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

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

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.

Planning international travel in the near future? Check out prices for your preferred destination at Booking.com, Hotels.com, or HotelsCombined.com. Read what travelers have to say about properties in your destination at TripAdvisor.com.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links to hotel booking sites. If you click on any of the links and make a booking, I may earn a small commission, which keeps this blog free to read.

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

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

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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 🙂

  5. 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!

  6. 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?

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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!

  13. 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:-)

    Tim

    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

  14. 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.

  15. 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…

    ~pete

    • 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.
    Norbert

  18. 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!!!
    Norbert

  19. 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.

  20. 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….

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

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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.
        Norbert 

        • 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.
            Norbert 

            • 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,
                  Norbert 

                  • 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!
                      Norbert

                    • 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?
                      Thanks.
                      Norbert 

            • 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.

  25. 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.

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

  29. 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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  31. 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.

  32. 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.

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

  34. 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.

  35. 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.

    Thanks.

    •  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.

  36. 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?

  37. 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)”

  38.  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.

  39. 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!!

    Diana

    • 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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  41. 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!

    john

  42. 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.

  43. 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!

  44. 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.

  45. 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.

  46. 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.

  47. 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?

    Thanks,
    Gene

    • 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.

  48. 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?

    Thanks!

    • 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.

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