4, but it is wise to check. If you have an iPhone 5 I can’t
      really help, as I don’t own one, however I assume that data is turned off
      by default on that version as well. Just try the instructions for the
      iPhone4 and it will probably take you to the data roaming settings.

  38. Well organized list of instructions! Thanks!
    World Traveler FYI: A great way to send and receive free text messages while abroad is via Google Voice. This set up is working great for us as we are touring Central America! You must have access to a wifi signal in order to utilize Google Voice. Make sure to have Google assign a new phone number to your device so that you don’t accidently migrate your actual number from your carrier (ATT/Verizon/Sprint/etc.), which would incur charges and a nightmarish “how do I get back to my carrier?!>?!” scenario….

  39. Hi Barbara, Many thanks for your notes and follow-up comments. Great Job. Terry

  40. any thoughts on texting internationally with  iphone 4s by att ?

    • Wish I could help Doro, but it’s the one thorn in my side I can’t seem to remove. I’ve tried the TextFree app but it doesn’t work well. Currently I’m using Google Vice and converting text messages to email, but that requires an active wifi connection.I haven’t come across anything that allows text messages to be sent to international cellular networks.

  41. Hello,
    Thanks so much for this information. Very handy for someone who hasn’t travelled overseas and is not keen on the idea of thousand dollars worth of welcome home bills!
    My question is not so much about calling as I’m having my number diverted to an international pre-paid mobile (when I travel to America from Australia in a couple of days) but more messaging. I’m going to follow your instructions to have all roaming and data turned off and only using wifi, I don’t have a Skype account nor does anyone I wish to keep in contact with so will I still be able to use iMessage on my iPhone 4/ iPad? Since I believe it goes through the wifi connection?
    Thanks for your help. Lanna

    • Hi Lana: I’m not familiar with iMessage, but your iPhone will continue to function with any app that works via wifi in Australia. If the little “radio wave” icon shows up in the upper left-hand corner, that means the phone is using the wifi connection rather than the cellular network. If iMessage woks when this icon shows up, you’re good to go.

  42. Hey Barbara,
    My 18 year old daughter is travelling to Europe this Thursday for 25 days.  We are from Canada and she has an Apple iphone 4, I have purchased a special one month plan that allows 250 text messages and 70 minutes unlimited in-coming texts and 7o minutes long distancre international calling.  She will enable the 3g and follow the instructions that you provided for the data however I am still confused about the phone calls.  With the plan I purchased for her to call home and to send a few texts per day will she still get some additional charges..I am really confused with this..I would like her to have the international plan and I am okay in paying that extra $75.00 to know she has a safe way to call, I just dont want to be stuck with unexpected bills from the phone.  If she follows disabling the 3g and puts her phone in airplane..can she send a few texts per day and make a couple fo phone calls anywhere without getting extra charges incurred if she stays within the plan amount of minutes and texts…This is the portion I am confused with

    • Hi Charlene: I can’t comment on or make any recommendation about the particular plan you have purchased, as I know nothing about the plans provided by Canadian providers. However, some things would be constant. First, when you purchase an international plan, you want the 3G to be ENABLED and Airplane Mode to be OFF. The whole point of buying a package like this s to be able to use the 3G connection in a foreign country to make calls (and in your case, texts). So once she arrives her phone will search for a network and connect with the local 3G carrier. Usually, these plans have a list of countries that are included in their package, so I suggest you check WHAT countries are included. For instance, if France and Spain are included but Andorra is not, and she happened to take a day trip to Andorra and made a call from there, you’d be charged huge prices for that call and/or text. The iPhone 4 has data roaming disabled by default, but it’s a good idea to make sure that’s not been changed in the settings. Usually, international plans provide for some data, but again, I can’t comment on your specific situation. You need to call the carrier for clarification. However, to be safe, I suggest that she leave data turned off and NOT get email or try to access any website unless she has a wifi connection. When the iPhone is connected to a wifi the “radio wave” icon will appear in the upper-left hand status bar. Whenever that is showing, the phone defaults to the wifi and no data is transferred over the cell network. She’s safe getting email and browsing the net when she sees the wifi icon. Please understand that this is in no way a complete overview or advice; I strongly suggest you go online to your carrier’s website, find
      the package you purchased, and read every single bit of fine print about it.

      • Barbara,
        We are ready to go to Canada for 11 days. My question: Even if you do not get a phone number from Skype, you should be able to get your calls when there is a wifi connection anywhere in the world. Correct?
        Why get a Skype number and forward our number to it? Just for the voicemail feature?
        Please let us know. Thank you.

        • Hi Norbert: With a wifi connection you will be able to receive calls from any friends and family members who also have a Skype account, and who happen to be online at the same time you are. However, you will not be able to receive phone calls made to your mobile phone through Skype. In order to do this, your mobile number must be forwarded to Skype, and to do this you must have a Skype phone number. When you buy a Skype phone number, you also get voice mail service, so if someone happens to call you when you are not online via a wifi connection, they can leave a message and you can pick it up the next time you are online. The only other option to receive calls made to your mobile in real time is to buy an international calling package from your cell carrier.

          • Hello Barbara,
            Thank you much for your prompt reply and for all the very valuable information you provide. I have another question regarding what I need to purchase from Skype because their website has many options and I am confused. Do I need to buy an Online Number located in the city I currently live in and do I need to sign up for a subscription or buy some credits?
            Thank you again for your help.

            • Also, do I need call forwarding so I can still receive the calls when I am not in a wifi zone or would that not work?
              Gee… it’s complicated.
              Thank you.

              • Norbert – think I answered this in the previous response, but let me know if you have any more questions.

                • Barbara,
                  You did answer it perfectly. Thank you so much.
                  In summary, I will purchase a Skype subscription and then buy the online number and lastly I will forward my iPhone cell number to the Skype online number.
                  Is this process correct?
                  With many many thanks,

                  • That’s correct Norbert. And then charge your account with $25 credit in the event you need to call someone on Skype who does not also have a Skype account.

                    • Barbara,
                      Thanks a lot.
                      Have a great week!

                    • Barbara,
                      Encore moi! It’s me again!
                      I went through the process to set up the iphone. You do not mention turning off cellular data in your instructions. Do we need to turn it off?

            • Hi Norbert: Yes, you need to buy an online number and a subscription. It can be any U.S. number (not necessarily one in your home town), as most people these days have cell phones and are not charged for domestic long distance calls (only minutes usage). However, whether or not you want a home town number or not depends upon how you intend to use it. My feeling is that I didn’t want to confuse everyone by giving them a new number for me, as they already had my mobile number in their address books. So I bought an online Skype number and then I forward my cell phone number to Skype whenever I am overseas. I also have a subscription with Skype, for which I pay $30 per year, and since I have a subscription I was able to buy my online number for half price, $30. The online number comes with voice mail, so when my cell is forwarded, my friends and family just call the same old number they are used to calling, but it is forwarded invisibly in the background to the Skype number. If I am online when they call, either on my iPhone or laptop, the call rings through just like it would any other time. If I am not, they can leave a message, and Skype even allows me to record a voice mail message. Whenever someone calls you, or you are Speaking to someone Skype-to-Skype, which is always free, there are no charges. The credit comes into play when you want to call out to someone who does not have Skype when you are traveling internationally. I charge my Skype account with $25 credit and set it to recharge automatically when it gets low. I rarely use more than $25 in a year, since Skype calls are incredibly cheap. Hope that helps.

  43. Hello, Barbara,

    Thanks for your help here.  I plan on following your advice and access e-mail/internet solely through free WiFi network while traveling out of the US.  My question is with the phone and text message.  I understand that while abroad I can receive/send text messages with a fee.  What about the phone?  I intend to make phone calls using Skype (with free WiFi), but what if someone calls me?  Will I be charged for the phone call?  Can I disable the phone while I’m abroad?  Any advice will be appreciated.

    • Hi Jenny: First, make very sure your data roaming is turned off (and as an extra assurance Airport Mode is enabled). My suggestion for receiving calls is to get a Skype subscription & phone number, which will allow you to forward your cell number to the Skype number. Then, install the Skype app for iPhone and whenever you are online with a wifi connection, anyone who calls you will get through just as if they are making a direct call to your cell, with no charge to you (they will incur a minutes charge, just like they would if they called you when you were in the States. If you do not happen to be online at that moment, Skype will allow then to leave a voice mail message, which you can retrieve the next time you have a wifi connection. If your data roaming is enabled and someone calls you, the call will come through using international roaming and you can expect big bills. As for text messages, yes you can get them, but again, they go through data roaming, as does carrier’s voice mail service, and if you use it (without an International package from AT&T), you will incur high charges. If you follow the instructions in my article, you will effectively disable the phone, although you will still be able to use all the apps and such with a wifi connection.

  44. Hello Barbara!
    First of all: Thank you for your help here… it is so very much appreciated! I am following this forum for a few months now…
    Now my question: we got an unlocked iPhone 4s for our upcoming trip to Europe and started to look for the right SIM card allowing both Internet access as well as phone calls… While there are plenty out there are only few that offer BOTH services.  So far it appears that the OneSimCard is the way to go… But maybe you could suggest something else that you tried and know is even more beneficial…?   
    Thanks a lot !

    • Hi ikka: Sorry, but I’m not going to be much help to you. I rely on Skype and a wifi connection for all my International calls, and I buy a local sim card for my unlocked iPhone in each country I visit. I’ve never used a sim card that allows International calls. If you find something that works and is affordable, appreciate it if you’d leave a comment here so others would know as well. Thanks so much.

  45. I am travelling from the USA to Europe with my AT&T 3g iphone tomorrow and need to be able to have Grandma call us at anytime as she is taking care of my very sick little girl. How can I do this?

    • Asmithpetri: For this kind of situation, where you need to receive real-time calls in the event of an emergency, I would suggest buying an International package from AT&T and making sure you have your data turned off and your email push turned off so that you only download emails manually when you have access to a wifi.

  46. And I have a Skype account so how do I get the skype number to have all my phone calls forwarded to my skype account? Thank you!

    • Katryna: You must go to Skype to buy a Skype phone number. Last time I looked it was $60 per year, but I think you may be able to get it for less if you’re buying a subscription or already have one. Buying a Skype number will also give you voice mail, so you can then forward your cell to Skype – make sure to do so BEFORE turning on Airplane Mode.

  47. I plan on following the steps you listed above exactly. However I still wanted to use my iphone to take pictures. If I have my phone on airplane mode am I still able to take photos with my iphone camera? And also I plan to use WiFi whenever possible. So anytime I am in an area of wifi should I take my phone off airplane mode (leaving the 3G still disabled) so that I can access emails and apps such as facebook/instagram? When on Wifi and using these apps with the 3G disabled wouldn’t rack up roaming charges correct? 

    • Hi Katryna: Yes, your iPhone camera will work in Airplane mode. The first time you enable Airplane Mode it will automatically turn off wifi, but you just go into settings and turn it back on again. Once wifi is on, the little triangular “radio wave” icon shows up in the upper left-hand corner. Whenever you see that, the iPhone defaults to wifi for its connection and you can use all of your apps (Instagram) and email. It is NOT necessary to turn off Airplane Mode to do this – you can leave it on all the time as an added assurance that there is no data connection through the cellular network.

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  49. Barbara
    Thanks for the info, greatly appreciated. Just a note on a few things I have found when preparing for my trip to the US in a few weeks. Using WiFi is an excellent way to go.
    In Australia Iphone 4s is unlocked by Apple (phone no available thru provider). This allows the use of any microsim (used in Iphone) when overseas or when your contract has expired. Jailbreaking uses software that can be obtained from the net, but I think it relates to older smart phones.Skype credit can allow calls from anywhere to land lines at home.
    Re call forwarding – A skype phone number would be useful but it costs $24/3mths in Australia.

    • Hi Arthur: Thanks for the info – I never really considered folks from other countries traveling to the U.S. with their iPhones – puts a bit of a different twist on it.

  50. Can you explain why the iPhone should be put in Airplane mode? I travel overseas a lot from Australia and have a personal broadband connection both at home and in Germany, so can use the phone like a little computer when I’m connected to those. I turn off Data Roaming and also 3G while outside Australia, but don’t put the phone in Airplane mode, and haven’t run up any excess charges. Yet. Why Airplane mode, and what does it do?

    • Hi Andrew: Airplane Mode shuts down the phone completely, so there is no possibility of any connection to anything. It is not absolutely necessary to leave it in Airplane Mode, but it is an extra assurance that you will incur no charges. In the 3Gs, for example, data roaming is not disabled by default (it is in the 4) and people have thought they had all their data off,only to discover that location services or email pushing was turned on, resulting in big bills when they returned. It’s just another layer of protection.

  51.  Beautiful photos – your composition is superb! Just returned from  Barcelona and I hope I got my roaming feature disabled correctly.

  52. Thanks, Barbara…great info! I’m a newbie at this and about to embark on a month long vacation in Amsterdam and Central Europe (Prague, Vienna, Budapest).  I decided not to get an AT&T international plan and instead use Google Voice.  I realize I will need wifi to make it work.  I downloaded the Google Voice app and got a GV phone number. If I understand you correctly, I  should forward my cell phone number to the GV number before I change any other settings…is that right?  

    • Hi Jane: Since my article is specifically about AT&T I don’t know for sure if you need to forward your cell phone number to the GV number before changing any other settings, since Google’s program may have different requirements. I have looked into Google Voice a bit but am not entirely clear about it. I do know that you can forward your US phone number to your GV number, however at this time, you cannot forward your GV number to an international number. I compared the rates between GV & Skype and found Skype to be favorable, so that’s the way I go. I also found the Skype app for my iPhone to be more stable than the GV app. I AM using GV for text messages and have set it up to convert all text messages sent to my GV number to emails. Though Skype supports sms texts, not everyone I know has Skype. However, everyone I know has a cell phone, so I just ask everyone to use my GV number to text me. Sorry I can’t be much more help.

      • Thanks, Barbara. I’m not having success making calls with GV in Amsterdam (texts & emails work) so I’ll try Skype.

  53. Hi, I was just wondering could I do all this and then download the Viber app as my mum has an iPhone and it states that it’s “free” and I’ll be travelling the US for 3 months but I don’t want to buy a US phone while I’m over there.


    •  Using Viber is similar to Skype ,you only use it on wifi, and viber to viber works fine.  It is sometimes better than Skype, depends on line. I have used it in Scotland, China, Uk, back to Australia. Also good for friends in same country as you, if all on viber. Put Skype and Viber on your Iphone then you have 2 options, hope this helps cheers Lance.

      • Thanks Lance – haven’t used Viber but have heard of it.

  54. Hi I have a Verizon iPhone 4 does it need to be in airplane mode of I turn cellular data off because then it will just use wifi right?

  55. Thank you Barbara for invaluable information!  As an inexperienced overseas traveler about to embark on my first trip this is so helpful and I can’t wait to explore your site further.  I am on my way to Europe and plan to follow all your steps with my iphone 4 as well as setting up Skype to be able to use the app and text/call with wifi to fellow traveling companions when separated. 

    One question though, my ATT account is set up with International Roaming Blocked vs Standard International Roaming.  Will this make any difference?

    • Hi Paula: I do not know the difference between “International Roaming Blocked vs Standard International Roaming.”I checked the AT&T website but can find no reference to this, however I do suggest that you call AT&T and have any International roaming service blocked. It’s just another added assurance that you won’t accidentally roam, though it is safer with the 4S than the 3Gs, because with the 4s Data Roaming is turned off by default. Per their site: “Call 1-800-331-0500 to troubleshoot and verify international roaming service is activated (or you may request it blocked)”

  56.  Hi Barbara,
    I love it, love it love it.
    But – I’m leaving next week for a month to Europe. Everything work fine, just I can’t get
    this: I would like to forward my i phone # to Skype, so people will call me and they can leave
    messages on voice mail somewhere in the Skype. Than, when I’ll be on WiFi, I can call them back.
    But the Skype says: ” Call forwarding lets your contact reach you when you’re away from computer”,
    which means, if I’ll be away from computer, they will call my i phone – right? Which is opposite what I’m trying to accomplish. What is wrong with me, or how it exactly work?
    Thank you, Jerry

    • Hi Jerry: Yes, it can be a bit confusing. When you forward your iPhone number to Skype, there is no connection to your AT&T account – the call is sent directly to your Skype number. The only way you can receive the call directly is if you happen to be online with a wifi connection, either on your computer, or on your iPhone, via the Skype app. If you are offline, Skype provides voicemail, and the next time you go online you will see a small red circle with the number one at the top of the Skype icon, indicating that there is voice mail waiting for you. I think the sentence you read in Skype simply means that you can get the call on your iPhone with the Skype app, but again, only if you are connected to wifi. Hope that helps.

      •  Thank you, Barbara.
        Just one more question, If I’ll jailbreak and unlock my iphone, I cannot update the itunes, but can I upgrate the Apps, Skype etc.?
        Thank you Jerry

        • Jerry: You CAN update iTunes and apps. You CANNOT EVER update the operating system. When you plug into iTunes it will prompt you to do so; make sure you press “Cancel” each time.

  57. Hi Barbara! Thanks very much for the blog, lots of good info!! I am traveling to China (specifically Beijing) and I want to bring my iPhone 3GS with me. I have ATT and it’s not unlocked or jailbroken. All I want to do is use wireless and make calls. I also have an old flip phone that I could easily bring instead and just buy a sim card in China. I really like the idea of having my iPhone because there are so many features that I use that don’t require 3G or wireless (alarm, notes, ipod, camera, games etc.). Should I bring both phones and keep the 3GS from making calls and using data and use the other phone for calls? I don’t care about texting or email or anything on the iPhone, I have a computer I can use for all that. I’d love to hear what you think, thanks so much!!


    • Hi Diana: I’d probably do exactly what you suggest, bring both and shut down the iPhone for all data (just follow the steps in my post), then buy a Chinese sim card for the flip phone. Happy travels!

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  59. Excellent! About to head back to Bhutan & India-first time with iPhone instead of luggin the laptop. No way would AT&T disclose, without major brawl breaking out on the (kabuki) dance floor!

    Thanks again for taking the trouble!


  60. Barbara, Very helpful website and blog. Thanks for doing this! Just got a new iPhone 4S a few weeks ago and will travel to Dublin, London and Paris next week. How might I be able to use my phone? I don’t understand what “unlocking” or “jailbreaking” a phone is or how to do it. From reading your responses, it looks like I won’t be able to use a SIM card because I have Verizon. What does a SIM card do anyway? The phone rep at Verizon suggested getting the “international” plan, but that sounds expensive. Can I use the phone by following the steps to turn off the 3G network, using WIFI and Skype? Thanks. Denise

    • Hi Dgdinia: If you have no idea what jailbreaking or unlocking is, I might suggest you google the terms and do a bit of reading, but I can try to give you a brief answer. Jailbreaking will allow you to download and install thousands of iPhone apps that have not been approved by Apple. A sim card is a tiny chip inside the phone that allows you to connect to the cellular network. Each sim card is proprietary for the company through which you are contracted. An AT&T sim won’t work in a Verizon iPhone and vice versa because they work on different technologies, and you are correct that your Verizon iPhone won’t work overseas because it is CDMA phone and the rest of the world works on GSM technology. When you buy an iPhone in the U.S. it is “locked,” meaning it will only work with your carrier’s sim card. They don’t WANT you to be able to go overseas and buy a cheap sim – they want to sell you their pricey international plan. Unlocking means you can use the foreign sim cards and be able to make local phone calls with your iPhone in whatever country you are traveling, however in your case this will not be possible because you’ve chosen the Verizon model that uses the CDMA technology that is incompatible with the rest of the world. Your only solution is to download the Skype app (or any VoIP app), change your settings so that there is no possible way to connect to the cellular network and/or roam, enable wifi, and call via Skype when you have an active wifi connection. Please note that my instructions in the blog article are for AT&T iPhones – I have no idea if the settings are the same for your Verizon phone.

  61. Hi Barbara, after planning and saving for a year and a half, I will be starting my breakaway journey by the end of this summer. I would really like your opinion about which would be a smarter purchase: a regular iPhone 4s and have it jailbroken and unlocked or the iPhone 4s that is already unlocked with no contract (which is much more costly). Any suggestions you have are much appreciated. I love your blog, it’s been an invaluable resource of information!

    • Hi Kelley: So glad you like my blog! Let me see if I can help. First of all, if you plan to use sim cards overseas, make sure your service is with AT&T, as it is the only provides that offers the GSM technology used almost everywhere else overseas. A Verizon iPhone uses CDMA and will not be compatible. Up till now, the iPhone 4 could be jailbroken and unlocked, while the 4s could be jailbroken but not unlocked. My phone guy just told me that he may soon be able to unlock a 4s, but that’s the situation as it stands this moment. You can buy an unlocked iPhone 4s for GSM service, but my understanding is that they are only manufactured for overseas locations. So, you could buy one in Canada or Australia, for instance. Though I haven’t checked, you may also be able to buy one online, but you’re going to pay a big price for it – more than $600 the last time I checked. You might try finding an iPhone 4 online that is not unlocked, and having it unlocked. But I’d suggest finding a tech person who can do the unlocking for you BEFORE you buy the phone. Find out which version and modem firmware it is and call the tech back and confirm that it can be unlocked before you pay for it. When you get the phone, DO NOT update the operating system. The other option is to buy a locked 4s with a contract and hope that it can soon be unlocked. Not a perfect solution, I know, but it’s the best info available at the moment.

    • More info, Kelley. Met with my tech today and had my new iPhone 4s jailbroken. It is now possible to unlock the 4s, however it is done with a special sim card, onto which you place the sim from the country where you are traveling. So essentially you have one sim card piggybacked onto another. The problem with this is that the 4s uses a new mini-sim card design rather than the original larger size. Carriers in foreign countries are almost all still using the old, larger size, so for this to work you must cut down their larger sim to fit in the 4s. With the number of countries I travel to, and the inability to carry scissors in my luggage, I opted to settle for jailbreaking and will carry my old 3Gs for foreign sim cards instead.  The other caveat is that AT&T just came out with an operating system upgrade to version 5.1. If you’ve upgraded from 5.0.1 to 5.1, the phone cannot be unlocked at all. And as always, if you do unlock, NEVER upgrade your operating system afterward or the phone will no longer be functional.

      • Thank you so much for all the info, Barbara. I’m leaning towards the 3G after reading your comments about the sim cards, although the 4s seems to be a much better phone overall. I will be traveling to several countries in Africa and then head to S.E. Asia and possibly Europe. As you said, I don’t want to run into problems with the micro-sim card whenever I go to a new country.

        Appreciate all of your input!

  62. Hello Barbara, I too have enjoyed reading your info and the q & a’s also. I was wondering if you may be able to help me too. My partner and I are travelling from our home country australia to the Canton Fair in china. We have an online business and have a local australian contact number on our site. We need to take a phone number on our trip to china so that the customers can call us if they need and we also need to be able to call our suppliers too. we will take a laptop with us but will only be checking it after the fair (which is 9-5) as we can’t carry it around all day. What is the cheapest and easiest way to receive and make calls to Australia? we have iphone4. My questions would be?
    Should we sign up to Skype? Or is there something better?
    Should we buy a handset in china? Or can we use our iphone4?
    Should be get a Skype business number?
    Thank you, amelie

    • Hi Amelie: I’m afraid that the assistance I can provide will be limited, as I know absolutely nothing about the mobile packages in Australia. I DO know that the iPhones sold internationally are automatically unlocked, so you will be able to buy a sim card in the countries you travel to and make local calls in that country, however that won’t help you with international calls. First, you will have to make the determination if your provider has a decent international calling package. If not, you can easily sign up for a Skype subscription that includes a Skype phone number. I believe the Skype phone number you purchase will include voice mail through Skype. When you travel, forward your mobile to the Skype number (do so prior to turning off the network services). Then, whenever you have access to a wifi connection, you can check Skype for messages, using either your laptop or your mobile (you will need to download and instal the Skype app on your iPhone), as well as making calls back to your suppliers using Skype credit. It looks like China is about 3 cents per minute, but check me on that, because I’m in the States and rates from OZ may be different.

  63. Great info, thanks! I am heading to Zambia this year for a month. Some of my work will take me out of the “wifi” zones and I need to be able to communicate back to the US. I have decided to take a unlocked basic phone with a local cheaper calling card. About .10 to .20 per min. I can use it as needed then only use my I-phone for e-mail etc.. in wifi areas. Keep all roaming and other chargeable items shut off. If you have to get an unlocked phone they are only about $60 and the local plans are much cheaper. Again, this is only if you are afraid of being without calling ability out of wifi range.

  64. Hi Barbara, Thank you for this blog – it’s very helpful as we are headed to France this spring!  What I am confused about is Skype.  Could you explain how this service works?  I understand that it is a service over wi-fi.  What I don’t understand is who can be called without incurring costs (mobile to mobile?); do I need a subscription and credits?, etc.  Thank you.

    • Hi Lkbwab: Skype is a VoIP (Voice over IP) service that uses the Internet to make calls. Anyone can create a Skype account for free. Once you do, you can call using your Internet connection – either with your laptop/computer, or with your smart phone, using the Skype app and an active wifi connection (Skype will not work with the cellular connection). Calls between two people who have Skype accounts (Skype to Skype) are always free, no matter where the callers are located in the world. If you want to call someone who doesn’t have a Skype account, you can do so, but you need a subscription with Skype – think of it like a pre-paid cell phone. The big benefit of Skype in this instance is the VERY low rates they charge for international cards – there are literally dozens of countried that you can call for 2.3 cents per minute.

  65. Hi Barbara,  I just found your blog today and have really enjoyed reading it.  I will be traveling to Ecuador for a couple of weeks in May and am trying to select communication options.  I am planning to follow your example of using Skype from WI-Fi access points for communicatiing with my family in the US.  My cell phone is an iPhone 4 with a Verizon contract.  I had thought that I might have to unlock the phone, but was told today by Verizon international support, she checked my account, that I am signed up international use. For Ecuador, all I have to do is go through the following procedure:
    1. Before leaving the US, go into Settings, then General
    2. Select Network, then set Data Roaming to OFF
    3. On arrival in Ecuador, I just have to turn the phone back on and it will select the proper setting.

    I expected a much more complicated procedure. Does this sound reasonable to you? I am rather sure that she assumed that I would select Airplane Mode ON before take off. I will also install a Skype App. i have a Skype account that I used in Denmark several years ago.  If I want to avoid inadvertent direct international calling, should I keep airplane mode ON in Ecuador? 

    I will be going with a group and we likely will have to communicate somewhat with each other.  Will the arrangement I described allow me to use a SIM card for a local provider?


    • Hi Gene: The iPhones manufactured for AT&T are locked for international calling because AT&T required this of Apple when they were given exclusive rights to market the iPhone the first two or three years. Unfortunately, I know absolutely nothing about Verizon’s programs and they are probably completely different from AT&T. It is entirely possible that the iPhones manufactured for them are unlocked, as iPhones made for the rest of the world are unlocked.

      The suggestions that the rep gave you make sense ONLY if you are buying a sim card from Ecuador and using it instead of your Verizon sim (I found Movistar to be a much better service there than Claro). However, I’m not sure this is at all possible. Verizon is a CDMA service and thus iPhones manufactured for them have, up till this point, have all been CDMA. The rest of the world is on GSM technology, and a CDMA phone will not work with a GSM sim card. Verizon has some dual mode phones that work with both CDMA and GSM technology but I checked in January and was told that the iPhone is not one of them.

      If she was talking about using the Verizon international calling plan, I suppose it is possible, but again, I’m not familiar with Verizon. I’d definitely investigate further, and if it a an international plan thru Verizon, make sure to check the amount of data that comes with the plan, as things like checking email and surfing the web and accessing maps, etc. can mount up data VERY fast and you could risk coming home to huge bills.

  66. Hi, Barbara! I  tried to read through all the comments and your responses to not ask a question already answered, but I only made it through half. Haha. Sorry.

    Here’s my situation. I am traveling to Italy with a party of 5 people – all with ATT supported iPhones. We are wanting to have 2 of the phones set up to communicate with each other in case we get separated or decide to do different things and want to contact each other on where/when to meet back up. 

    We saw the texting plan, but as I’m seeing here that uses 3G which will possibly incur data charges? What is the best way to be able to contact each other with the lowest cost?


    • Forgot to add, 1 is a 3GS, 2 are the iphone 4 and 1 is the iphone 4S

      • Hi TaraC: The best option would be to have two of the phones jailbroken and unlocked, so you could buy cheap local sim cards and have local phone numbers (this is what I do). This is relatively easy to do in the 3GS, harder on the 4 series. However, it also is against AT&T’s terms of service, so you may not want to do this, as after unlocking you can no longer upgrade the operating system on the phone or it turns into a brick.
        The second option would be to have everyone join Skype (for free) and download the Skype app for iPhone (also free). Then, whenever you have access to a wifi network, you can call each other using the Skype app; of course this limits you in terms of when and where you can connect, even though wifi is very prevalent in Europe.

        If neither of those work, you’ll can look into an AT&T International package, though those are intended for you to be calling from an international destination back to the States, rather than to local numbers within Italy. Keep in mind that there are very low data limits on these plans, so you must be careful not to use the connection to surf the web or get your email, though some of the plans may allow a limited number of texts (I haven’t looked into any of the AT&T plans lately, so am not sure). You might also look into purchasing two pre-paid phones while there, if you are there long enough to justify the cost. Hope that helps.

  67. I have already loaded Skype on my iPhone (3Gs)…. I have been able to
    only call 800 Numbers here in the USA…. When I have called Non-Toll Free
    Numbers it says that I need to buy Skype Credits or purchase a Skype Plan of
    some type…. Same thing happens when I have tried to call International
    Numbers on Skype….

    Can you tell if I need to pay Skype for calling non-Skype numbers back in
    the USA from either France or Ukraine???? If so, would you by chance know how
    much it costs and or are there economical price plans for doing so????

    Many thanks in advance for any assistance or direction that you can offer
    as it would be greatly appreciated….

    • Hi Bill: You can only call for free if both parties have Skype accounts. If you need to call someone who does not have a Skype account you will need to purchase a subscription with Skype, which allows you to add fiunds to your account for making calls. I have a subscription that allows me to make unlimited calls to the US and Canada, as well as a Skype phone number. Because I bought them long ago and am grandfathered in, I pay only about $60 per year total. I don’t know what subscriptions are currently on offer – you’ll have to go to and read about them. Once you have a subscription, you’ll be able to “pre-load” your account with credit using your credit card and you can even set it up to auto-charge your credit card when the balance drops below a certain level. I start with $25 and usually have to reload once a year, if that, and I am overseas about 10 months per year. The benefit of Skype for these International calls is that their rates are astundingly low – there are dozens of countries where you can call for les than 3 cents per minute.

  68. Hi Barbara, 

    I am an ATT iphone 3gs user and I found out that I got an internship in Taiwan. I am hoping to stay there for about a year. Do you think that it is better for me to Jailbreak my phone and get a SIM card with a Data plan or a whole new phone with a data plan?

    • Hi Yenlydia: I guess it depends upon how addicted you are to your iPhone :-) Frankly, I would go into withdrawal without mine. You can jailbreak and unlock quite easily – many offer the service for around $20-30 – but you will need to do both before you can buy a foreign sim card. Once you’re unlocked, foreign sims and data plans are very inexpensive.

      • Thank you so much Barbara! I am definitely attached to my phone as you are! 

  69. Wow, a lot of information. I am going to Whistler in Canada to ski, but own my own business in Texas and I get a lot of calls. I have a 3G Iphone through AT&T. What would be the best way to make sure that I am not missing important phone calls while at the same time not racking up huge bills? Thank you in advance.

    • Hi Steve: I forward my cell number to my Skype phone number while traveling. The Skype number comes with voice mail, so I can retrieve messages and call them back via Skype whenever I have wifi access. Much cheaper than paying for international calls. If, however, you need to get calls i mmediately, you may want to consider an AT&T International package, though you will need to be very careful that you don’t exceed the data limits or you could return to huge bills.

      • thanks for the info. So you upload Skype to the phone, then go through the steps above and take your phone with you?

        Now the place that I am staying does not WIFI, so I am thinking of buying a WIFI hotspot modem (I can use it at my office here in Texas). I jnow that this is off topic, but will my mobile WIFI in Canada?

        • Hi Steve: I don’t “upload” anything, I download the Skype app for iPhone, which lets me use Skype just as I would with my laptop with a wifi connection. Then I follow the steps in my blog post to ensure my data roaming & cellular network are turned off and carry my iPhone with me as I travel. I activate the wifi when I have access to a connection and use Skype to call. It’s free to call anyone else who has a Skype account anywhere in the world, and you can buy Skype credit to call anyone who doesn’t have an account and the price per minute is VERY reasonable. As for the wifi modem, I have no ideas – not familiar with that system, and I’m not sure what you mean mwhen you ask if your mobile will wifi in Canada. iPhones can connect to a wifi anywhere in the world.

  70. Hi your article was great!
    I’m in Singapore just came from Canada. I got international texting setup and then I did what you said to do. Im texting via wifi/ iMessage. But I’m not sure if I’m getting all the texts back. Can I take my phone off airplane mode and still. E okay since I have the international texting setup? Thanks :)

    • Hi Cole: DO NOT take your phone off Airplane Mode. There are many services running in the background that could use data (location services, notifications, email “push,” etc.) If you haven’t got them all properly turned off, you could incur large charges.

  71. Awesome information – thanks, Barbara! I will be traveling to Thailand and India.  I’d like to be able to have use my iPhone to call my family if I have to.  In order to call internationally, does the Skype phone app require one of its online number subscriptions?  Just want to make sure I don’t purchase it if there is another option. Thanks!!!  And LOVE your blog!

    • Hi Travelista: You do not need a Skype phone number to use the app, and you will be able to speak for free with anyone who also has a Skype account whenever you have an available wifi connection. However if you wish to forward your iPhone, having a Skype number is a good option and it gives you voice mail as well. And thanks so much for the lovely compliment about my blog!

  72. We’re going out of the US for only one week with a tour group, so using a local SIM card is not really necessary. I plan to follow all the steps above for the 3Gs to Skype and check emails. After reading a few comments, I confused: Must I unlock by jail breaking it as well? Or is the unlock part only to use the other country’s SIM card? We will not be able to use another SIM without the jailbreaking part, correct?

    • Hi Rika: in order to use a sim card in another country you must unlock your iPhone. In order to unlock you must first jailbreak. Jailbreaking just gives you access to hundreds of apps that have not been approved by Apple; it does nothing more than that. But since you do not need to use a foreign sim you do not need to do either – just Follow the instructions to shut off your data and use Skype.

  73. This information was invaluable – thank you so much – I had, in fact, done some of the things when I called my provider in Canada over a $200 bill – which they very kindly cut by half – and they did, in fact, let me know what to do to avoid this happening again. Your information was much more in depth and I have saved the instructions for future information. Thanks again.

  74. I am leaving on a week long trip from Canada to the US today and want to bring my iPhone. I’ve read stories about people up huge roaming bills and didn’t want this to happen to me. Thanks for the step-by-step instructions. And even resetting and monitoring my mb’s usage. I’ve had the phone for a year and had not need to explore all the features till now. Thanks so much for sharing this info.

  75. Hi,

    I just came across your (very helpful!) article – thank you for the helpful tips! I will be teaching abroad in Korea for a year starting at the end of the month, but will be taking my phone with me (I would like to keep the same number for when I come back). I plan on getting a mobile when I get there, so forwarding won’t be an issue.

    However, my father & I share a family plan – would removing the international roaming and long distance feature affect both lines or just mine?

    • Hi Changy06: I wish I could help, but I know nothing about the family plans. My gut tells me that all core settings would probably have to be made on the account holder’s phone, and that it would affect any phones added on to the master account, but I’m afraid that’s a question for AT&T.

  76. Hi Barbara,

    If I want to forward my cell # to my skype #, do I have to take the sim card out of my phone? Can I leave it in? Assuming I forward my cell # to my skype # and then follow the steps in your article, do I still have to follow your step #1 to turn off the international long distance feature? Because wouldn’t it not matter, as all the incoming international calls would be forwarded to skype anyway?

    • Daniel: My advice has always been to turn off the International calling feature. That way, you ensure the phone does not roam automatically if the 3G gets accidentally enabled.

    • Daniel, 

      I am currently in Lima, Peru and have done just that.  I forwarded my iphone number to my skype number and did not take out the SIM.  Just remember to use your respective phone’s call forwarding feature – NOT the conditional call forwarding: ie. after 3 rings forward, etc.

      Another way we use our phones in Lima is to unlock or jailbreak (completely legal) and then we purchase a pay as you go SIM through CLARO (local cell company)

      If you are up for it, just google: Devteam and read up on the newest iphone 4s jailbreak.

      Happy Travels!

  77. I am leaving for Israel for 2 weeks on Monday.  I will be staying with family and able to use their computer to receive and send emails.  All I want is to be able to make and receive local phone calls while there.  What do I do to achieve this?  And thanks for all you do for us travelers.  I also had the AT&T plan previously, and had your experience

    • Hi Marge: If you have an unlocked iPhone you can buy a local sim chip for very little money and that will give you the ability to make local calls. If not, you can buy a pre-paid (throw-away) phone or maybe a phone card (not sure if they have the latter in Israel). You’ll likely have to show your passport to buy a pre-paid phone. It’s realy handy to have an unlocked phone, but you must be very careful not to EVER upgrade the operating system after it’s unlocked, and be aware that unlocking or jailbreaking will void your warranty with AT&T.

      • I’m afraid I’m a computer dummy, so what does it mean to have an unlocked phone?  I want to use my IPhone for dates, addresses, etc. while there.  What is a sim card and can I buy it here before I go?  And where do you put it?  Sorry, it sounds so dumb, but I actually have a Ph.D., obviously not in computer technology.

  78. Hi, Rhonda,
    Doesn’t putting it in Airplane Mode mean you can’t use the wifi?  I though Airplane Mode disabled the device from sending or receiving any information/data etc…?

    • Gerber, that’s a misunderstanding. When you pit the iPhone in Airplane Mode it automatically turns off the wifi, but you can go right back into settings and turn it back on again. It doesn’t matter in planes, because above 10,000 feet there is no signal available.

  79. By the way, another way to accomplish all this is to get your phone unlocked. Verizon will unlock it for you. I don’t know about ATT. Then when you get where you are going, you can buy a chip from the local provider. (Only $10 for a month’s internet and voice plus $5 for the chip in Indonesia. $30 in Australia for a month’s internet and voice, including chip, from Vodafone. Both of these included SMS, too.) Then, you won’t have to find wi-fi to use internet. You can use 3G. Also, you will have a local number to make local calls. Of course, if you are in a wi-fi zone, use it. It’s usually a lot faster.

  80. Did/do you need a voltage converter for the iPhone?  Sorry I have so many questions, but I have been googling this for weeks and this is the most succinct place I have found.  Thank you sooo much


    • The charger that comes with your iPhone will handle 220. You will need an adapter to fit the plug wherever you are going however.

  81. Oh I forgot one thing.  I have two phones.  I was planning to forward the calls to my other phone and leave it her.  A virtual assistant will be retrieving messages.  If my calls are forwarded, will I still be able to use GV?

  82. Barbara sorry if I sound like a broken record. I am going to Tahiti, New Zealand and Australia.  I have GV.  If I turn off all the things you said, will I still be able to get calls through GV?  Also is texting to an from on GV free.

    • Hi Romilda: Google Voice is not a VoIP service. While you can use Google Voice to make cheap international calls (with a subscription), it is not a tool for calling over a Wi-Fi or 3G data connection. However, if you download the Google Voice app for your iPhone, you can text for free with a wifi connection (sms only; mms will incur international charges if your 3G connection is not shut off as per my instructions in the article). Hope that helps

      • Thank you Barbara.  What about the converter.  I called the Apple store and they tried to sell me their converter.  Said the charger I have (the square w/USB on the end) will not work. 

        • Romilda: You either got a tech on the line who was trying to sell you something you don’t need or he just didn’t know what he was talking about. All Apple rechargers (and most other electronics these days) have built-in converters. You can check this by looking at the fine print between the two metal plug tines (you might need a magnifying glass, the type is very small). It says: “Input 100-240V ~ 50-60 Hz.” This small white block IS the converter and can be used with any electric source between these ranges. What you WILL need is an adapter, which many people make the mistake of confusing with a converter. The adapter is just a simple plug that makes it possible for your existing recharger to fit into the receptacle in another part of the world, since every country has its own plug designs. You don’t need a converter – I have used mine all over the world without one and Apple’s website clearly says it is not needed. And you can buy an adapter when you get to a country, usually for less than a dollar.

  83. Hi Barbara, thanks so much for this information. Will taking the following steps block me from being able to receive calls? 

    • emredd11: Please elaborate for me to be able to answer your question. You say “Will taking the following steps block me from being able to receive calls” but then don’t add any “following steps” so I don’t have any idea what you’re referring to.

  84. Having lived in two different countries, and traveled a lot (sometimes staying for extensive periods) I have been faced with the issue of cost and convenience of a mobile phone in an international roaming context many times and learned my tips and tricks to deal with these.  Nevertheless I enjoyed reading through your well-written piece that succinctly provides a lot of useful information along with specific steps.  

    One thing to highlight which might not be clear to everyone reading.  In general, and basic terms, SMS/Texting is not part of the data usage — neither technically nor cost-wise.  I believe that SMS/Text messages are sent over the carrier’s cellular network that is used to make calls, rather than over the data network (3G, EDGE, or even Wi-Fi), which probably explains why they are offered and billed separately from any data plans.  Generally speaking data plans enable the use of IP-based services, such as internet and any apps that use web services to get information (in layman’s terms think of a weather app, a map app, voice-over IP such as Skype, Vonage, etc.)

    Long before there was any concept of a data package people had access to SMS/Text functionality, and still today many in the world use it without having data capabilities on their phone (either by choice or because their phones do not support data).

    I mention this because people might be under the assumption that disabling 3G and/or Data Roaming might think that they are not able to use SMS/Text.  I don’t think this is the case, but…

    The issue gets a bit more blurry with messages that include media (photo or audio or video — referred to as MMS messages) as well as apps that people download to do “texting” but which might not strictly be using SMS as the gateway alone.  In those situations there may be some reliance on data. 

    I think the convenience of being able to use SMS/Text is great for travelers — and there are some packages that allow for “International Texting” that aren’t so expensive — whilst reducing the reliance on making a much more expensive phone call or email message.  I still think texting should be cheaper, both local and international use, but this option might appeal to some who would like to switch off their 3G and disable data roaming.

    • Various Artist – well written and very accurate! For a very long time I was frustrated by the fact that I could not send/receive SMS text messages overseas without either paying for an International plan or incurring huge charges. I was further annoyed that the carriers did not make it clear that SMS messages were not attached to the data plan, which led many to believe they could text for free if they had access to the Internet via wifi, only to come home to huge unexpected bills.

      I tried using the TextFree app over the past year but found it to be wholly unreliable, however I do believe I have found the best solution. I signed up for a Google Voice phone number (which was free). Now when I’m overseas I send sms messages using Google and a wifi connection (either on my laptop or my iPhone with the Google Voice app). I have my Google phone # forwarded to my cell number, so in the U.S. I get it like any other sms; when overseas, I forward my cell # to my Skype #, so I can get the text whenever I have a wifi connection, again either on my laptop or my cell. On the inbound side, I just tell family and friends to use the Google phone number if they’re texting me instead of my normal cell number. Sounds a bit complicated but it’s not, plus it’s free and totally reliable. And I could even simplify it if I told eveyone that my number had changed permanently to the Google number, as it allows multiple numbers to ring a single phone.
      The only thing missing now is mms, as i is not supported by Google Voice at this time. Thanks very much for your thoughts.

      • I’m a little confused now. If I follow all the steps will or wont the texting capability be turned off?I don’t want to get texts from people who don’t know I’m overseas? Do I need an extra step to stop extra charges for the texts? Cause if people follow your steps they won’t have to worry about texts but just use text now right in its place? Thanks!

        • Saralee, I’m a little confused by your comment, but if you follow all the steps and keep the phone in Airplane mode, that should stop any text messages from coming through. Texting has been the one missing element in my overseas connections. I have tested a few apps that were supposed to convert sms into emails, but none of them worked well. I am currently testing using a Google phone number, to which people can send texts. Google converts the text to an email and I can reply to the email, which then sends a text reply to the person. Not sure how well it works yet, though.

  85. Hi Ikka: You are absolutely correct. You can actually use an iPod and turn it into a phone with the Skype app and a wifi connection (don’t know about the iPad because I don’t own one, but I assume it’s the same). And you have guessed my main reason for using my iPhone overseas. Mine is jailbroken and unlocked, so I can pop in a SIM card in every country I visit. That gives me the ability to make local calls, which is invaluable, since I travel without reservations and am usually calling around at the last minute for availability in hostels, etc. For instance, I recently stayed two months in Ecuador and was able to buy a SIM, activate a data plan, and buy credit for calls for less than $50 for two full months.

    In places where I stay longer lengths of time (Nepal, for instance) I actually have local friends I call. And, with a wifi connection, I also have the ability to call the U.S. via Skype. Plus, when I jailbroke my phone, I had the added advantage of having access to thousands of apps that are not approved by Apple, so for instance, I have an app that allows me to turn the phone into a wireless modem and then connect my laptop to it. That means that whenever I’m in the U.S, sitting in an airport waiting for hours, I have free wifi. Finally, my iPhone is my alarm clock, receipt keeper, calculator, e-reader, translator in several languages, dictionary, and thesaurus, which has allowed me to dump a lot of weight I used to carry around.

    I understand that iPhones shipped outside the U.S. are all unlocked – if
    this is correct, and if it includes Canada, you are one step ahead of the
    game, as you don’t need to go through the process of jailbreaking and

  86. when you caution that “if you are going to forward your number…..” what do you mean?  forward it to what?  heading to johannesburg in a couple of days.  have an old iPhone 3G and a new 4S.  would love to have the technology at hand.  seems goofy to purchase a local “dumb” phone at the airport when i already own these phones which have so much capacity.  thanks for your insights.  Robin

    • Hi Robin: I have a Skype subscription and a Skype phone number, which also gives me voice mail through Skype, so I forward my cell number to my Skype number whenever I am out of the U.S. and then can retrieve messages and return calls using Skype wherever I have a wifi connection.

  87. This was the best googled information more then verizon gave me there were trying to rape me in charges thanks so so much…

    • Hi Poohky27: Thanks for sharing – that’s exactly what I hoped to accomplish with the post!

  88. Pingback: How to Use Your iPhone 4s Outside the US « Christine Borden, Wordsmithstress

  89. Hi Barbara,  Thank you so much for this helpful info! So I just want to make sure that I understand this correctly: I would need to have AT&T turn on the “global” for my iphone and then, follow your directions for when I do not want calls. So the only problem would be if someone needs to reach me they are unable to because the phone part will be turned off as well right?

    • Jennifer, it’s hard for me to answer your question because I don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish. My article suggests turning OFF the standard International Roaming and International Long Distance feature, if it is included in your cellular plan, not turning it ON. When you follow he instructions in my article, there is no connection and phone calls cannot come through. If you turn it back on again and either make or receive calls, you will be paying very high rates unless you have an international plan in place with AT&T. Even with such a plan you are quite limited in the amount of allowed usage and if you go over it you begin to accrue high charges. My suggestion is to get a Skype phone number and forward your cell number to this Skype number while you are traveling, then use wifi connections for your calling and to receive voice mail at the Skype number, which is included when you get a Skype number.

  90. Hi Barbara,

    Thanks so much for all your info!  You’ve answered a bunch of questions I’ve been wondering about.  I’m traveling in Thailand for 4months and i’m planning on getting an iphone just to use with wifi.  My main use will be for skype.  Do you know if video skype will still be possible with just wifi connection?  Or does that only work with 3g?  Also, do i need to download skype mobile, or can I just go to the desktop version of skype and access it there?
    Your help is much appreciated!!

    • Hi Deener: With the Skype iPhone app you can place video calls on the iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, and 4th-generation iPod touch, and you can receive video calls on the iPad and the 3rd-generation iPod touch. Video calling works over both Wi-Fi and 3G. On iOS devices with two cameras, you can stream video from either. iPhone 3GS users can only stream video from the sole rear-facing camera. Video calling requires iOS 4.0 or later, but the app can run on any device with at least iOS 3.0. Calls can be made between devices using the Skype for iPhone app and desktops, so you can either download the app on your iPhone and use it from there, or just rely on your desktop. Hope that helps!

  91. Pingback: How to Use Your Cell Phone Abroad (Without Breaking the Bank) | World Inhabit - The Online Travel Guide

  92. I am traveling on a cruise to South America and later on land.  I plan to use the ship’s WiFI plan for my Ipad I.  Do you disable the same things on an IPad?  Also, I am using my Iphone as a camera and may want to send a few e-mails with a picture.  I have looked at other posts regarding International travel and they recommend getting an ATT data plan just in case.

    • Sorry Tamara, but I don’t know anything about iPads. As for your phone, as long as you follow the instructions in my post and send your emails with the ship’s wifi only, you won’t incur any charges, but if you feel safer, get the AT&T plan. Just be aware that even their international plan has download limits as stated in my article and emailing photos or browsing the net can add up quickly, resulting in expensive overage charges once you exceed your limit.

    • Jfierro – don’t know much about Facetime. Tried to find an app but didn’t have much success.

  93. awesome info!

    I;m travelling to Asia next week, do you know if it is possible to forward my regular # to my temp skype # to take calls safely while travelling? i would assume that Skype incoming calls can only be received when in wifi, but would voicemail take without charges?


    • Hi Travelbug. That is exactly what I do. If you have a Skype phone number and a Skype subscription that includes voicemail it will work perfectly, but be sure to forward your cell number to the Skype number BEFORE going through all the other steps in my article or it won’t work properly. And you are correct that Skype incoming calls can only be received when you have wifi access, however if you happen to be online when someone calls your cell number and you have set it to forward, you will get the call live via Skype (assuming the computer you are using has Skype installed and you are signed on).

  94. Hi,
    This is great info. My 17 year old daughter is going to India in December and taking her iPhone 4. I want to keep instructions for her as simple as possible. I amt wondering what “holes” there would be if I told her to put the phone in Airplane mode with WIFI on from time she boards the flight until the time she deplanes upon return to the US.

    Why would 3G and data roaming need to be turned off as well? Wouldn’t all data and push notifications (and calls through Viber) go through the local WIFI? (Viber requires push notifications on, doesn’t it?).

    Thanks so much for your help.


    • You’re correct, Anne, but I like to be safe rather than sorry. The Airplane Mode and wifi buttons are right next to each other so if you are trying to turn on wifi and tap on Airplane Mode instead, accidentally taking it out of Airplane Mode, and you don’t notice it (I did this one time and didn’t realize for nearly two days) you can come home to big charges.

  95. Hello.  Let me see if I have this right.  I can take out my sim card on my iPhone 4s and use Skype or Textfree Voice over wifi and not be charged by AT&T?  I am going to France for the holidays (first overseas trip ever!) Or do I need to follow all of the steps you mentioned such as calling AT&T, which i would particularly like to avoid.

    • Yes, Bobby, that’s absolutely correct, however make very sure you do not update your iTunes version or operating system via the wifi connection while the sim card is out. Rumor has it that doing so can lock the iPhone and it must be unlocked by AT&T – better safe than sorry.

      • Hi Barbara,

        Following up on Bobby’s question…do I have to take the sim card out of my phone to make calls and texts via skype and a wifi connection? What if I forward my cell # to my skype # but I leave the sim card in my phone?

        • Daniel: You do NOT need to take your sim card out of your phone to make calls & texts via Skype via wifi. Think of it this way – the 3G connection and the wifi are two separate and different connections. When you are using one, you are not accessing the other. When you turn on the wifi, the 3G symbol in the upper left hand corner disappears and the wifi bars appear – this means you are connected via wifi only and the phone defaults to that connection. When you install the Skype app, it is designed to use only the wifi connection; it will not work with the 3G connection, so there is no need to worry. And if you have followed all my other instructions properly, your 3G connection will not be accessible.

  96. Hello Barbara, I have Expanded International Roaming (Voice) on my account. Do I really have to call AT&T to stop the service or can I just skip this step and do the rest?

    • Hi Aileen: I also had the international roaming set up on my phone. I was told by AT&T that if I was not going to buy an international calling package, it should be taken off, as it would cause the phone to roam internationally for things like app updates, location services, push services. I suppose if you had everything turned off properly it would be OK to leave it on but I recently spoke to someone who had left the international roaming on his phone and THOUGHT he’d turned everything off, yet he racked up big bills. He never did figure out what caused it and of course AT&T was not at all helpful in explaining what he could have done differently. Frankly, I say better safe than sorry – deactivate it.

  97. I’m running an iPhone 4 on a NASA trip to Punta Arenas, Chile.  Your steps to isolate the phone were spot on!  Thanks for the help.

    Skype over WiFi works to send and receive just fine, so I grabbed a temporary phone number and can make and receive unlimited phone calls back to the States for about 18 dollars for the month over the hotel internet connection.  Technology is a wonderful thing.

    • Hi Carl: Thanks for the tip. Sounds like you might travel a lot. If so here’s another tip. Sign up with a company that provides an SSL VPN service (I use WiTopia, but there are others) and when you want to use Skype overseas, turn on the VPN. That way, Skype sees your traffic as coming from a server in the US and if you have a subscription that allows unlimited calls in the US, as I do, you can call anyone for free, on any land line or cell, regardless whether or not they have a Skype account. Let’s just hope they never read this post. :-)

  98. Hi Barbara,
    I have recently returned to Australia after a one month holiday in Italy, Croatia and Paris.  Before leaving Sydney I followed your iphone information step by step and it worked perfectly.  I notice a comment by Shel in your previous comment that she has Viber a free application that allows you to make free phone calls and send free text messages to other Viber users.  For her information Viber worked perfectly for me in every country I visited as I was able to talk to my son in Honduras who is currently completing his Diving Instructors Certificate and numerous friends in Australia.  Viber also needs a wifi connection and its a great application to have.  There is no time limit on the calls and best of all its completely FREE.  One last bit of information for you I tried to get free wifi in McDonalds Lake Como, Italy and was advised by staff that I needed an italian sim card in my phone to access the free wifi.  I assume that this relates to all McDonalds restaurants in Italy.

    • Hi Mark: Thanks so much for the info. With everyone’s great comments we’re making a bit of a forum where AT&T iPhone users can find out most everything about traveling internationally and avoiding the high bills. Appreciate your input.

    • Hey Mark,
      I am in Australia and leaving from Brisbane to America and South America .. were you with an Australian phone company and followed these steps and you didn’t get any bills? I called up Virgin and they said I had to either buy an international sim or enable global roaming .. just wondering the process you went through .. I’m not interested in making calls or texts .. I just want to use wifi for skype. What happens if someone in Australia tryys to call my number? Do I still get charged?

  99. Hi Barbara

    I was wondering if you could help me. I am traveling to South Africa from the US for three weeks and I have an Iphone 4 with verizon. My questions is if I follow your instructions I can still download and send emails and not be charged? But if I want to make a phone call I need to turn my 3G back on. I have an App on my phone called Viber and this allows me to make calls to South Africa for free to anyone that also have teh same App and an Iphone. I was wondering if this will work just like skype? Last question. when using wifi will I be able to receive calls?

    Your help will be greatly appriciated

    • I am so sorry Sheldon, but I am with AT&T and know nothing about Verizon. Though I think Verizon provides better service in the US, I chose AT&T because they use the GSM technology that is used in most of the rest of the world, so I am able (with a jailbroken an unlocked phone) to buy a sim card in whatever country I am visiting and have local phone service. Wish I could help.

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  101. Hello. I have the iphone 4 for verizon. I am traveling to Panama in a few months for a couple weeks and I will be staying in a house on a countryside with no internet near by. I have an online class that I need to have access to submit my assignments. Is there any way possible that I can access the internet without free wifi close by or without putting a whole in my pocket?

    • Sorry jsmith, but I don´t think so. Though i am not an expert on Verizon. I have AT&T. You might try calling Verizon to see if they offer any kind of package.

  102. so if i have my enV3 on airplane mode while im in mexico i wont get charged?

    • Jenjancarcuties: I have no idea about the settings for an LG phone – my article is specific to iPhones

  103. Barbara,  
    Thank you so much for the clear cut instructions!  I’m actually using the Skype iPhone app here in Dallas to avoid long distance calls to Costa Rica.  Wish I’d known this before I went to South Africa last year.
    Thanks again!

  104. Hi Barbara:

    Thank you for the very complete instructions.  I am already in France on a business trip reading this email.  I do have international roaming activated.  what will happen if i set phone in airplane mode and then activate wifi? will it work for me or will i incur charges as i have roaming still activated.

    thank you,


    • Hi Bob: As long as the phone is in Airplane mode, no connection is possible, however I would take the added precaution of turning off 3G and roaming and all the other items as discussed in the article, just in case the Airplane mode gets accidentally turned back on.

    • Bob: Just realized I didn’t answer your question thoroughly. You can set it in Airplane Mode and then turn on wifi without incurring any charges. The only time you would get any charges is if Airplane Mode gets turned off, which can happen easily, as the wifi button is next to it. Best to be careful.

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  106. Hi Barbara: Will the regular Skype iPhone app work from a WiFi location in Europe, or would I need the Skype WiFi app? I’m reading the reviews of that app, and there are many that say it doesn’t work, freezes, is a disaster. (I have a 3GS, and I’ve already told AT&T to turn off my International Roaming.)

    • Hi Paul: sorry but I really don’t understand what you are asking. There is only one Skype app for iPhone, as far as I know, and it requires wifi. As long as you have a decent wifi connection, no matter where in the world you are, it should work. I never have any problem with it.

      • Thanks. There is a separate Skype WiFi app, but I’ll just go with the standard Skype app. Thanks again…

  107. Hi Ruth!
    Greetings from Brazil and thanks for your tips! They are great. I only got one doubt I’d like to double check: why is it necessary to go through the set airplane mode ON/OFF before activating/deactivating the WIFI mode?

    • Patricia: My name is Barbara. When you put the iPhone in Airplane mode the wifi automatically shuts off; you have to turn it back on to use the phone in wifi mode. Airplane mode is turned on to avoid huge international charges.

  108. I want to take my iPhone from Canada to the USA for a two week vacation but do NOT want to incurr any charges for data or calls or texts etc.  I basically just want to be able to use the Wi-Fi for checking and sending emails while I’m gone.  All I really want to know, rather than turning all this stuff on or off etc, is can I just removed my SIM card so that my iPhone basically turns into an iTouch so no matter who calls me or send me texts while I’m gone I won’t incurr charges?  I am NOT willing to take ANY chances with international roaming I have had too many friends come back with HUGE bills.

  109. Thank you for your reply to my confusion, if I understand you correctly I should either have the phone on airplain mode or completly off unless I need to make a call, text or in a wifi zone.  I’ll try to stop at the At&t store and see if they can help me set things up.  Thank you for your help.  Ruth

    • Ruth – I’m afraid you still don’t understand. Separate the cellular network (3G) from the wifi zone in your mind. If the 3G is on, the phone will always use that connection first, as a default. You don’t want this – you want to use the wifi whenever possible to avoid huge charges. To do this, turn on Airplane mode, which completely disables all connections, then turn on the wifi again. When you do this, you have wifi operating ONLY, so the phone cannot use the 3G network.

      With wifi you can send emails, receive emails, browse the Internet, and make and receive calls with Skype. The only things you cannot do are call someone using the 3G cellular network or text, because you have it turned off. If you want to make a call or text using your Internatiobal package, simply turn Airplane mode off and let the phone find the local network. I suspect you’ll need to turn on your 3G services and roaming at that point as well, but I’m not sure because I never use the 3G to make calls – I use wifi with Skype. After you are done with your call, make sure to return the settings to their original configuration, turn on Airplane mode again, and re-enable wifi.

      What you propose to do is a bit complicated. I understand that you feel more secure having access to international calling but perhaps you might consider using Skype with an available wifi connection for most everything and ONLY turning Airplane mode off and using the 3G network in the event of an emergency. For texting you can download the free app “TextFree with Voice”
      which allows you to send free text messages over wifi.

  110. I’m really confused…  I have At&t, I purchased International Roaming plan so I can make phone calls at a discounted rate of $1.69 per minute if needed also purchase a Golbal Messaging 50 which gives me 50 free texts (this is how I plan to communicate with family) I don’t plan to use Data Roaming, I turned it off as well as “Fetch New Data” and “Auto-Check”  I plan to use Wifi only.  Do I still need to put my phone on airplane mode and if I do will I be able to make phone calls if I need to and will texts work?

    • Hi Ruth: The whole emphasis of my post is to save people the cost of an International plan with AT&T. Putting the iPhone in Airplane mode and using it with wifi only allows you to call using Skype (with the Skype app) for free if you are talking to someone else who has Skype, or for just pennies a minute with those who don’t have Skype (something like 40 countries are available for about 2 cents per minute). The problem with these International plans is the danger of going over your data allotment, which happens all the time when people surf the net or automatically download emails, or allow location services to operate in the background. That kind of data mounts up fast, and once you exceed the limit, HUGE charges start to accrue.

      However, I think you are mixing up the services. You say: ” I plan to use Wifi only. Do I still need to put my phone on airplane mode and if I do will I be able to make phone calls if I need to and will texts work?” Keep in mind that your phone will default to the 3G connection for all services first, then try the wifi if it can’t connect to the cellular network. This goes for all texts, so once you exceed your 50 free ones, you will be charged for the data required to send or receive additional ones because the texts will use the 3G network. If you’re absolutely sure you have all push and location, etc. services turned off, you don’t have to put it in Airplane mode, but it’s the safest thing to do. You can always turn it back on again when you want to make a call.

      • Sorry Barbara, but the order of access for the iPhone is wi-fi, and then only if wi-fi is unavailable, 3G, not the other way around… You can clearly see which the phone is using by looking next to the carrier name – if it says “3G” (or has the little circle picture), then the phone is accessing the cellular network. If the phone is showing the 3-tiered wi-fi picture, then the phone is accessing wi-fi. You also don’t need to switch the phone to airplane mode – switching off both mobile data and data roaming will prevent the phone from accessing any cellular data in the same way that flight mode does, however it will still allow you to receive ordinary text messages. :)

        • Guest: I couldn’t disagree more. You are correct about the order of access – if the 3-tiered wi-fi icon shows up in the upper left, the phone is accessing the wi-fi network, and if it says 3G it is accessing the cellular network. HOWEVER, not turning off location services and push services and putting the phone into Airplane mode, in my opinion, is risky. I am not a technician, but I do know this: people who have followed my instructions have not incurred a cent of charges while traveling internationally. On the other hand, I have spoken to dozens of travelers who have done what you suggested and came home to HUGE bills – and I am talking in the thousands of dollars. And if you receive a text message WITHOUT having an AT&T International plan in place, regardless of whether or not you have switched off mobile data and data roaming, you will be charged for that text message at very high rates (that vary depending on the country you are in). I also find it interesting that you leave no name and your email address is just a string letters, which is usually a sign of a spammer.

  111. This info is great, thnx so much…i have an iPhone4 and travelling from US to Australia (first time outside the US with an iPhone)…will your steps work for the 4?  and do i have to call att to turn off the International Roaming and International Long Distance feature or can i just do that on my own?

    • Hi iDownUnder: I don’t have an iPhone4 because they can’t be software unlocked, so I can’t say for sure. But a few people here have indicated the steps are essentially the same, except that there is apparently an additional option 3G data setting that needs to be turned off. You need to call AT&T to turn off the International Roaming & Long Distance feature.

  112. Hi Barbara thank you so much for this information. I have a Iphone and I am also with At&t I am leaving from California to Canada from Sept 9 to the 19. Do I need to have the At&t international data plan in order to use skype? Im trying to find the most inexpsensive way to use my phone because I will have to make calls  the US and Im sure I will recieve calls from the US. Please help me!! Thanks

    • Hi Nabushareef: You do not need an international plan to use Skype. Download the Skype app for iPhone, follow the instructions in the post to disable 3G, etc., go into Airplane Mode, re-enable wifi. As long as you have wifi access you can use Skype on the iPhone. If the people you wish to talk to also have Skype the call will be free. If they do not, you will need to buy Skype credit to make those calls, but it is pretty cheap – around 2 cents a minute.

  113. Barbara, I’m looking to jailbreak and unlock my iphone 3g. I tried a few methods last night, and they were all unsuccessful. Have you heard of this website and whether or not it’s legit? I’d like to do it soon, but need a few recommendations. Thanks!

    • Hi Aallen: Frankly, I had the same problem. Spent an entire day trying to do it myself without success, and I’m pretty tech competent. When I finally got frustrated enough I found a guy in Atlanta near where I sometimes stay when I’m in the States. I got really lucky – he was fabulous. Unfortunately, I am not familiar with the website you found. Where are you located in the country? If you’re anywhere near Atlanta, try Laron Hill at iPhone Repairs Unlimited: He’s very reasonable and extremely talented – maybe you could even arrange to send it to him if you can part with your phone that long.

      • I’m located in Chicago. Maybe if I call them they will know someone in the area. 

        • Worth a shot! You might also try Googling “iPhone unlock service Chicago reviews” (or recommendations). I’d feel free using someone who others have used successfully and had a good experience.

      • Let me see if I have this correct. When I travel to Thailand, my 3G will have to be unlocked in order for it to work? And will this harm the phone or put it at risk for problems?

        • Hi Simpleman: Your iPhone does not need to be unlocked to work in Thailand. It will work fine just as it is, however you will need to buy an International plan from AT&T if you plan to use it in Thailand. Without a plan, you would pay astronomical prices per minute. Even the plans are pricey. You would be better served if you downloaded and installed the Skype app for your iPhone, followed the instructions in my article to turn off the 3G cellular network and put the phone in Airplane mode, then make all calls using Skype when you have a wifi network available. Skype to Skype calls are free, Skype to landlines in the US are 6.5 cents per minute; to cell phones in the US are 11.5 cents per minute, or even cheaper if you buy a subscription. Beats AT&T hands down.

  114. Barbara, when I turn on my wifi and set the phone in airplane mode, nothing seems to load. I try logging into the skype app, but it just continuously keeps loading. When I open the internet and try to download to a page, it says I am not connected to the internet. Am I doing something wrong?

    • Hi Oyevey: Not sure, but are you putting it in wifi first and then in Airplane mode? If so, you need to turn on your wifi again, because once you enable Airplane mode it automatically turns off everything, including wifi. After enabling Airplane mode, go to Settings -> Wifi -> turn on wifi manually and choose your network. Wait until you see the wifi icon in the upper left hand corner of the phone, next to the little airplane icon. If that doesn’t show up, you’re not connected to a wifi network. Sometimes you have to do it a couple of times to get connected when you’re in Airplane mode. If the wifi icon is visible and you still don’t have a connection, the next thing to do is check your ISP and wireless router. Try connecting to a different wifi network – like at a McDonalds or something. If you can, then you know it’s a problem with the other wifi network. Hope that helps.

  115. I am going to live in Malawi, Africa for a year. I am taking my iPhone with me. I do not plan on using it all the time. The orphanage has a computer with Internet acess I can use. Not sure of they have wifi. I will want to talk to family occasionally and I get 50 text messages on the international plan. So if I understand correctly I need to turn off data roaming, turn on airplane mode and get a skype number. If I want to read text the I have to turn 3G back on, right? Sorry for asking the same questions as others but I don’t want tons of charges bit would still like to use my phone if o can.

    • Hi Karen: Skype on your cell phone won’t help you a bit unless you have a wifi connection. If the orphanage has a computer that is new enough to support Skype, and if you can download and install it on their computer, that is probably your best bet for talking to your family. Of course, you need to make sure that all your family members have installed Skype as well; that way you can talk without any charges whatsoever.

      As for a Skype phone number, the only reason for getting one either to forward your cell number to Skype, which will not do you much good without wifi, or to have a local number that your family can call, and which rings thru to Skype. In the case of the latter, unless you have wifi access for your cell, you’d need to pre-set a time for your family to call so you could be sitting at the orphanage computer to receive the call on Skype.

      You are correct that to receive sms text messages on your iPhone you must enable the 3Gs, but you must be VERY careful that all push and location services MUST be turned off or you risk eating up data in excess of the plan you are going to buy, which could result in huge charges. Hope that helps.

  116. Hi there, I was just about to purchase a skype number and noticed that they do not support Italy. Does anyone know of a skype-like app that gives out a local (39) Italy number for inter-Italy incoming calls? Thank you…

  117. Baweibel, sorry for my confusion. Yes calls are always on 3G, but my data usage goes to wifi if available, first (in the US) and only 3G if no wifi is available. When roaming the countryside, I need the GPS so I will take your advice and only turn on when necessary. BTW, I have a iPhone 3GS and it does have separate settings for 3G, Cellular Data, and Data Roaming, so that may not be phone specific.
    BTW, does anyone know if TextFree Voice has better coverage in Europe than Skype. I have been using their instant messaging and it is wonderful. You can text other cellphones for free using wifi! I was thinking about trying out their paid calling. I believe it’s free incoming and paid outgoing and every time you get an incoming call you rack up points.
    Thank you again for this wonderful site…Lesli

    • Happy to help Lesli; sounds like you’ve got it figured out just fine. Happy travels.

  118. Hi. Thanks for all the great info. Was on with AT&T chat and they didn’t know how to turn the wifi back on in airplane mode – either did I until now. The thing is, in the US (I’m in Italy now) the phone will always search for a wifi network before a 3G network. Is everyone saying it’s diffeent when you’re abroad? I would like to buy the 20G as in the US I barely touch that usage. I really could use the GPS capability. I am by myself traveling and am totally lost. BTW is anyone traveling in Italy that welcomes additional travelers. I may buy the 50G just to stay on the safe side. Any suggestions, please!!!
    Thank you…

    • LostinItaly – sorry but I’m not quite sure what you’re asking. The 3G and wifi networks are totally separate. You can turn on Airplane mode and then enable wifi, however if 3G is on and you try to make a call or download data the default is the 3G network. If you want to keep your data usage down, turn off 3G, enable wifi and use it whenever possible, reverting to the 3G only when absolutely necessary.

  119. This may sound quite ignorant, but using an iPhone so arranged above, how do you dial domestic telephone numbers while in a country?  Do you have to dial using the full country codes even if you’re calling someone a block away?

    • Bill, that’s not an ignorant question at all. In my experience, it is different in each country, and even within the country it can vary. For instance, one district or region can require a prefix and another one not. Also, the way cell phones and landlines are dialed are often different, with respect to prefixes. I just ask once I get there.

  120. this sounds great! thank you for sharing it, we’re planning a trip to Guatemala in November and will let you know how it went.

    • Great Wendy. Please do report back. Every little bit of information helps.

  121. Fantastic advice, Barbara – and all your followers.  Thank you very much. 

    I have followed all your instructions prior to my trip to Turks/Caicos.  My hotel on vacation has unlimited free WiFi access.  My question is this:  Once in airplane mode, and I turn WiFi back on – I should be able to use the Vonage Mobile App which I have downloaded onto my iPhone, correct?  I have been told that calls on Vonage from Turks/Caicos back to USA are absolutely free.  Can you confirm?  Thank you!!!

    • Hi Doc: So sorry but I don’t know a thing about Vonage. Maybe someone else who is subscribed to the comments???

      • Barbara: I have my answer!

        Once I arrived in Turks and Caicos, I turned airplane mode ON. I then switched WiFi back to ON and connected to my hotel’s complimentary WiFi service. I had downloaded the Vonage Mobile app before I left.

        Once connected to a WiFi network, I simply opened the Vonage app and dialed back to USA without being charged a cent! The connection was perfectly clear, and the app even download all my contacts!! I am sure there are some countries where using Vonage will require a payment, but calling fromTCI to USA was absolutely free!

  122. Just putting the phone in airplane mode is sufficient. It auto disables the cellular network and only uses wifi. Travelled to Europe, Asia & the caribbean like that.

    • Hi Shsamuels: You are absolutely correct that just putting the phone in Airplane Mode will do the same thing, however the Airplane mode button (on my 3GS phone) is right next to the wifi button and on occasion I have disabled the Airplane mode by mistake and realized it some time later. If I had not taken all the steps described in my post, I would have racked up huge charges, as the phone would have used international roaming to check my email, use location services for apps, etc. I’m a proponent of being safe rather than sorry.

      • Will I get charged if I use Wifi outside the US WITHOUT airplane mode ON?

    • @Aldo: if you are only concerned with Internet access, you are much safer with airplane mode ON. By turning airplane mode OFF, you are exposed to cellular network roaming charges which can add up quickly.

      Once airplane mode is ON, you then have to turn the WiFi on the phone back on. As long as you can find a free WiFi carrier where you are traveling, you are all set,

    • No, Aldo, as long as your Airplane Mode stays on and you use only wifi, there will be no charges, however I strongly suggest you read the whole article so that you know about push notifications and location services. etc.

  123. Hi Barbara,

    Been following your blog for awhile now as I’m going to Europe for 3 weeks and want to bring my iPhone. I downloaded Skype for mobile. My understanding is that if I buy Skype credit, I can call my US vmail for a very reasonable rate so that sounds like an easy way to check vmail. I can also make local calls within the countries I’m visiting for pennies/minute. So that’s my plan. I’m thinking about getting the ATT World Traveler option at $5.99/month just in case I’m not in a Wifi area and need to make a call for some reason. I plan to keep my phone in Airplane Mode the entire trip and only get off it if I need to make an ATT call.  I do most of my communication by email, so my understanding is that this will be free as long as I’m in a wifi area when I check and or write emails. Do I have this straight?

    Your blog has been a huge help to me and others–thank you!

    • Hi Leslie: Sounds like you’ve got it down just fine. The only other thing you might want to look into is to buy a Skype phone number (it would be a U.S.number, so all your friends & family could call you for the cost of cell minutes only) and a Skype subscription, which would give you really cheap per minute calls from most any destination in Europe. With the subscription, you get Skype voice mail, so you can forward yor mobile number to the Skype number and pick up your voice mail via Skype when you have wifi access. If you do this, just remember to forward your cell phone to Skype BEFORE you put it in Airplane mode. Best of luck and have a great trip.

  124. Hi! Thanks for the great tips :) I am leaving overseas in a couple days and was wondering what your opinion was on just taking out the sim card instead of putting the phone on airplane mode? Have you tried this before? I have an iPhone 3g and just wanted to use the music and some apps (Facebook,Twitter) that require Wifi. Which do you think is the better thing to do? Thank you again!

    • Hi Kathleen: I am no expert on your question, but was intrigued enough to do some research. It appears that you can use the iPhone as an iPod (access the Internet via wifi, stream music/videos, etc) without the sim card in. However, if you connect to iTunes without the sim card and do a restore or update either the operating system or iTunes it will likely lock it up and will have to be unlocked by ATT. It also appears that the safest way to do this is to have your iPhone unlocked. I had mine done for $10 – just Googl iPhone 3GS unlock and add the geographic area you are located to find someone who can do this. Best of luck and enjoy your travels.

      • Thank you, Barbara for replying quickly! I have googled how to unlock the iPhone and will do that tonight.  Thank you again

        • Hi Kathleen: You’re very welcome, but one more word of advice. Make sure NOT to update your iPhone operating system or iTunes version after unlocking, especially when overseas, as it is often difficult to get service outside of the US. Usually iTunes is not a problem, but best to be sage rather than sorry.

  125. Hi-”
    Thank you for this discussion!!
    I am travelling in Canada from the U.S. I don’t want any charges. I’m using an iPhone 4. The condo where we’re staying has wi-fi. I’ve followed all your directions–thank you!! However, with “airplane mode”  on “on”, I can’t access wi-fi, which would allow me email and games. Is there a way to be sure I’m only using wi-fi?
    Thank you!!


    • Hi Don: I have actually encountered this issue several time in my travels – in Airplane Mode, I could not immediately access the wifi. even if it was an open network. In each instance, I was told that it was impossible to access the wifi with Airplane Mode turned on. This is not correct. What I discovered is that it sometimes takes quite a while for the wifi network to be recognized by the iPhone when it is in Airplane mode. It wuld “see” the network but not connect to it immediately. Sometimes, I would just try several times in a row and it would finally connect. I found it helpful NOT to go back to my Home until the wifi icon appeared next to the airplane logo in the upper left-hand bar. Once it showed I was connected I could safely go back to Home and would be connected. This occasionally took up to a minute. On one or two occasions, I actually had to disable Airplane mode for a few seconds and hen re-enable it before it would connect to the wifi. Hope that helps.

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  127. Thank you so much for your post.  Sorry if my question is redundant, but do I turn off the “cellular data” as well (since you didn’t mention this part, probably not) ?  I want only to access my email and surf the web when I’m in Italy.


    • Hi Pal: Step #3 in my instructions is “Disable 3G (Settings-General-Network-Enable 3G-OFF).” That means you will be turning off the cellular network entirely, including all data. If you don’t do this, you could have a nasty surprise when you return, as it will use the cell network by default to search for location or access the Internet. If the cellular data is turned off you’ll only be able to go online and check email when you have access to wifi, which is safe.

      • Thank you for your prompt reply.  You’re the best!  I have been exploring your beautiful website and it’s/you’re full of fantastic info.  Cinque Terra was not on our itinerary, but after seeing your photos, we might just stop by.  Once again, thank you for sharing (sharing is caring)…

        • You’re very welcome, Palamy. Have a wonderful trip!

      • First of all, thanks so much for this information!  But, in answer to Pal’s question, I think the difference is in the version you are using.  I know my phone has a separate option for Cellular Network that does not turn off when 3G is turned off.  I have the iphone 4G.  Barb, it looks like you have the 3GS.  Pal, it’s probably best to just turn off both options (3G and Cellular Network).

  128. Fwd your cell to a Skype #
    Flip it to airplane mode.
    Turn on wifi

    For emergency, turn airplane mode off, pay the fee, it’s an emergency.

    This works, you don’t need to interact with AT&T. If you think you do, use AT&T iPhone app.

  129. Hi Barbara,  I want to be able to use my iphone for emergency calls and texting; I am traveling alone and looking at maps-the wifi looks sketchy.  I was planning on buying the ATT international voice roaming (5.99/.99 minute) as well as global messaging 50($10/50 outbound texts). I don’t want the data at all.  If I follow the steps with the exception of airplane mode, will this prevent the data from loading? 

    • Kat: VERY risky in my opinion. For instance, unless you ensure that all your
      “location” services are disabled, if you don’t have it in Airplane Mode,
      yoo will be downloading data in the background and may not even be aware
      that you are doing so. By “location” services I am referring to apps like
      the mapping service or anything that needs to use your location to work. I
      totally agree with ATribeCalledWes:

      “Fwd your cell to a Skype #
      Flip it to airplane mode.
      Turn on wifi
      For emergency, turn airplane mode off, pay the fee, it’s an emergency.”

      I do exactly that – forward my iPhone to my Skype number and use the Skype
      app for iPhone to make my calls when I’m in a wifi zone. If you think wifi
      will be hard to find, you can buy the international package and only use it
      in an emergency. But leaving Airplane mode turned off is asking for
      problems, IMO.

      • Thanks to you, Barbara, and to ATribecalledwes for the responses.  I just got my skype account and will keep the iphone in airplane mode.  I also found an old phone I bought from vodaphone in 2005 (teeny, tiny-but functional). I will bring it along and buy a new sim card for it when I get there and use it for calls-won’t need to worry about emergency calls on the iphone.

        Thanks again for all of the information on this site–sooooo helpful.


        • You’re very welcome, Kat. Now the next thing you should do is get your
          iPhone jailbroken and unlocked. It’s marvelous to travel with it that way
          and just be able to pop in a local sim card wherever I am!

  130. Hey Barbara- I feel very dumb asking this.  When getting an online number from Skype to forward your calls to, do you get a US number (if that is your country of origin) or a number that matches where you are visiting? I thought it would be blinded to the caller since they are dialing your regular number?

    • Hi Spain Bound. Not a dumb question at all. I get a number from my country,
      which is where most of my friends and all my family is, so they can call for
      free on their cell phones, using only minutes. If I got a number in the
      conutry I was traveling to, they would have to pay International rates to
      cal me.

  131. Call rates depend on the distance of the person you’re calling. If I were you, I’ll take advantage of using free video call like the ones offered through skype and facebook. Bring your laptop, go to a wi-fi ready place and you’ll get to see, hear and communicate with your family and friends in real time without wasting any money. 

    perth campgrounds

  132. Hi Barbara,
    Next week I am planning to travel from the US to Mexico for a week long vacation. I am wanting to forward my iphone to another iphone who has an international plan enabled. When I do this.. And say someone in the US calls my number that’s been forwarded will they be able to see the number I’ve forwarded to? Or only the number they dialed (mine)?
    Second, if I make a call from this other iphone back to the US, which number will show up their caller ID? Third, can I turn off the “show my caller ID” and make a call from Mexico to the US and the number will not be displayed?
    I’m a little confused if you couldn’t tell. 

    On a separate note. I’m planning to just use my iphone in Mexico in wifi mode only for posting pics to facebook. So to keep from incurring any charges whatsoever, I should forward my number (all the mumbo-jumbo above). Turn off all push notifications. Turn on WiFi (when needed only).  Correct?

    Thanks for any help on this!!

    • Hi Jess: So sorry, but I don’t know the answer to your questions about what
      numbers will show up when you forward. I suggest calling AT&T and asking
      those questions, but without divulging that you will be doing so to avoid
      paying for an International Plan. As to your second question, yes, if you
      follow the instructions I have provided and turn on wifi when needed and
      available, you will be able to post photos to Facebook without incurring any
      fees for International charges.

  133. Thanks for posting and being so informative.

     I too am planning a trip to europe soon..and I just want to be certain of the following for having my vmails forwarded (both my wife and I have iphones with at&t)…assuming I follow your instructions…I can set up call forwarding on the iphones  (right before I leave) to skype  (or someother service) that converts them to emails and not have to worry about getting or needing cellular access whilst in europe. Assuming I diligently keep them in airplane mode etc. Right? Thanks again, in advance!!!!

    • Absolutely correct Warren, just be sure you forward BEFORE you enable
      Airplane Mode.

  134. I think I am a little dense because I read these suggestions but am still a little confused.  Here is what I would like to accomplish:  I would like to forward messages from home/office to my Iphone so that when I can check phone messages periodically.  I am not worried about emails because I know what to do there.  So, say I forward messages, then follow Barbara’s suggestions in the original note, but periodically wish to retrieve any phone messages. (I would try to do this in an wifi environment, but occasionally might need to do it as roaming.)  And, I might need to make a roaming periodically.  Which of Barbara’s suggested actions do I need to reverse?  

    • Hi Ray: You’re not dense; it’s a complicated issue. Unless you have an
      International package with AT&T, you will be charged exorbitant fees for any
      connection while overseas, and that includes getting your voice mail. I have
      my voice mail forwarded to my Skype number, so I can retrieve it whenever I
      have wifi access, however there is no way that I know of to get your voice
      mail on your iPhone using only the wifi connection. If the only thing you
      need to do is get your voice mail (you will not be using the cellular
      network to get your email or browse the web, etc.), and if the amount of
      voice mail you expect to receive is minimal, then it might be best to buy a
      limited International Plan from AT&T while you are traveling. But if you do,
      be sure to follow all the instructions to turn off location, push services
      and notifications. Otherwise, they will operate in the background whenever
      your cellular network is active and you will incur extremely high rates for
      any data downloaded that is over the limits of your International Plan. Hope
      that helps.

      • Thanks, Barbara.  So, I get an International Plan, follow your guidelines of the settings, then when I want to check messages, or make a call, which do I reverse?  I get lots and lots of emails, so fear that if I reverse everything for a few  minutes, there will be 100 or more emails forwarded and run up a lot of bits of information.   Or, is it only when I open up the emails that the usage skyrockets?  Armed with your info, I will try again to make sense of what AT&T tells me.  Thanks.  Ray

        • Hi Ray: Frankly, the ONLY way I would even consider buying an International
          Plan from AT&T is if you needed it to retrieve voice mails occasionally and
          you DON’T get lots of emails. From the way you describe your situation, I
          don’t think it will work for you. You do get charged for downloading emails
          and if you get a lot of them the data can add up quickly. You could tinker
          with the settings (when you want to get voicemail, turn on 3G and make sure
          your email “push” is turned off with fetch set to manual), but that’s pretty
          complicated and the potential for not getting things back to the proper
          settings after you’ve retrieved your voicemail is high. Very cumbersome.

          An alternative situation is to purchase an Online Number with Skype. This
          would be a U.S. phone number that anyone can call from their mobile or
          landline, but calls actually come through Skype. You answer on Skype, no
          matter where you are, whenever you have a wifi connection. When you don’t
          have an active wifi, people can leave a message and you can return their
          calls via Skype (free between two users who both use Skype, as little as 1.2
          cents per minute if you are calling someone who doesn’t use Skype, and you
          can buy Skype credit to cover these minor charges). Every Online Number
          includes voicemail. Prices start at $18 per month for three months and get
          lower for longer term contracts. To manage things this way, simply sign up
          for a free Sype account and install the free Skype app on your iPhone. Go to

          I take it a step further and forward my regular cell phone number to my
          Skype online number, so the whole process is invisible to anyone but me.
          People just call my regular number. Hope that helps.

          • Thanks, Barbara.  I have now taken a Skype number and I understand a lot better the process with the Iphone.  I have been following your travels in Nepal, Laos, etc., and am amazed at the things you do and how you do them.  Thanks for everything.

            • You’re very welcome, Ray. Glad I could help. I’m just glad to see some folks
              from the U.S. get out there and see the world. I’m on a mission to educate
              Americans that it’s safe to travel. Have a wonderful journey!

            • One more thing, Ray. When you forward your cell to the new Skype number,
              make very sure you set up forwarding BEFORE you turn on airplane mode or
              people who call you will get an error message. :-)

  135. I travel to Spain every summer to visit family and the simplest thing is to leave the phone ALWAYS on the Airplane Mode while outside of the U.S. As mentioned, having access to Wifi allows using Skype calls to other Skype users or Skype Out (requires buying credit from Skype) to call regular phone numbers fairly inexpensively. I bought a cheap Quad Band mobile phone from Craigslist in which I can insert prepaid SIM cards to use for texting and local calling when no Wifi is available. To check voicemail, I either use Skype Out, or the cell phone with the prepaid SIM and a cheap calling card to call the voicemail retrieval number (ask AT&T for the number). Enter the password and listen to your voicemail without incurring any charges from AT&T.
    So really, all that needs to be done is to put the phone in Airplane Mode the moment you take off and never change it until you land back in the States.

  136. Blocking G3 should also block texts, because they go through G3– at least they do on my iphone.

  137. I forgot to thank you for this—    Earlier this year, we traveled in SE Asia.  My iphone became my computer– cool

  138. Pingback: Using Your iPhone During International Travel Without Breaking The Bank — TravelBark

  139. Pingback: How to travel to Europe with only your iPhone/iPad. @ Anderson Finn Inc.

  140. Any thoughts on Google Voice, I’m traveling through france for a few weeks and I’d like to be able to call my fiance back in the US. I’ve set up a google voice account with a local number to him (so there wont be any charges on his end) and if I understant correctly, if I have WIFI access I can call him through google voice using my Iphone, as well as recieved voicemails and texts.  Am I understanding correctly that this completely bypasses my cell service and I will not incurred charges through them (just the low international rates through google)? Or is this just wishful thinking….

  141. Hi Steve: If international roaming is enabled and any kind of “push” is left enabled, such as apps that check for data or auto checking for email, etc. you will incur international long distance charges. In my opinion, it’s much better to make sure it’s off so there’s no danger that something was overlooked.

    • Thanks for the advice. I guess it would be too simple for Apple to some sort of travel “kill switch”…

      • Apple has done it already. It is the Airplane Mode. As I mentioned above, make sure you turn on Airplane Mode the moment you leave the States and don’t touch it until you land back in the States. You will incur no charges whatsoever from AT&T. Your iphone simply becomes an ipod Touch.

        • Peter is correct about Airplane Mode but be very careful if you take
          this approach. To save battery life I leave the wifi off until I need it.
          One time I hit the wrong button without realizing it (Airplane Mode and
          Wifi are on top of one another) and tuned off Airplane Mode instead of
          turning on Wifi. It was that way for two days before I realized what I’d
          done. If I hadn’t gone through the process to turn off location, email and
          other “push” services, I could have racked up big bills. I’m in favor of
          being safe rather than sorry.

  142. Just wondering if the first step (Make sure that standard International Roaming and International Long
    Distance feature, if it is included in your cellular plan, is removed
    (call AT&T and make sure the rep adds a note to your account
    confirming that you requested this) is necessary if I have 3g and data roaming disabled and airplane mode on.

    I’ll be studying abroad for 8 weeks and would like to use my iPhone for WiFi purposes only, so obviously I don’t want any charges.

  143. I just completed another blog post on iPhone travel apps that you might find helpful. I selected many of them based on their functionality while roaming internationally:

    Also, I purchased one of AT&T’s international data plans (50MB for roughly $50/month). 50MB isn’t a ton of data, but enough for me to use the mapping function of the iPhone and some of the things I most need while traveling. I just make sure not to surf the web or download images.

  144. If you have the phone on Airplane Mode and have followed all the
    instructions in my post, nothing will come through, including text messages.

  145. Also…how do you block incoming text messages.  I assume those will be chargable too.

  146. Hey There,

    I am still concerned about recieveing unwanted calls or calls coming in and then routing to Voice mail and incurring charging.  Does using Airplane mode “turn the phone off”? How can I avaid the network trying to deliver a call? 

    “You won’t be charged if your phone is off when the call goes to voicemail, as the network does not attempt to deliver the call. If a call goes to voicemail while your phone is on, however, you will be charged twice: first, to deliver the call to a foreign carrier and, second, to route the unanswered call back to the U.S. voicemail system.”

    • Hi Cher: I can see how you got confused by that quote from AT&T. If you have
      Airplane Mode turned on, NO calls can come through, including voice mail, so
      there is no risk of incurring charges. The network cannot deliver anything
      as it cannot connect. The quote was for someone who was concerned about
      getting voicemail while traveling overseas. If you take the phone OFF
      Airplane Mode and enable the 3G network, then call in to retrieve voicemail,
      you will be charged twice international rates for the time spent getting
      your voicemail. Hope that clears things up. Bottom line, follow the
      instructions in my original post and you can be sure you will incur no
      charges for International rates.

  147. Quick question… If I have phone set to all of your above recommendations, and I turn my phone off for the night, when I turn it back on will the settings still remain as I saved them?

    Also, I just set my phone to Airplane Mode to see what happens when I call myself. When I did, it went directly to my voicemail. Does that mean that I will still be charged once I’m back in the country and am getting the voice messages that were left when I was traveling?

    • Hi MM:
      Yes, if you turn off your phone for the night all the settings will be exactly the same when you turn it back on.

      Your voicemail is part of your package with AT&T, so AS LONG AS YOUR PHONE IS SET UP AS INSTRUCTED incoming voicemail messages will not incur charges, but calling in to retrieve/listen to your messages while you are overseas will incur charges. This from the AT&T website:

      “You won’t be charged if your phone is off when the call goes to voicemail, as the network does not attempt to deliver the call. If a call goes to voicemail while your phone is on, however, you will be charged twice: first, to deliver the call to a foreign carrier and, second, to route the unanswered call back to the U.S. voicemail system.”

      How long your voicemail messages are saved and how many you can store depends upon which voicemail package you have selected. Basic voicemail (feee, part of the standard package) saves messages for 15 days and allows a maximum of 20 messages. Enhanced voicemail (an additional $1.99 per month as of this writing) stores messages for 30 days and allows a total of 40 messages.

      You could also sign up for AT&T’s voicemail to text plan for an additional $3,99 per month. That allows you to receive your voicemail messages as text messages, emails, or both. You don’t want to receive them as texts, as that will incur foreign roaming charges, but converting them to email is perfect because you can receive email with any wifi connection and reply via email. This plan also allows you to save your messages in your phone or on your computer for as long as you want.

      If you plan to travel a lot you could also buy a Skype subscription that includes a Skype U.S. phone number and voicemail, and forward your cell phone to the Skype number (that’s what I do). If so, you need to be sure to forward your calls BEFORE turning on Airplane mode, or anyone calling your number will get a message that the number is not in service or that the number is invalid – it’s a glitch in the AT&T service, because Airplane mode turns off all communication and if you forward AFTER enabling Airplane mode it sees no connection.

      • Hi Barbara,
        We plan to go to Isreal in few months and referring to the following statement I copied from an earlier conversation, I wondered if with this AT&T plan to text, email or both if pictures could be sent via email as well?  Thanks a lot.  Gayle  ………You could also sign up for AT&T’s voicemail to text plan for an additional $3,99 per month. That allows you to receive your voicemail messages as text messages, emails, or both. You don’t want to receive them as texts, as that will incur foreign roaming charges, but converting them to email is perfect because you can receive email with any wifi connection and reply via email. This plan also allows you to save your messages in your phone or on your computer for as long as you want.

        • Hi Gayle: I can’t answer your specific question, as I don’t know whether a text with a photo can be converted into an email with this particular AT&T program, however anyone who is sending you photos while overseas can just attach them to an email rather than a text; then when you download your email with an available wifi connection, you can be sure there is no charge. Also, for text messages over a wifi connection, I have recently discovered the iPhone app “TextFree.” It allows you to send a text message to a person’s cell phone number over a wifi network, and if you sign up now you can get a free text free US phone number that your friends and family can use to text you when you are overseas, with no cost to them. I’m currently testing it and others have confirmed that it works overseas. You may want to check that out as well.

  148. Hi Jay: I believe it will update the time zone automatically if it has a
    wifi connection, however when I get off a plane I never have instant wifi,
    so I turn the “set automatically” option off and just choose my time zone
    manually when I reach each new destination. Just click on Settings->
    General-> Date & Time -> Set Automatically -> Off, and then just below that,
    in “Time Zone,” drop down and choose the appropriate city.

  149.  Thank you for the very helpful post.

    I have a rather elementary question: If the iPhone is in airplane mode with 3G disabled, and you travel to another time zone, will it still figure out how to display the correct time?

  150. This is so wonderful and instructive, Barbara.  To you or any of your correspondents: I’ll be traveling in Europe for eight months, mostly France, and will have had my iphone 3gs long enough to end the contract for $100, which is less than the rest of the contract would be.  So, as I understand it, I jailbreak, unlock, and buy a pay-as-you-go sim in France with a data plan (say, from Orange).  But what happens to the iphone when I end my ATT contract?  Do I lose my US phone number permanently?  And, will I still have the wifi (as on an ipod touch)?

    Finally, can I un-jailbreak (restore) and keep the thing unlocked to avoid the problem with the itunes updates?  I have no interest in the other “unauthorized” applications.

    Many thanks.

    • Hi Rob: Some years ago the US government voted in legislation making all
      cell phone numbers portable, meaning that you owned your phone number and
      could take it with you if you changed carriers. If this is what you want to
      do, sign up with the new company before canceling your contract with AT&T
      and have the new company port over your phone number, then cancel with AT&T.
      However, it sounds like you want to cancel your contract with AT&T and not
      sign up with another carrier while you are traveling. If so, you will
      indeed lose your phone number.

      You are correct about jailbreaking, unlocking, and buying a French sim card.
      Absolutely nothing happens to the iPhone when you break your cntract. It is
      a piece of hardware that is separate from the cell service, and as long as
      the phone is jailbroken and unlocked it will work with a sim card from any
      GSM carrier around the world. The wifi is built into the hardware and will
      continue to work – it has nothing to do with the cell network.

      If you’re really bent on keeping your US phone number you might consider
      changing to the absolute lowest plan (450 minutes I think) and lowering your
      monthly bill to around $90, which you can pay online while you are out of
      the country. Or, try talking to AT&T about putting your phone “on vacation”
      for several months. They let me do so with an air card, however it can only
      be done once a year, and I’m not entirely sure if this applies to phones as
      well. They will likely try to sell you an international package, so you’ll
      have to come up with a story that convinces them you won’t be using the
      iPhone while you’re out of the country.

      As for the un-jailbreaking, I think not. You must first jailbreak an iPhone
      before it can be unlocked – it doesn’t work the other way around – and the
      iTunes problem occurs because the phone is unlocked, so even if you did
      un-jailbreak, it wouldn’t solve the problem. Hope that helps.

  151. Hi Barbara
    Thanks for this no frills way of using my iphone whilst travelling abroad. My wife and I, together with another couple are travelling from Australia to Italy and Croatia in September and would like to keep in contact with our family at home. I have been searching everywhere to find a simple solution to just send and receive emails. Like you I am going to tick every box so I dont incurr any charges whatsoever. Thanks again

    • So glad I could be of help, Mark. Wishing you wonderful travels.

    • So glad I could be of help, Mark. Enjoy your travels.

  152. Hi) Help me please. I am an international student in Canada. I bought IPhone 4
    and my phone company is Fido too. I was in NY for 7 days. My IPhone worked for 1 day and all 6 days it was no service. When I came back to Canada I have -105$ I paid it. But when I called to Fido, they said me
    “You owe us $1200 for roaming charges of 0.3GB of data….” I used only fee internet….. What should I do now???? I haven’t this money.

    • Vyv-vkv, I am so sorry to hear about your experience, but this is exactly the reason I wrote this post. So many people don’t understand that they can come home to huge bills when they try to use their iPhone internationally, even if they buy an international package. Unfortunately, there is no way I can help you. You will just ave to negotiate with your carrier. Tell them that their information about their service while traveling internationally was unclear and maybe they will waive the charges, or at the very least, reduce them. Best of luck.

  153. Ok, i understand how to set up the phone to work correctly. My main question is will my phone work on the public WIFI in Europe or is there something on the phone that will not allow you to do that? Just dont want to have to drag around a laptop. Thanks!

    • Hi Jon: Wifi is the same everywhere. It will absolutely work just fine in

  154. I am traveling to Canada from the US, can I turn off 3G, all cellular Data, fetch, and notifications and be able to use just for incoming and out going calls with out incuring any other charges except for the cellular minutes charges?

    • Hi Hudgins: That depends entirely upon the plan you have with AT&T. They have the following plan:

      Nation with Canada Plans
      No long distance or roaming charges for voice calls between the US and Canada and a data pay-per-use rate of $2/MB in Canada.

      It costs $59.99 per month for 450 minutes, as opposed to 39.99 for 450 minutes of US calls only and u should be able to change your plan for the amount of time you will be in Canada. However what it doesn’t make clear is whether it covers calls inside Canada; best to ask that question of AT&T.

      I think if you only need to make calls between Canada and the US it would be a good option, but make sure you do turn off your data, fetch and notifications, as $2 per Mb of data is ridiculously expensive. Get your email and Internet when you have access to a free wifi connection. The way I read the plan, u should not have to disable 3G but again, double check with AT&T on this setting.

  155. I’m currently traveling for 5 months with my iPhone. I’ve written a two blog posts that are relevant to this discussion:

    I’ve been trying to both jailbreak and unlock my iPhone 3GS and have found the process complicated (and I’m a former IT engineer/consultant!). I was able to jailbreak the phone, but there is currently no unlock available for the baseband version (05.16.02) that I have, which is annoying. I even purchased a pay-as-you voice and data plan from O2 here in Germany.

  156. Wow after writing down in long hand Barbara’s i-phone ideas I scrolled down to other ideas & think they may be much easier. Wish I could print all this up to take to a friend who can help may sense of all this most of it is way over my head. But thanks it will help I’m sure.

  157. I was very interested in your directions about using the i phone 3GS internationally without really high charges. For some reason we were unable to print it as I wanted to take it with me to AT&T. So I have written it out in longhand. Do you know why we can”t print it ?? Thank You Maggie-

    • Hi Maggie: So sorry I can’t help with your problem. Printing is a function
      of the browser you are using and your individual printer. I have not
      restricted printing of my posts in any way.

  158. Wonderful blog and comments…glad I found this. Here’s my situation: my friend and I are both travelling to the Czech Republic and Turkey for 3 weeks. We live in the US and both have Skype accts. We want to talk to each other (in case we get separated) BUT only one of us needs to be able to call numbers in local countries. So if she just has a regular skype acct and I get the Skype world acct will we still be able to call each other for free? Many thanks in advance for your help.

    • Hi Leslie: As long as you’ve both installed the Skype software you can talk
      to each other for free through a wifi connection, no matter where in the
      world you are. If you are in the US, you can use the cellular service
      provider connection to call via Skype for free, but overseas doing that
      would cost you hefty roaming charges. I hadn’t looked into the world account
      for a long time because it only provides the ability to call 40 countries
      and many of the places I travel are not included, so it doesn’t really work
      for me.

      I just took a look and it seems Skype has changed their subscriptions
      drastically since the days when I signed up. Before you sign up for any of
      the currently available subscriptions, VERY carefully read the fine print.
      The Unlimited World Extra subscription requires a 24-month commitment, does
      not include Turkey at all, and only allows calls to landlines in the Czech
      Republic. Alternatively, if you went with subscriptions for the two
      individual countries it would cost you $8.99 and $6.99 per month,
      respectively for Turkey and the Czech Republic, and that would be for
      landlines only. If you wanted to cover cell phones it would cost and $39.99
      per month for 400 minutes in Turkey and $19.99 per month for 120 minutes in
      the Czech Republic. AND these prices do NOT include VAT – the fine print
      shows extra costs for VAT.

      If I were doing it today I’d rely on wifi connections and buy Skype credit
      and pay by the minute. I think you’d save a lot of money over the
      subscription options currently available, however you would be limited to
      calling whenever and wherever you had a wifi connection.

      The other option is to get your iPhone jailbroken and unlocked. I paid $10
      to have mine done. Now, when I am in a country for any length of time, I
      just replace my AT&T sim card with a sim card for that country. That way, I
      can make local calls in the country really cheaply and can still make free
      Skype-to-Skype calls, either via a wifi connection or using minutes from the
      cellular company from whom you buy the sim card, as well as international
      calls using the Skype app and either a wifi connection of the cell providers
      minutes. Keep in mind though, that jailbreaking and unlocking an iPhone
      tecnically invalidates its warranty and you have to be very careful to NEVER
      download and install an operating system upgrade via iTunes or it will most
      likely turn your iPhone into a brick. Hope that helps.

      • Thank you, Barbara. I think you’re absolutely right about the Skype International calling plans. The pay as you go option is going to be better for me because I’m surely not going to be making that many calls when on vacation in Prague and Istanbul. Thanks so much for sharing your tips, as I know (after much web surfing) that your blog has the most comprehensive and accurate compilation of good advice both from you and your readers on this subject. Enjoy your travels and keep writing…we’re listening!! :)

  159. I will be traveling in France during early April. In anticipation of wanting to use my iPhone 3GS, I have been researching how to do just that very thing. After reading countless posts, I am more confused now, than I was when I first started reading. My intended uses are to make an occasional phone call back to the U.S., play my previously downloaded “game apps” on my phone, periodically check emails,post to Facebook, send a text or 2 back home, etc. If I understand correctly, if I do the following:

    Disable 3G (Settings-General-Network-Enable 3G-OFF)
    Turn off data roaming (Settings-General-Network-Data Roaming-OFF)
    Make sure WiFi is enabled (Settings-WiFi-WiFi-ON)
    Turn of automatic pushing of email (Settings-Mail, Contacts, Calendars-Fetch New Data-Push-OFF and set Fetch to Manually)
    Put the phone in airplane mode (Settings-Airplane Mode-ON)
    Reset the usage counter to zero in order to monitor it throughout the trip, ensuring my usage remained at zero. To do so, go to Settings-General-Usage-Reset Statistics (scroll to the very bottom).

    I will be able to access a WiFi area, sign on to the internet,check emails, use my apps, post to Facebook, etc., and incur no additional charges, other than my normal monthly fees. Is this correct?

    Then, to make a call or 2, would you buy a small international package from AT&T? Or download a Skype app? Or just buy a prepaid phone card and use a pay phone? Which is what we used to do “pre-cell phones” years ago.

    • > I will be able to access a WiFi area, sign on to the internet,check emails, use my apps, post to Facebook, etc., and incur no additional charges, other than my normal monthly fees. Is this correct?

      Yes if and ONLY if you have free wifi access (at hotel, etc. even Starbuck’s, though not at French airports).

      > Then, to make a call or 2, would you buy a small international package from AT&T? Or download a Skype app? Or just buy a prepaid phone card and use a pay phone?

      I would use Skype on wifi if the calls are only made from your hotel or some other (free) wifi hotspot. A prepaid phone card (which isn’t too easy to find nowadays in France unless you know where to look) would of course allow you to call from a pay phone, but it obviously has limitations in the convenience department.


    • Hi Michaele: I think you’ve got it figured out fine. You can leave the wifi
      off, as it will drain the battery, and only turn it on when you are in a
      wifi zone. If you have regular access to wifi, my vote would be to install
      the Skype app and just use it for occasional calls home. It works great. If
      you do, you may want to also consider buying a Skype phone number and
      forwarding your regulr cell phone number to it. That way, you’ll get your
      voice mail through the Skype app as well. But remember to forward your
      number first, before you put the phone into airplane mode.

      Turning data roaming off blocks email, browsing, visual voicemail and
      downloads, but it will not block text or picture/video messages. However,
      when you are abroad, international roaming rates apply when you send text or
      picture/video messages. To get around this, you can use Skype to text
      whenever you have a wifi connection. Alternatively, you could sign up for
      AT&T’s International plan, but in my view, that’s a waste of good money. If
      you really want to maximize your iPhone, jailbreak and unlock it. That way,
      you can pop in a cheap sim card from any country where you will be spending
      a long time and take advantage of their cheap phone rates. As for pay
      phones, although I’ve not been to France, I find that in most places around
      the world they are practically non-existent these days, however, I also
      understand that free wifi access is everywhere in France. Hope that helps.

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  161. Really, that long list of check boxes is unnecessary. All you need to do is turn the iPhone on Airplane mode and leave your wifi on. I just spent ten days in Switzerland and incurred no extra charges the whole time by just doing those two things. Sure you can go through all those steps, but airplane mode kills all cellular signals (turning it into an iPod Touch pretty much).

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  164. thank you barbra.i m gone to attend my brother marriage in i wana to take my iphone with me to keep intouch wih my family and friends.i m glad i come and read ur post are very good very good explain
    100 time better if i talk with att repersentitive.they dont no nothing u ask.i wana add one more thing if you have family unlimtied message plan u can recive free text messages from ur family and att users.and send back text message is 50 cent.but barbra thank you again.u finish my all confiusion.GOD bless you

  165. Seems like this should just be one step.

    1. Turn on airplane mode.

    If that disables everything and you connect to a wifi network for usage, why does one need to worry about turning off 3G, calling AT&T, etc.?

    • Hi Mcwinfree: You are absolutely correct, however in the settings panel, the
      wi-fi and airplane mode are right on top of one another. I don’t leave my
      wifi on all the time because it drains the battery, so I only turn it on
      when I am am looking for a connection. On occasion, I have hit the airplane
      mode by accident and turned it off – once it was two days before I
      discovered it. Had I not turned off my 3G and my “push” applications, I
      could have had huge, unexpected charges. I’m a proponent of playing it
      doubly safe.

  166. Barbara – Thank you for posting this information, I leave for Europe tomorrow and plan to follow your advise. I admire what you are doing, hopefully one day I too can fill my donut hole. Safe travels to you!

    • Thanks kninglopsop. As long as you’re true to yourself you’ll eventually
      find your true path. Just don’t cave in to the expectations of others, like
      I did for so many years. Have a wonderful trip and you be safe, too!

  167. There have been several comments about leaving the iPhone on “Airplane Mode” and just using wifi while traveling out of the USA. Unfortunately, I have an iPhone 4 and when I shut off the airplane mode, it also turns off my wifi. Is there a way around this? Thanks in advance…I leave for Mexico in a few hours….

    • Rich: When you set the phone on Airplane mode it will automatically shut off
      the wifi, because that’s the whole purpose of being in Airplane mode – no
      signal. However, after enabling Airplane mode you can manually go back into
      settings, select Wi-Fi (just below Airplane mode), and on the next screen,
      manually turn wifi back on.

    • Hi Jazyat2: As far as I’ve been able to determine, the instructions should
      work anywhere in the world. Of course, connection being dependent upon wifi,
      it will also depend upon the availability of wifi in Saudi Arabia.

  168. Wow… talk about doing things the hard way!

    1. Unlock your current iPhone/buy unlocked iPhone (many countries sell factory unlocked models required by law, so no SIM unlocking nonsense). Bought mine in Hong Kong. You’ll pay the full, unsubsidized price, but you’ll save money in the long run. (More on that after).
    2. When you arrive at your destination, buy a cheap SIM card with some prepaid minutes.
    3. Pop the SIM card into your iPhone.
    4. Use your iPhone anywhere in the world, pay local rates. When your minutes run out, add credit.
    5. To receive international calls, set up Skype forwarding to your local number. To make outgoing international calls, use Skype when you have wifi available. You’re taking a long holiday right? Do you need international calling 24/7?
    6. Kick AT&T to the curb and don’t look back. When you get back to the U.S., use prepaid with data plan (T-Mobile, Virgin, etc.)
    7. Never get locked into a mobile “plan” again.

    This is how most of the world uses their mobile phones… this is really the easiest and most versatile way for the long-term traveler. Not too mention the most economical. I;d like to add NEVER trust your service provider to NOT stick you with all sorts of outrageous charges whilst traveling overseas. Verizon screwed me badly when I lived in Ghana for 10 months. It’s what compelled me to never sign up for a mobile plan, ever again.

    • PerfectScores: Everything you say is absolutely correct. However, I rely on
      my iPhone to sync with iTunes so that my calendar, address book, etc.
      migrate into it each time I connect to my laptop. If you unlock and
      jailbreak your iPhone, it invalidates the warranty, first of all. But more
      importantly, if you unlock/jailbreak and then accidentally upgrade the
      operating system, there is a high probability that the phone will then be
      rendered inoperable. I tried to get around this by turning off the automatic
      installation feature for OS upgrades in iTunes but then struggled for months
      because iTunes stopped recognizing the phone when it was plugged in and so
      could no longer sync. I finally was able to upgrade to the latest OS, which
      then allowed the phone to be “seen” by iTunes again. Since I rely heavily on
      my calendar, address book, and multiple apps when I travel, I don’t want to
      risk turning my iPhone into a “brick.” Appreciate hearing any further
      thoughts you have on this.

      • Hi Barbara,

        I just stumbled upon your blog, and hasten to point out that a ‘legally’ unlocked iPhone (such as mine in Paris thanks to French consumer protection laws) is not at all the same thing as a jail-broken one. None of the issues you mentioned apply to a ‘legally’ unlocked iPhone, because the unlocking is authorized by Apple and actually carried out by Apple. I, too, rely heavily my calendar, address book, and multiple apps for international (and local) travel, and actually have a prepaid T-mobile SIM card for use in the US which allows me to do everything on my iPhone while stateside as I do here at home. In addition, I have a German SIM card, a couple of Asian ones… all for use in one single iPhone with all my contacts, e-mails, etc., etc.

        In fact, I gave my (legally unlocked) original iPhone to my mother who lives in the US, which she used for a couple of years with a T-mobile SIM card (for Blackberry!) until I switched her over to AT&T, and this without a contract as she didn’t get her iPhone from AT&T. And if some year another US wireless carrier also offers iPhone GSM service at yet a better rate (more about GSM below), she can easily switch from AT&T, too. All this perfectly ‘kosher’ with no risk of turning her iPhone into a ‘brick’, etc., etc.

        (The reason for my mentioning GSM is that even though Verizon has just begun offering the iPhone in the US, their iPhones are only CDMA and not GSM-compatible. Which severely limits international coverage – unless, of course, you have guaranteed wifi access 24/7 when travelling, hardly a given!)

        I hope this helps clarify a few things and maybe calm a few fears…

        • Hi Eccparis: How right you are! And how lucky that you can legally unlock
          your iPhone. Up till now it has invalidated the warranty and in the event
          that you accidentally upgrade the operating system after jailbreaking and
          unlocking, there is a high risk of turning it into a brick because you are
          in violation of AT&T’s terms of servce.

          However, that hasn’t stopped me from jailbreaking and unlocking mine, so I
          can pop in a SIM card whenever I’m staying in an overseas destination long
          term. I was forced to go with AT&T because most of the rest of the world is
          on GSM, but I’ve been hearing rumblings that Verizon in the US is developing
          phones that have dual technology (CDMA and GSM), although I haven’t
          confirmed that yet. It will be very interesting to watch what happens when
          the iPhone is available thru Verizon in a few days.

          Oh, and one point I’d like to make for anyone reading this who doesn’t
          understand the difference between jailbreaking and unlocking. Jailbreaking
          allows you to download and install apps that are not approved by Apple. The
          Cydia App store is full of other great apps, including MyWi, which allows
          you to use your iPhone as a tethered modem, by turning it into a wireless
          broadcast spot, or through USB cable. Also against the AT&T TOS, though.
          Unlocking is only necessary if you want to use SIM cards from other
          providers, either overseas or in the U.S. An iPhone must be jailbroken
          before it can be unlocked, but it can ONLY be jailbroken if you prefer. Just
          remember if you do this to turn off the automatic operating system update
          option in iTunes.

  169. I recently went to Paris, France with my iPhone set as described — airplane mode and using wifi only and skype. I had no extra charge issues. The only problem I had is that although Paris is littered with wifi, everywhere, it was often very slow sending and receiving email. Skype worked fairly well and I used it often to call USA and around Paris. The best thing was using the Maps app when I was trying to find a street or to figure out where I was when walking… Amazing! The Maps app always seemed to pick up and pinpoint my location easily and gave me great walking directions, which is great to have in Paris.
    I had my laptop with me to surf at night on a larger screen and figure out where I wanted to go the next day, but having my iPhone in my pocket all day while walking thru Paris was great for the Maps app and googling things, skype… email, as I said was often painfully slow…like an hour or two to send and receive…

    • Hi Minette: Thanks so much for taking the time to confirm that the settings
      worked well. I have a question for you about the Maps app. Is it an online
      app – in other words do you need to be connected to the Internet to use it?
      If so, I’m assuming you were using it whenever you had a wifi connection,
      correct? If it worked without acess to a wifi, I am curious about how you
      avoided incurring data charges.

      • Hi Barbara: The MAPs app works with wifi. It’s one of my favorite iPhone apps as it gives you both walking and driving directions — which ever you need. It’s a great app to have in a city — especially Paris, which has wifi every where. So yes, when wifi was available, which was often, Maps would pinpoint my location, show it to me on the map and guide me to any street. I can’t say enough about MAPs and how valuable it is when traveling. And you can easily bookmark addresses and have Maps guide you to a bookmarked address from where ever you are standing at the moment. If you have a decent wifi signal, it’s great. If you only have a good signal at your hotel, you can quickly map your destination before you leave and have it list out the directions for you. But as I said, Paris is littered with wifi so I had few problems with using Maps all around the city.
        I was all wifi all the time. I never turned off airplane mode.

        • Thanks for the explanation Minette – I’ll have to download and try that.

  170. If I want to use only email while in Madrid, can I just put phone in airplane mode or do I have to go through the above steps to disable the cellular network?

    • Fiveholmes: As I understand it, you can do that, but the buttons for the Airplane mode and turning on the WiFi are so close together that I have accidentally turned off the Airplane mode when I really wanted to turn on the WiFi, and once it got jostled in my backpack and Airplane mode got turned off that way. In this case, if you don’t have all the “push” applications – like automatically checking for email or apps that access the Internet automatically to update – turned off, you risk huge charges on your bill. Better to be safe than sorry.

    • Well Amy, it’s just a guess, but I guess they’d start piling up in your
      voice mailbox until it was full, and then people would start getting a
      message that your voicemail is full and they would be unable to leave any
      further messages. Alternatively, you could change your vociemail message to
      say that you are traveling and will not be picking up messages until you
      return, and instruct people not to leave any messages.

      • If you don’t forward your phone, you will get 2 international charges per call. One for the AT&T system to find your phone, and the other to send the call back to your VM. Sounds counterintuitive, if your phone doesn’t even ring…but confirmed on AT&T discussion boards.

  171. I have an IPhone 4 and am traveling to London next month. Planning on using wifi from my hotel to connect via email. I d/l skype mobile for the iphone and thought it would be simple to buy a plan. Boy- the choices are daunting…plan or credit, minutes or monthly?? How does one make sense of Skype and the Iphone and calling within the London area, plus the small possibility of needing to call the states??

    • Oh boy, Barry, that’s a subject for an entirely different post. Skype can
      indeed be daunting, but it is worth the aggravation to get it up and
      running. I have an annual subscription for $29.99 that gives me unlimited
      free calls to or from mobile or landlines in the U.S., Canada, or Mexico.
      That subscription also includes voice mail, SMS, and allows me to get a
      SkypeIn phone number for a discounted rate of $29.99 per year, so my total
      cost per year is only around $60 for those two packages. A SkypeIn number is
      a local U.S. phone number that your friends and family can call, but that
      rings through Skype, wherever you are in the world, as long as you are
      online. If you are offline, they can leave a voice mail message.

      Outside of the U.S, Mexico or Canada, Skype calls are still free, as long as
      the persn whom I am calling also has Skype downloaded – Skype-to-Skype is
      always free. However, not everyone has Skype, so I also “load” my account
      with some funds – $50 at a time or so – and when I make an international
      call to someone who does not have Skype (whether I am at home calling
      internationally, or traveling in foreign countries and calling home), Skype
      automatically deducts the cost of the call from that credit balance and
      alerts me when I need to recharge. I’ve been traveling about a month in Asia
      and have only used about $3 of my credit – the rates are pennies per minute.
      The biggest problem is always finding a connection that has enough bandwidth
      to use it. Hope that helps.

  172. I am using an iPhone 3G in Europe without a data plan or calling plan for just gps mapping from a TomTom app that includes all of the data. It works fine as soon as it gets a gps fix, which can take up to 10 minutes without the companion 3g data. One it gets it the app works pretty well for navigation, with features that are not on the BMW navigation system we used in Europe. BMW insisted on sending me the wrong way on a one-way street and the TomTom did not. The iPhone needs to be plugged in at all times to power and still cannot be used for more than about 4 continuous hours, since it is continually searching for a gps signal.

    • Efithian: So, if you have no data plan, does the TomTom app download all the
      data on your local iPhone? How much space does that take up -must be an
      immense chunk of data. Barbara

  173. Hi Barbara,

    Great blog! You can eliminate a lot of your problems through the use of Google Voice – and since you still have a US number you can sign up. GV is like a super smart front-end to your phone that can ring to multiple phones whenever a call comes in (to your GV number). It can screen your calls, forward text transcriptions of voice messages to your email account, forward mp3 formatted voice mail messages to your email, forward calls to your inbound Skype number, and much more.

    So you could have it setup so that all these phones ring whenever an incoming call comes in and you could simply pick up the phone that’s closes to you … or cheapest… or the one that you like best. And if, for example, you arrived home while talking on an incoming call on your mobile, you can just push the * button and all your phones will ring again and you can pick up your home phone (or Skype… or whatever) and resume the call from that phone – thus saving more mobile minutes.

    Granted, most of those features only work in the US, or at least with US phone numbers, but with some experience with GV and a little thought and planning, you can setup a truly formidable communications system – and most of it is free. Well, my inbound Skype number costs me $30 US per year and my Skype North American subscription (unlimited mobile and landline calling for US, CA, MX phones) is another $30/yr. The rest, except for my prepaid wireless, is all free! And, that includes all my text messages (SMS-only), because I use GV for that, too – so I rarely send a message over my mobile number unless there’s no WiFi and the message is urgent.

    Again, great blog.

    • Hi wbu45, and thanks for your comment and information. I actually have a GV
      number – have had it for a while – but haven’t used it because most of my
      travel is International. I have only one phone, the iPhone, and am thinking
      seriously about dropping that one and just going to an iPod and using it
      with Skype (like you, I have both the Skype number and subscription). But
      for those who travel primarily in the US, GV is an excellent alternative.

  174. You do have the option of signing up for Google Voice (while in the US), then use the GV number as your text contact number. Text messages will be stored on the GV web site and, optionally, they can be forwarded to any email account (preferably GMail). When you reply to the email, from any browser, the reply gets transmitted as a (SMS) text message. Voice mails can also be sent as mp3 files into your gmail account along with text transcriptions of your voice mail messages! Best of all, the whole thing is free!

    Only limitations: 1-Must sign up in the USA (you need a US number as the number GV rings-through to). 2-The optional GV phone number you’re given (again for free) is a US number (numbers are available in almost every metro area and all states). 3-All texting is free, but Google has stopped international SMS – which was previously free – probably due to excessive cost to them. However, you can still get your text messages since they won’t be international (due to the fact that your GV US phone number is not an international number). Final bonus, all calls between phones in US and CA are free when placed using Google Voice.

    There’s a lot more that can be done with one or more GV numbers, just search for more info using… you guessed it, Google. I’ve gotten my cellular bill down to an average of $3.75 per month from a previous $77 (US) per month through the use of Skype, GV, Gizmo5 Prepaid and VOIP over WiFi (VOWF?). And I consume between 1200 and 1800 minutes per month from my Droid.

    Enjoy your trip!

  175. Hi Barbara, what great info. I’ll be traveling to Ireland in a few days. My initial plan was this: use wifi to place any calls with Skype, check email, etc. Then purchase the $5.99 World Traveler phone plan from AT&T in case I must place a call when not on wifi (emergency only– it’s vacation, I don’t want to spend it chatting on the phone ;), and then the 20 MB of data for $25 plan as well. My main reason for the data was in case I really wanted to use the Maps app when I’m not on wifi. However I just did a little test and only about 15 seconds on the Mapps app used over 0.5 MB so that seems like it would blow through 20 MB in a heartbeat! But now that I’m looking at AT&T’s web site, if I understand it correct (and of course they don’t make it easy), standard international roaming charges for phone calls to the US from Ireland is $1.29/min vs. $0.99/min if you get the $5.99 plan. Am I right about this? Because if I only plan to place a call when NOT on wifi in the case of an emergency, a difference of $0.30/min isn’t going to be an issue. But, let me know if my theory is sound here and if I understand them correctly– if I don’t have AT&T turn off international roaming (i.e. enabling me to use it to place an emergency call if necessary), but keep my phone in Airplane Mode, and have fetch OFF, do I still run the risk of accruing data charges in the event I turn Airplane Mode off to place a call? Basically I’m wondering if I should bother buying any of their plans at all, but want to at least know I have the option of placing a call when not on wifi if I needed to.

    • Tashamoss: As you say, AT&T does not make it easy to understand all the
      “fine print.” That’s why people come home to phone bills n the thousands of
      dollars. My understanding is that the only way to absolutely ensure that
      there is no data exchange is to keep it in Airplane mode, which would of
      course mean you coudn’t make an emergency call when not on wifi. I haven’t
      checked into the different rates for Ireland, but for 30 cents per minute
      difference I agree that it does not make sense to buy the pricier package.
      Probabnly worth a call to AT&T (record the conversation, if at all possible,
      and tell them you’re recording it – if you don’t know how, download Cal
      Recorder for Skype, call them on Skype, and hit the red record button).

      The other thing you could consider is buying a disposable mobile in Ireland;
      the rates to the States are going to be much cheaper that way. Or, if you
      bought another brand of unlocked smart phone (you can get them on the
      Internet for $100) you could get a SIMM card for that second phone once you
      got there. I know some people have unlocked and jailbroken their iPhones,
      but then you have to turn off the auto update option for the operating
      system updates, since unlocked phones can turn into bricks if they are
      updated. I’m not willing to deal with that kind of technology problem while
      traveling. Hope that helps.

      • Thanks all. We brainstormed and realized between the two of us, the second phone line on our account isn’t a Smart phone so we’re taking that as the emergency phone, and I’m putting my iPhone in Airplane Mode and following the instructions in the blog post and going wifi only.

    • You should consider using Copilot or TomTom for iPhone. They can both be used without any data connection since the maps are stored on your phone at installation. I actually can’t confirm this first-hand for iPhone since I have Copilot installed on a Motorola Droid, but I’ve been told both apps work as described. Then, you might consider unlocking your phone (you can buy an unlocked iPhone in Europe, or get yours unlocked – requires jailbreak). Once unlocked, you can pick up a prepaid SIM card at your destination, plug it into your phone and be online (voice or voice and data) with a local number in a matter of minutes. That’ll cover you for the times and places where you don’t have access to WiFi. When you get back to the US, plug your AT&T SIM card back in and everything’s back to the way it was.

      • If you do what wm suggests – and I’m not saying you shouldn’t – make very
        sure you turn off abtomatic updating of the iPhone operating system in
        iTunes, as it has been known to turn jailbroken iPhones into bricks. And
        that would make it a pretty price brick.

  176. Do you have to but an international plan though, even after all these steps are taken?

    • Absolutely not, Kris. That’s the whole point -use the wifi and avoid having
      to buy the pricey international plan.

      • I have a question, I understand that i can activate my call forwarding on my 3g while travelling in Europe, but can I forward it to a international number eg local sim card number

        • Hi Mehransd: I must admit you’ve stumped me with your question. I suspect you can forward to an international number but my guess is that doing so would incur international roaming charges. Best to check with AT&T on this question.

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  178. Thanks Barbara for the simplification of using the iphone internationally, this has been quite the challenge trying to sort it all out, and your article really helped. We also found another post that shows you can “text” by actually using email via wifi and everything else turned off, we tried it and it worked – here’s how:

    Email them a text message using this method
    1. Create a new email message.
    2. The important part of the trick is to also know the address of the
    friend you want to send a picture or text message to. Below is the
    list of common providers:

    All you will need to do is enter the recipients 10 digit number
    instead of xxx.. in the To: box for picture messages depending on the
    your friend’s carrier.

    mms messages

    Alltel =
    AT&T =
    Boost Mobile =
    Cingular (AT&T) =
    Einstein PCS =
    Sprint =
    T-Mobile =
    US Cellular =
    Verizon Wireless =
    Virgin Mobile =

    and the following for text messages:

    Virgin Mobile:

    3. Type a message and click send.
    4. The message will be sent to the cell phone with the number in the
    To: box

    • Valerie – thanks for sharing that cool trick for texting via wifi!

  179. I think I’m in a similar situation as Theresa, and here’s what I’m thinking: Since I travel with either my husband or my mom, that allows a bit of flexibility in that I plan to take my iPhone and follow Barb’s instructions without variation. I will also add Mom’s email account to my iPhone so when we do have free wi-fi, she can check her email from my phone.

    Second cell phone – Since we do want the ability for family to get a message to us in real time (most likely via text messaging which is affordable), I will do the following to Mom’s AT&T cell phone (NOT an iPhone) account:

    1. Block Data from this phone – even with blocked data, a cell phone can still receive and send text messages but cannot connect to the internet.
    2. Pay $5.99 per month for the international calling plan to get a reduced rate in case we do need to call out or accept an emergency call.
    3. Record new voicemail greeting instructing callers not to leave a message, and whom to call back at home in case of an urgent matter.

    We end up with an iPhone from which we can check email and call through Skype when we have free wi-fi available, AND we have a second phone from which we can receive and send affordable text messages in real time. Both phones are protected from racking up expensive international fees. Does anyone see a problem I’m overlooking?

  180. Dear Barbara,

    You are an angel. I am new to this discussion and am thrilled to know my 2 month travel to Australia and New Zealand will proceed with my new i-phone. I have not read beyond your July 30th post, but have one question that may not be relevant to this thread.

    I like to write too. I am leaving my heavy MacBook Pro laptop at home and have just purchased (to my son’s horror) an Acer Aspire One. What do you use to write on as you travel? I still have time to return this if I need to.

    Again……thank you so much for sharing this information.


    • Hi Marianne: I carry a Macbook with me wherever I go. Converted from Windows four years ago and you couldn’t pay me enough to go back. The new Macbook Pro is much lighter than the older models ;-) Thanks for the kind words about my post.

  181. Maybe I’ll get an iPhone now :0)
    I have been looking into cheap phone calls recently (am based in the UK) and am interested in Google Voice when it finally gets here plus a few other options, like mobile phonecards from Lichtenstein and The Isle of Man that allow you to recieve free mobile calls (in the UK we get to recieve mobile calls for free unless abroad).
    Thanks for the tips,

  182. Pingback: August Digital Nomad Blog Carnival | Tales from Technomadia

  183. Hi Barb, I’m still trying to decide what to do with my Iphone, to take it or not. I like to have it for just an emergency phone when we are on the road, since we will be traveling all over S. Ireland. And also to keep in contact with my children here at home. I haven’t talked to an ATT rep yet, and leery about them not telling me the truth. Like I said before in my other message, getting the international plan and using the free wi-fi in place where I can hook up. What would I actually be doing different than the instructions you gave at the top of the page. And when I have the phone on, when on the road do I have to make setting changes. When I hook up to the free wi-fi, can I check my emails, post on FB and not get charged. I would appreciate any input you give on what to do if I used both the plan and the free wi-fi. I will only use the phone as a phone on the road, and suggestions would greatly be appreciated.

    • Hi Theresa. Well, you are trying to do two things, which fight against one another, with regard to making sure you don’t incur large charges for international calls. What I have suggested is to turn off the cellular access entirely and use ONLY the wifi. To make phone calls you can download the Skype app and call over any wifi network for just 2.1 cents per minute (or 1.2 cents if you have a subscription) for calls from Ireland to the U.S. Or, if both parties have Skype installed on their respective computers, calls are free from anywhere in the world, as long as you have access to a wifi network. However, it sounds like you are anxious about being unable to stay in touch with your children in the event you are unable to find a wifi connection, and therefore are considering buying the International package for emergency purposes. That will work, however remember the data limits on those packages – you want to make VERY sure that you don’t do emails, go to Facebook, view videos – essentially anything that eats up a lot of data – through the 3G connection. What makes that difficult is that any time you used the 3G connection, you’d have to go through all the steps to re-enable toe connection (per my post), and then after finishing the call, you’d have to reverse the process and shut off the 3G connection. I guess you could print out the steps and carry them with you to make it easier. And yes, using wifi you can access Facebook, check emails, etc, without getting charged, AS LONG AS YOU HAVE 3G SHUT OFF AND THE PHONE INN AIRPORT MODE. I know it can be confusing, but compare it to a laptop computer, When you’re at home, you plug in your laptop to your Internet provider; when you’re mobile you hook up to the wifi network offered by the coffee shop, etc. Same with the iPhone. You have two different modes of connection – the cellular (3G) network, which is owned by AT&T, and for which you pay them according to usage, and wifi, which can be provided by anyone on the road. In the case of the latter, it’s free – someone else is paying for the Internet access and you’re just logging on to their connection. Whatever you can do on the cell connection you can do on the wifi connection, for free.

  184. Barbara – I figured out how to use wifi while in airplane mode. I didn’t know that was possible. According to Apple Support:

    “you can re-enable Wi-Fi while in airplane mode: tap Settings > Wi-Fi, then turn Wi-Fi on and choose a Wi-Fi network.”

    • Absolutely Nichole. That was the point of my whole post – leave it in Airplane mode to make sure there are no cell charges and just use the wi-fi.

  185. You’re correct, I was not in airplane mode. I guess the question is, when I do switch it off and connect to a wifi network (the apartment I’m renting has wifi) will texts come through, and will I be charged for them?

    • Nichole: As long as you have it in Airplane mode and are using only the wi-fi, your texts will not come through and you will not incur any charges.

  186. As everyone else has said, thanks for a such a thorough post. I’ve read through nearly all the comments and think all but one or two of my questions have been addressed.

    How do you ensure that text messaging is turned off on the iPhone? I set my phone as explained and sent a test text from another phone. It was delivered.

    The second question: Can I use location-based apps such as Foursquare with the phone on these settings?

    • Hi Nichole: Just did a test on my iPhone to make sure. I followed all the steps in my post and sent myself two texts from my computer. Neither came through – in fact I got a nag message on my screen that told me to turn off airplane mode in order to receive data. When in airplane mode, all voice and data communications are completely disabled, so I suspect you have missed that step. You should be able to use location-based apps like Foursquare when you have access to a wifi network, but be very sure your 3G is off and you are in airplane mode, or you risk connecting with the 3G network, which could result in very high bills.

  187. This is a great article. I am off to Europe next week and am going to follow the tips in this article. I have a few questions though. I purchased the $5.99 roaming plan from AT&T for my iphone so I can make phone calls and because I don’t have Skype on my phone. Will I still be able to turn off 3G AND make phone calls? Or do I have to turn it back on? Also, do you know if there is a way of making sure I am not racking up charges by accident while I am away? I really just want to turn off 3G so I can check emails and Facebook here and there. Lastly, would I be able to use my Clock and Maps app on my iphone normally? Thanks in advance :)

    • Hi Anna: Sorry, but I am not familiar with the roaming plan; frankly I cannot imagine why anyone would need a roaming plan in this day and age, as all calls in the U.S. are free and roaming is no longer an issue. But maybe I am misunderstanding and you are speaking of an International Plan of some kind, although the least expensive International Plan I could find was something like $25 per month. So, I’m not sure about your question regarding turning off the 3G and making calls – but it does seem to me that if it is a plan through AT&T, you’d need the 3G connection, and then you risk mounting up huge bills. As for using your apps while the 3G is turned off, they will all work, unless they need the Internet -like the mapping service. In those cases, they will still work as long as you can access a wifi hotspot. Finally, to ensure you are not racking up charges, refer back to the article and set y our counter to zero. If it starts mounting up minutes, you’ve got reason to worry.

  188. Thanks Barbara for your prompt response. I don’t want to come home to a big bill. I can use the old fashion way of GPS, good ole maps. My husband has already done the research on the “how to get there”. So it’s possible to just use the i-phone as a phone with the international plan, for emergency and then use skype or vonage for the free wifi. So I have to keep on change my settings on the phone? That will be no problem, I hope. I can keep on checking my usage counter to make sure I’m not going overboard. I plan only to check my emails with skype or vonage and do my texting then. Thanks again.

  189. Leaving for Ireland soon, and want to take my i-phone, I like to have my phone services handy due to the fact that we will be driving around and need it in case of emergency. Can I have both services, the ATT International Plan and the Skype? Turn on the Skype when in the area of Free Wifi, and then use the International Plan when I’m on the road? I’ll be informing friends and relatives to not send me any big files in emails. I won’t be using my i-phone for all the fun things, but will use it for useful things. I’ll play it smart. Can I use my app, like GPS? Will I have to pay to use those kinds of apps? Thanks!

    • Theresa: Yes, you can have and use both the International Plan and Skype at the same time, however using your iPhone’s international plan for GPS services is playing with fire. Your Int’l plan will only provide you with a small amount of data download for free (20 Mb, I believe – check the post above again); after that the charge is hefty. And it’s pretty easy to mount up the Mb when you’re using one of these data intensive apps. You risk coming home to a bill in the thousands of dollars.

  190. Canadian travelling to Scotland with new baby, leaving daddy at home.
    Want to use iPhone for camera, calender, emails, solitaire app, iPod….
    Not phone but maybe texts…
    Do NOT want huge bill, feeling super stressed about that potential. No way to
    afford it on mat leave pay!
    What’s my plan? Will your work for me?
    Any advice appreciated

    • Hi Robyn: Can’t really answer anything about your phone plan, but I would assume the hardware for the iPhone is the same in Canada as in the US, so the settings should be the same. I would try to confirm with your carrier about the plan.

  191. Barbara – Yes! I did a quick test with a colleague and what you described re call forwarding seems to work as you described. So that’s one fewer thing to worry about while traveling. Thanks for your help!

    • Very welcome Gabe – I learned something too, although as usual, I tore my hair out getting straight answers from ATT or even two people who told me the same story.

  192. Thanks for the information. I have had trouble accessing WiFi sometimes when out of the country. Are there simple steps to do this? And also, is there another option if I am no where near free WiFi?

    • Hi Cheryl: Can’t really help you with connecting with wifi internationally because every wifi netwotk would have it’s own settings. But for any open network, all you should need to do is go to: Settings-WiFi-Turn ON-Select the network you want to join. Password protected networks would prompt you to add a password at this point. No other option that I know of if you’re not near a wifi hotspot.

  193. Barbara: Thanks. I managed to get additional information / clarification from ATT. Everything we’ve said so far seems accurate however there’s one tricky thing with call forwarding. One must notify ATT ahead of time and ask that “immediate” call forwarding be enabled for the iPhone phone number. Setting call forwarding on the iPhone itself will have no effect once airplane mode is turned on.
    One way to think of the configuration is as 3 points: point A = caller, point B = ATT, point C = iPhone. My understanding is that when the iPhone is put in airplane mode it signals ATT and then ATT will cease trying to connect to the iPhone (basically point B to point C communication is blocked) until the iPhone is taken out of airplane mode and signals ATT to restore communication. So when in airplane mode, ATT at point B cannot access any call forwarding information from the iPhone at point C. If “immediate” call forwarding is set at point B (by notifying ATT ahead of time) then calls from callers at point A will be forwarded by ATT at point B. Similarly, if “immediate” call forwarding is _not_ in effect then calls and voicemails will be stored at ATT (point B) awaiting retrieval by the iPhone when airplane mode is turned off.
    So my plan is to BEFORE leaving the U.S.:
    – notify ATT to have my iPhone number “immediately” forwarded to a different number (whose voicemail I can easily retrieve via WiFi)
    – turn data roaming OFF
    – turn cellular data OFF
    – turn fetch new data OFF (I’m not sure this matters except possibly saving on battery)
    – turn notifications OFF (I’m not sure this matters except possibly saving on battery)
    – turn airplane mode ON
    – turn WiFi ON
    – reset usage tracker to zero
    What did I miss? :-)
    And why is it so difficult to find all this information in one place? I guess we all know the answer to that. :-)
    Now I need to figure all this out for my wife’s Blackberry on the same ATT family plan as my iPhone.

    • Hi Gabe: Clarification from ATT is an oxymoron. Just spent an hour and a half on the phone trying to get some answers after reading your comment. Three dropped calls, no one called me back as they promised, finally got answers when I asked to be accelerated to tech support. So, here’s the scoop. When you put the iPhone in Airplane Mode, it shuts off all data and voice communication, so if you have not forwarded your cell number to another number, anyone who calls during the time when the phone is in Airplane Mode will get an error message. These messages are generated by an automated system, so the exact message can be different from call to call. Sometimes it will be “This user’s phone is not on at the moment, please call back.” Or it can be ” We’re sorry, we cannot access that number at the moment.” Or even: The number you have called is not a working number.” Totally stupid. I’m paying my bill so it’s obviously a working number. If you set up forwarding on your iPhone, it keeps this from happening, because the call is immediately redirected to the new number without ever trying to connect to your iPhone. However, your information about the need to notify ATT to set up immediate forwarding is incorrect. All you need to do is set up your calls to be forwarded on your iPhone (Settings-Phone-Call Forwarding-turn ON-enter number). Turning call forwarding on at the iPhone is activating immediate forwarding – they are one in the same, and there is no need to call ATT to do this. However you must turn on call forwarding before you put the phone into Airplane mode. If you do this, callers will never get an error message. In my case, incoming calls are intercepted before they hit the iPhone and sent to Skype, where I have set up a voice mail message that callers will hear.

      As for turning off fetch and notifications, I do this as an additional assurance against charges. In one conversation with an ATT rep, I was told that international calling was enabled on my phone (I did not have an international package, but the phone itself was enabled to call internationally). Apparently, when this is the case, even with the 3G network connection turned off, if the emails are set to fetch, the iPhone would connect via whatever international network it found and download messages. Same with notifications – like my CNBC app that alerts me whenever there is breaking news in the stock market. If that happened I would have been charged at exorbitant rates. Of course, it would be impossible for any connection to occur in Airplane Mode, but I worried that I might at some point accidentally turn off the Airplane Mode, so I wanted to be extra sure no fetch or notification would occur. And I also had them remove the International enabling, as per my first step in the post, but I just don’t trust them. Better to have multiple layers of safety in place.

      Thanks for this conversation. I’m modifying my post to add the caveat about turning on forwarding before enabling Airplane Mode.

  194. Great stuff. I have a couple of questions that I’ve been getting conflicting answers about. For a U.S. resident with a “normal” ATT iPhone data plan traveling in Canada or Europe, what happens if all is configured as you suggest except that your iPhone cell number is not forwarded to a Skype number and someone calls your iPhone and leaves a voicemail? Do you get charged for the voicemail at international rates? I don’t mean charged for you picking up the voicemail, just for the fact that somebody called and left a voicemail. (And subsequently I hope no extra charge for picking up the voicemail upon returning to the U.S.) And a slight variation … what if, instead of being forwarded to a Skype number, your iPhone is forwarded to a home phone number (land line) in the U.S.? Will you incur international rate charges for that forwarding and voicemail left on that number? TIA for any information.

    • Hi Gabe: As I understand it, people can LEAVE you voice mail messages all day long and it won’t cost you a cent. They are calling you – you are not using your phone at all. The charges would come into play if you retrieved your messages. However, if you have the 3G connection shut down, you wouldn’t even know that there WERE voice mail messages, and if you press the voice mail button you will get a message that says “you must activate the 3G connection in order to access voice mail.” As for your second question, I believe the correct answer is that your voice mail will not incur charges for forwarding to a land line in the US. Forwarding is included in the iPhone plan for free. Where YOU are physically has no effect on the forwarding service; again it is only an issue if you use your iPhone to call and retrieve those messages from an International location.

  195. I tried renting a mifi from mificlub. The 3 day package. The service was really good everywhere except in my hotel. It has decent pricing £5 per day tops. Quick one day delivery was also good.

    I would buy my own mifi, but it’s extremely hard to find data only sim cards.

  196. Barbara – of course I”m getting ready to leave for Europe and now just starting to figure this out! THanks for this post first of all – it’s been a life saver!
    Can you tell me if you need to do step 1? or if you do the rest – does that cover you?

    Also – I”m just curious if you ever really used your iphone while in Mexico to check email, etc?

    • Hi Sherry. I don’t know if you absolutely need to do step one, but my view is better safe than sorry. In Airplane Mode all voice and data communication are completely turned off, but if you accidentally turned off Airplane Mode and you had the International enabling in place and emails set to fetch every half hour, my understanding is that you’d risk the system roaming on any international network it found to download emails, even though you have the 3G connection disabled. I used my iPhone in Curacao and Mexico to get email, tweet, surf the web, all using available wifi connections. Worked like a charm.

  197. Thanks Barbara – i was told by att that even if i shut off data roaming, the iphone as a smart phone would automatically update and i would be billed for that data usage. the only solution is for when i am away internationally is to take out my sim card and treat the iphone as an ipod touch. if i put my sim card into a non-smart phone will att give me greif about keeping me on my same data plan (data plans have recently changed and i am on an unlimited data plan for $30) – any suggestions or thoughts?

    • Hi Renee: That is only partially correct. What AT&T said would be true if you just shut off your data roaming and 3G connection, but the steps I took shut off updating as well (email pushes, app notifications, etc.), so I traveled in the Caribbean and for 4 months in Mexico without a penny of charge. You do have to make sure you do not have an International package on your phone as well – if you do, have it shut off before you go. Not sure what you intend to do with your sim card – it won’t work internationally – you have to purchase a sim card from the country/region you are in. I do know someone who had their data plan removed from their package by explaining they were no longer going to use the iphone and revert back to a regular phone with no data capability. She did that for a couple of months and then slapped the card back in the iphone, which let her access data without having to pay for it….remains to be seen how long before they catch on. But going the other direction gains you nothing. Your plan is your plan and the hardware is something different. I may be wrong – someone please correct me if I am – but you can change phones anytime you want without the need to change your plan. Even though they have changed from an unlimited data plan, you are grandfathered in, as long as you don’t change your plan or cancel your contract, etc.

  198. Barbara,

    Have you found anything good for free texting? If not, try installing the free AIM app, it allows you to text(sms) to mobile phone #’s in your contact list via wifi or 3g.

    I believe most US carrier’s accept messages from aim via text. I haven’t got to test it out of the US yet. I do know if I go to airplane mode on my iphone with wifi on I can AIM a message to my kids cells and they can text back to my aim name and it pops up like a text on iphone, just leads me back to aim to reply.

    Seems like it would work since wifi is wifi.. everywhere we are. They have some other new features like: use your facebook login to log on AIM plus options to get other social media services linked into your aim for updates and responses.

    Hope that helps

    • Thanks Charles! That’s a gripe I hear from people all the time. I’ll check it out.

  199. Hi Barbara,

    I am going to Austria to study abroad and I am going to try and do what you suggested so that I can use my iphone while I am over there. So just to understand, when I follow all of the steps you listed, you didn’t have to pay any additional charges on your cell phone bill for using your phone in Europe? (other than your normal monthly bill, plus any Skpye charges??)
    I will have access to WiFi the entire time I am in Europe, so this method sounds perfect for me!

    Thanks for your help!!

    • Hi Celina: Yes, I have confirmed it with travels in the Caribbean and Mexico, and others who have commented have confirmed Europe as well. Just to be on the safe side, reset your minutes at zero when you board the plane and check back to see if there is any usage in a couple of days. If it still says zero, you’re good to go. Have a wonderful adventure!

  200. Thank you so much!! I’ll check them out at Best Buy here in NOLA as I’ll also be bringing a laptop to help in teaching my course. Thanks a million for your site and advice/ideas!

  201. What kind of adapter for Europe (Austria) is needed? Barbara, your article is so helpful! I’m a lot less stressed now that I can have my crackphone with me! : )

    • Hi Caroline: The Apple USB Power Adapter (the small square plug that you put your USB charger cord into) supports 100-240V 0.15A 50/60 Hz. It’s worldwide AC compatible (Apple does this with all their products, so no converters are ever needed). This USB Power Adapter has a plug that looks like any other 2-prong plug we would use in the US, and it will also work in outlets in Canada, Japan, Taiwan, and parts of Latin America (I’ve used mine everywhere in Mexico). However, Europe has different shaped outlets, so you will need a second adapter that changes the prong configuration on the USB Power Adapter into the prong arrangement used in Europe. Apple sells a World Travel Adapter Kit which includes the AC plugs to support outlets in North America, Japan, China, United Kingdom, Continental Europe, Korea, Australia, and Hong Kong, or you can just buy one at any electronics store. But keep in mind that other electrical products you carry with you may not have the built in converter.

  202. Hi – I wanted to give an update of using my Iphone in Europe (Austria specifically). I followed all of Barbara’s instructions except I did not do number (1). I did not do number (1) because I did not want to be in a position that I could not use the phone if needed. I am happy to report that I did not have any data usage charges. I even reset the usage meter at the beginning of the trip and took a picture of it at the end (showing 0 Bytes used) before re-enabling the 3G and data. I did this in case I got something on the bill showing usage charges. I used only wifi for skype and other internet needs. I would like to provide 1 suggestion. I suggest that if you use your iphone in this manner – take an unlocked phone and purchase a sim card in the country where you are going. This will allow you to make all the calls you need – where ever and whenever you need. This means even if you are not on wifi – on the subway or tram for example. I found that wifi was not as ubiquitious as I thought it would be. Therefore I had to plan when and where to make calls. Thanks Barbara – your instructions were a big help.

  203. Or to make it easy, just pull the Sim and then it’s basically just an iPod touch. I’m going to use my sim in an unlocked Sony Ericson for calls when needed and the iPhone as WiFi device.

  204. As I’ve been preparing for a trip to the Czech Republic and London in about a week I’ve found that the Vonage app represents perhaps a better option than Skype. While Vonage doesn’t allow for an incoming call, all calls using Vonage via WiFi are free to the U.S. In addition, calls to landlines in each country are .02/minute. The Vonage app is free, and unlike Skype, you don’t need an account. I will add a basic international phone/texting plan from AT&T, which provides “discounted” calls and free incoming texts. This will allow family to text me from the U.S. should they need to reach me. If it’s urgent, I call on that AT&T plan if WiFi is not available. If it’s not, I will wait until I get to a hotspot and then use the Vonage app without concern about minutes used. I would be interested if anyone else has run across this option.

  205. Thx…I already have an iphone 3G, so I have a data plan for use here at home. Sorry for the confusion. I’ll be traveling for a total of 2 wks to Europe, so I can survive without doing all my usual iphone fun. I will have a laptop with me too for checking email and such…So, it seemed to make sense to just use the iphone as, imagine that, a phone!

  206. Dear all: this is a wonderful compilation of info. Thank you! I plan to sign up for the AT&T int’l roaming plan to have the ability to make calls while in Czech Rep but don’t plan to make very many calls at all. Rather, it’s just for emergency such as getting separated from my spouse while sightseeing. Then, I plan to NOT sign up for their data plan but to just use wifi when I can find it and to turn off all the things that Barbara says to turn off. Am I missing something?

    • Hi Ellen: You don’t say which model phone you intend to get from AT&T, but I am assuming it is an iPhone. If so, you MUST sign up for the data plan, as it is a requirement for the iPhone. The data plan will cot you $30 per month.

  207. I am taking my 13 yo son to Europe for a Mom-teen bonding/8th grade graduation trip. I have an IPhone, and he a Samsung something. I would like to be able to use our phones to communicate, especially if one of us gets lost. Any thoughts on how to do this??
    Thanks for the above information–I will certainly use it for accessing the web, etc. We went to Mexico and incurred a $400 bill–even after I followed AT&T’s instructions on how to turn off the 3G–oops, they forgot a few steps!

    • Hi Laurie: If you unlock both phones and “jailbreak” your iPhone, you can buy local simm cards at your European destination and talk to one another quite cheaply.

  208. Before IPhones, we just bought a prepaid phone card in Mexico, then used the hotel phone to dial a 1-800 number to call the US. Would that work using an IPhone, or would we still be charged roaming for dialing the 1-800 number?

    • Rachel: That would not work, because you’d need to be connected to the 3G network to make the call, and then you’d be charged for international minutes, unless you purchased an International plan.

  209. I don’t have an iphone and don’t plan to get one either. The $100 a month just isn’t worth it. In terms of calling international, I have a NET10 prepaid plan which works perfectly fine. Since the minutes are only 10 cents each and texting is just 3 cents, it really is inexpensive. The same rates apply to international calling so a plan of $19 can go a long way. I don’t use it all the time, but my husband sometimes travels to Mexico on business and that’s when I really take advantage of it. Can’t imagine how much this would cost me if I tried to use my landline. Anyways, go to Walmart and pick one up. You’ll see the difference the first time you use it!

  210. I just read about Convertor Pro that is a freebie that you can download from the App Store that lets you convert any currency to another. It’s updated every hour with actual current rates too.

    If I use this app or a weather app etc. AND follow your steps to turn off my 3G network will I still be able to use these apps while traveling?

    • Hi Pam: When you download an app that “updates” from the Internet, you need to make very sure your turn off the option to “push” in your settings or you run the risk of being charged for a connection through the 3G network. If you follow my steps you should be fine, since the 3G network will be disabled, but this means the app will only work when you have access to a wifi network.

  211. Barbara, I can’t thank you enough for this article! I’ve linked it on Facebook and told every friend I know who is traveling internationally to check it out. One question: does the same set of instructions apply for the iPad? Thanks!

    • Hi Ahoyskin: I wish I could answer your question for certain, but I don’t have an iPad, so I really have no idea. However my guess is that, because the iPad’s cell phone function is with AT&T, the instructions would probably be the same. Thanks so much for linking my post! Much appreciated. Barbara

  212. Dear Barbara, Thank you so much for your informative piece on using the iphone internationally. Reading your personal description I thought that you might like a complementary copy of my book, “Follow the Yellow Brick Road: A Harvard Psychologist’s Guide to Becoming a Superstar” as a thank you. Please send let me know and I will pop one in the mail for you. Myra White

    • Myra: Thank you so much for the offer, but I get nothing in the mail these days because of the amount of travel I do, and even if I did, it would be quite impossible to track me down with the rapidity with which I move. So glad the post was a help to you. Barbara

  213. Hi Barb, great article! I don’t have an Iphone as they cost 900 Euros here and you still have to pay for the data plan. But I have been traveling a lot with friends who have Iphones and they are all concerned about this. Like Dave and Deb I would recommend jail breaking it so that you can put a sim card form the county you are in and use their data plans.

  214. Hi Barb, we jailbroke our phone for India, Nepal and Sri Lanka and the fees are much cheaper that in Canada or the U.S. We phoned home for about 6 cents a minute and we used our iphone to call ahead to hotels etc. for peanuts. It worked like a charm and we didn’t spend a fortune using it.

  215. Thank you so much for the info. In your instructions is it imperative that the International Roaming is turned off? As I understand it if this is turned off by ATT then you cant make a call while you are abroad – that is if you needed to make a call and you weren’t on WIFI – ie some emergency where there is no wifi connection. If this is left on the account will you still get the benefits of skype or will you see hidden charges somewhere?

    • Brian: I was told by ATT reps that if the International Roaming is turned on I would risk being charged, although that conversation related to making calls, not using Skype. I’m not an expert, and I tend to err on the safe side, putting multiple measures in place, but I don’t understand how there could possibly be any charges if the phone is left in airplane mode and the 3G connection is off, since it cannot connect to the cellular network that way. And if left on, you can still use Skype, because I did have the Int’l roaming for a year or more and did use Skype, although that was in the U.S.

  216. Also – does the phone need to be in airplane mode the entire trip?

  217. I have been reading all the good information. One thing I don’t understand is if you use skype when you are in Europe through a wifi and call an non-skype enable phone or land line, will that incur a charge on the att international? Also are you able to receive calls if you have turned off the 3g and roaming? And if so does this incur a charge? I guess that is what’s most confusing – how do you receive a call.

    • Hi Brian: Good questions. When you use Skype on your iPhone you are going directly through the Skype network, so there is no charge with ATT because you are not accessing their cellular system. For the same reason, it works regardless of whether the 3G and roaming are off or on. However, you do need to have an account with Skype, and load it with some “Pay-as-you-go Skype credit.” You do that on the Skype website, and you can even set it up to auto charge your credit card when the credit falls below a certain level. If you call someone else who has a Skype account (Skype to Skype), there is no charge, as you know. Your Skype account is only charged if you are calling a non-Skype user, be it land line or cell. The Skype rates are amazingly low, compared to what you would pay for an International call, even with the att package. I’m in Mexico right now, and I pay 4 cents per minute for landlines and 20 cents per minute for cells in Mexico. Compare THAT with the ATT rates!

      As for how to receive calls, I have purchased a Skype online phone number and I set up my iPhone to forward all my calls to that number, which is a free service with the iPhone. My Skype online number is a Florida number, so my friends and family can call it on their cell phones without charge, and if I happen to be online when someone calls (either with my laptop or on a wifi connection with the iPhone), I receive the call directly. If not, Skype sends it to voice mail and the next time I am online I get the message from Skype (I have Skype set up to launch every time I boot up the computer, so I see messages in a timely manner).

      I also have a subscription that allows me free unlimited Skype calls to any landline or cell phone n the US or Canada. The subscription is $29.99 per YEAR. And because I have this subscription, I get my online Skype number for only $29.99 per year. So basically, it costs me $60 per year, plus whatever little amount I pay for calls to non-Skype users.

      As for the Airplane mode – I do keep it on at all times, because I don’t want there to be any possibility of the 3G network being enabled. Hope that all helps. I know Skype can be confusing, with all the packages they offer and such, but once you sort it out it’s a magical service.

  218. Thanks for the info. I’m heading to central Europe next week & still hadn’t figured out how to cheaply communicate back home. I’d planned on skype, but didn’t think about one step in the process that would have cost me $$$. Hope your travels are safe & enjoyable.

  219. I have a 6GB data plan for my IPhone and my phone company is Fido as i lived in Canada. Last year before going to France for 3 weeks I called the customer service department to inquiry about roaming, international charges etc.. to make sure I did not get a huge bill.

    So I have been told that roaming was included in my data plan and as long as I was not going over 6GB I will be fine… After 10 days in France my phone stop working, it was not picking signal anymore. So when back home in Vancouver, I called Fido and told them that about the problem. The customer rep, informed me that I was phone disconnected because of high charges… i was surprise as I pay my bill all the time on time. “You owe us $12000.00 I ‘v been told, for roaming charges of 0.3GB of data….” I was so shock and after about three weeks of intense battle they have step back and wipe of all charges…

    I am going back to Europe and want to use my phone as an IPod and check e-mail using free wifi.

    My question is, If I remove and leave my Sim card at home, follow all your steps, would I be absolutely sure that I won’t have any roaming or international charges?

    Thank you for your impute.

    • Hi Eric: I can’t guarantee anything. I can only tell you of my experience. I have now traveled in both the Caribbean, and for the past two months in Mexico, without a cent of roaming charges after setting up my phone in the way described. Although I have not tried removing my simm card, it would seem to me that without one, there could be no possibility at all of a cellular connection. best of luck and enjoy Europe.

  220. Nice blog. I just got back from France and used an ipod touch for 2 weeks. The only problem is that 1. You have to use headphones/mic to make and receive calls and 2. you have to have Skype open to receive calls. I truly recommend using an handicapped (3g/data off) iphone over a touch for convenience, otherwise youll grow weary of racing to put earbuds in when the touch rings. The second problem will be solved when multitasking appears in OS 4.0, then we’ll be able to leave Skype open. I personally prefer the Gizmo5 app, and made calls back to the US for 1 cent/min over wifi or free with Google Voice/Gizmo5. Then you dont have to do the back and forth to another person to ‘time’ your Skype call. I like Sue’s idea of just removing the att SIM. Thats the sure fire way to not be charged roaming :)

  221. Thanks for the great advice. Upcoming trip to the UK and will want to restrict myself only to wi-fi. It is always helpful to hear from people with “real” experience rather than just instructions from a web site.

  222. Good tips Barbara. I would recommend for those that do not have an iPhone already to wait until they are elsewhere to buy an unlocked iPhone which you can buy in other countries. Biggest issue there is that it’s not clear from the US which countries sell them unlocked. And then, you will pay for it being untethered to any single carrier. Another tip is to buy the iTouch (so you can have access to your contacts, music, internet, email) and a basic unlocked 3G cell phone which you can then use to acquire SIM cards as you go around the world. No traveler should ever buy the international plans! Great post.

    • Jeff: Thanks so much for the kind words and the additional tips.

  223. Thanks for the info Barbara. Funny thing is that the rep told me to leave my SIM card at home, meaning it will be impossible for me to access their network and their outrageous roaming charges. Fine with me, all I’m looking for is the camera, wifi, & the rest you listed, I have the skype app too. Just thought I’d post that suggestion since I guess it’s another way to accomplish the task of making your iphone into an ipod touch. Thanks again for all the useful tips.

  224. I called AT&T because I’m going to Canada. Apparently if your home plan includes roaming throughout the US you can’t turn off international roaming to Canada & Mexico, so they advised me to just remove the SIM card and leave it at home.

    • Sue: I really think you got some bad info. I have been in Mexico for a month now, using the instructions I specified in my post. I have had ONE MINUTE of usage, and that was on the day I left, before I turned it off. Frankly, not all the AT&T reps know what they’re talking about. I don’t know about the inability to turn off roaming for Mexico and Canada, but I do know for certain that my instructions worked perfectly for me. And because I have my iPhone with me, I have my calendar, contacts, calculator, apps, clock, alarm clock, and the ability to talk on Skype to anyone in the world who also has a Skype account for free, whenever I can access a wireless network (email too, this way). AT&T doesn’t WANT you to know this stuff because they want you to buy the International package.

  225. 6 minutes.. This is a rip off.. I guess if you don’t want to unlock it thats one option..but not a good value for money one,.

  226. I don’t want to unlock my iPhone and you can use their sim with locked phone. Unlimited data on 3g and 65 minutes of phone calls.

  227. I don’t know if they are legit or not. but why would you get the SIM Card from them..

    They rent you a SIM for $80! IN Europe they are for free or cost max $3. With the $80 you get 6 minutes and additional calls cost $1.68 per min. Roaming costs $1.29.

    Your best bet is getting a local sim card they are everywhere in paris..

  228. Has anyone heard of the iPhoneiTrip option to purchase a sim card for your iPhone? If you have and have used it, please let me know if it is legitimate—planning a trip to Paris in a couple of weeks, and my husband and I need to be connected to work.

  229. Char with a mobile wi-fi you will wi-fi anywhere in the UK. I think its $50 for 1GB of data (close to unlimited!).

    It looks like a very simple and practical device. You can use it to also connect your laptop. Just connect it to your iphone wi-fi connection.

  230. This is exactly the information I was looking for as I prepare to head to the UK for 2 months. So, if I follow the instructions you provided, I can use wifi access points to skype, email, etc., and DON’T have to have my phone unlocked by AT&T? And can I use skype to call numbers in the UK from my iPhone? Thank you for your help!

    • Char: Yes, everything you have said is correct, according to my personal experience. As long as you are careful to disable the 3G connection and everything that tries to access it (email push, for instance), you will be incurring no international charges. It also helps to reset your usage tzero as you get on the plane, so you can check back and make sure it is not recording any usage. You will need to download the Skype app for our iPhone, if you haven’t already. It also helps to know that you cannot do ANY multitasking when you are talking on Skype through the iPhone. The moment you do someting else, it signs you out. This is not s Skype thing, it’s an Apple thing.

  231. This is fabulous information! I don’t quite understand it the first time through but I will definitely hold on to it. We are traveling to Central Europe this summer and it will be my first time traveling with my iPhone so I need to plan for that.

    Stopping by from Baby Boomer Entrepreeur!

  232. Great article. When a family friend went backpacking in Europe for 2 months, we each made several calls to ATT (the carrier for both our phones). Each time we got “another piece of the puzzle” for being able to call or text. Even then, we didn’t learn a couple of important details until after she was over there, but overall, we did great and so did AT&T. We could text quite affordably and, using my calling card, we could even call on the phone every so often. Gave her a good safety net, kept me from worrying, and a big help when she got a nasty cold. :)

    I don’t think any of us are headed for overseas anytime in the near future, as Sandwich Generation senior home care giving and grandparenting is keeping me pretty busy and work has her tied down. Just in case, though, I’m saving your list. :) Thanks for the info.

    • Hi Kaye: Thanks for your comment. I was intrigued by what you said about texting affordably. That’s something I have not yet figured out – would love it if you’d share here with me and my readers.

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  234. Thanks for the help Barbara. I am actually traveling to Thailand tomorrow and was considering leaving my phone at (gasp) home. Did you get the plan before you traveled and which one did you get? I might have missed it.

    • Aaron: I didn’t get any plan because they were all incredibly expensive for little data. I relied on wireless access points and shut off the 3G cellular connection entirely.

  235. Roaming is the biggest scam ever, even after buying the At&t plan. With the plan you mention ATT charges $0.99 per minute made and receive, while locals pay up to 90% less.. In the UK a local will pay $0 to receive a call and $0.20 to make one.

    If we talk about data it gets worse. AT&T charges $20 per mb vs. $0.30/MB (locals in UK). Over 20x’s higher, imagine the money AT&T is making from you! If you get the ATT Int’l plan the MB costs drops to $1.5 per MB, but still 5x’s higher than local rates.

    An average iphone user consumes 400MB per month. So even with At&t plan the bills will be huge.. If you don’t believe me google “iphone roaming”..

    UNLOCK your phones and go local! or rent a local phone or mobile wifi.. I meantioned before.

    Don’t limit yourself, stay mobile while abroad, but don’t pay Att scam rates…

    • Amen to that, Tomas. I really think people don’t understand just how easy it is to chew up the Mb when accessing data or surfing the web. I personally know someone who came home to a $5,000 phone bill.

  236. I actually just went abroad and used my iPhone successfully.

    I was able to purchase a plan for $5.99 to make International calls at a low rate. I was only make two or three calls so it worked well for me.

    I also purchased a plan for 5MB which I thought would be difficult to stick by, but even a live-blogger like myself fit into this plan with overage to spare.

    Of course, I did cash-in on my hotel’s free wifi, but for an Internet addict, using the iPhone plan was very easy once I figured it out.

  237. Andrew where are you going off to? Have you considered AT&T int’l data plans?

  238. Great article that was very helpful as I prepare to head overseas tomorrow night. I am so used to having my iPhone with me to take notes and listen to music while on the road that I was fearful it might have to stay home.

  239. that’s probably time i consider to get a tech phone too, even better an Iphone, hopefully while in the USA. However I heard than only USA residents can buy an Iphone and only with a contract, is that true? Even if i could get one then i will have to investigate in any case the charges applied in europe and this trick might not work…umm?

    • Hi Marta:
      I have never heard that only US residents can buy iPhones, but I think you can buy one without a contract, it just costs more. When you sign up for a contract you can buy the phone for a much reduced price, but without a contract it is full price.

  240. If you are visitng the UK, there is a service called it allows you to rent local smartphones, and mobile wifi modems, looks interesting

    Many of us forget or not aware of unlocking phones..

    Mobile wifi connected any wifi enabled device to the internet!

  241. It’s annoying that AT&T makes this information so difficult to obtain. I wonder if the reps are specifically instructed to point you away from shutting off data roaming.

  242. Excellent information for those traveling internationally with an iphone. Barbara, this is a helpful post, especially for iphone neophytes. I’ll be passing along the information to my iphone carrying friends. Also, I’m going to apply the same strategy to the Droid phone that I purchased last wee.

  243. Yep, this definitely works! I went to Europe in May and used those same instructions, and it worked like a charm. I was able to use the phone as a clock, alarm clock, notepad, etc, throughout the day, but when I got back to my hotel with free wifi, I was able to use the internet on it for free for emails, etc. And if you have free wifi and have the Skype app, you can actually call someone else with Skype for free. My dad has Skype, so we send him an email and told him a certain time to get on. Then I was able to call him and have a free conversation via Skype since the wifi was free. Quality wasn’t as great as a normal call, but still worked great!

  244. Here in Kong Kong they sell iPhones unlocked by law as in many countries outside the US so yes a local sim card and/or in conjunction with a local calling card make calls to the USA or anywhere very reasonable. Of course Skype on wifi is the way to go – free

    p.s. I still think you must Jailbreak your iPhone to get the most out of it – even though mine is officially unlocked

  245. Ha, iPhone! I only have a normal cellphone – and I just canceled that today (what a coincidence:) AT&T continually charched me twice per sms amongst other things – I had enough. Even though my cell phone was unlocked, I was not able to use other sim cards. They blamed the hardware but refused to replace it. I decided that I don’t really need a cell phone – I am back to basics :)

  246. I love using the wifi feature for my iPhone at hotels too! (and I’m also very careful about my data roaming settings!) I didn’t know about this iPhone Skype app… I need to look into this because I spent a lot of money on phone calls, argh. I probably shouldn’t admit this but I have never Skyped in my life…

  247. Wonderful article, Barbara — and you spelled it all out quite clearly. I believe that even iPhone novices will be able to follow those directions!

  248. I’m a newcomer to the iPhone as well. Compared to other phones I’ve used, the settings are much simpler to locate to avoid exorbitant data roaming charges.

    Good point on turning off automatic pushing of email. It’s those little things that end up as an unwelcome surprise and add up to the bill.

  249. Ahh, I’d forgotton the need to jailbreak it if you don’t have an unlocked phone.

    If you use say a Thai sim then you’ll pay the standard overseas calling rates for that particular operator — these would, almost always, be cheaper than using overseas roaming in Thailand with a US provider (as the later generally takes the local provider’s charges and whacks a surcharge on them).

    But, calling aside, the other big advantage of using a local sim is you’re on the local network (and so, paying local fees) for internet purposes, so you can use all the internet applications (web email etc etc) without paying the roaming fees.

  250. Great summary — another option would be to purchase a local sim card when you are in the destination — that way you avoid the international roaming fees but retain the extra benefits of having phone coverage.

    • Hi Stuart: Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. Now I have a question that I hope you can answer. I have long considered jailbreaking my iPhone so that I could use a sim card from another country, but wouldn’t that just allow me to call cheaply within that country? If I was in, say Thailand, and bought a Thai sim card, and wanted to call the U.S., wouldn’t I still be paying exorbitant rates through the Thai cellular network?

  251. Advertising a rate of 1/2 a cent per KB (as against $5 per MB) is what I consider deceitful – it is the truth but intentionally made to fool people not all that literate with data amounts. Shame on AT&T and others who practice the same (Australian telcos are also guilty of this). Some great advice for getting around it effectively. I wonder how many return home to frightening telco bills.

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