What Are Your Internet Options When Traveling Internationally?

by joeheg

“We’re All Connected” is the slogan New York Telephone used to remind everyone that no one is further than a phone call away. I think today the slogan would be “We’re Always Connected” or that’s at least the way it feels. Don’t agree with me? What happens in your house when the internet goes out? Everyone becomes a member of tech support, trying to reset routers and checking connections so we can get back online. Forget if it’s an external problem and you need to use your phone’s connection. (Note from Sharon: Well, if you get decent reception in your house, anyway. We don’t.)

Travel used to be one of the times you’d be able to get away from it all if you wanted to, but that’s no longer the case. There’s hardly anywhere in the world you can be disconnected, whether on an island in the Maldives, in the middle of the ocean on a cruise line or 35,000 feet in the air on an airplane. Almost wherever you are, you’re not far from a WiFi connection.

So now that you’re only a second away from being online, what are your options for staying connected while traveling outside your home country?

Public WiFi Networks

One way to stay connected will be to use public WiFi networks. These locations at hotels, restaurants, airports, train stations and other public places will provide an internet connection, While you can use these networks, by doing so you’re allowing anyone who knows what they’re doing to possibly have access to your data, and that’s if you’re on a real network. The data thieves are known to inhabit places with free WiFi and create networks that look just like the real thing, but all your data goes through their computer.

If you’re going to use any kind of public network, even the one in your hotel lobby, you need to be using a VPN. Here’s a link to find out about our favorite VPN services.

Your Cell Phone

Using your own phone to surf the internet when outside your home country used to be insanely expensive. Depending on your plan, it still can be, but having the right service nowadays can give you free or decently priced international data coverage. For us, this was one of the reasons we left AT&T for T-Mobile and we’re happy we did. The T-Mobile One service of 2G data when traveling overseas worked great on our recent trip to London. You can pay $5 a day for 4G speed and the ability to use your phone as a hotspot.

Google Fi is trying to break into this market offering high-speed international data roaming at the same price as your home service, $10 per GB. You need to have a GoogleFi eligible phone and while some people love the service, others have dropped it after using it for a few months due to connection or technical problems.

Verizon, AT&T and Sprint all have their own version of an international pass at various price points and if you don’t often travel internationally, this is the easiest option.

Buy A Local SIM


Another way to get data is to buy a local SIM card. If you’re planning in advance, you may be able to do this ahead of time or it’s possible to just purchase one when you arrive. Larger airports often time have kiosks located everywhere selling cards to tourists. Like everything, you need to know what you need data-wise, and what’s a good price to pay, or you’re going to be overcharged.

Purchasing a SIM card is easier in some countries than others so do your homework for wherever you’re traveling beforehand.

Look into a Roaming SIM

While not the cheapest option, if you’re interested in saving time and immediate functionality, a roaming or international SIM card might be the best for you. This is a single SIM card with access to the internet in many different countries. Think of it like T-Mobile’s service where when you step into a new country, you’re online immediately. Some of the cards are for voice and data and others are for data only.

There are several services offering Roaming SIM cards:

For Multiple Devices, Check Out Mobile Hotspots

Mobile hotspots allow you to have a single roaming SIM and use the connection for multiple devices. This is the most expensive option but if you need to have several things online at the same time, this may be a good answer. Hotspots are used for data so while they don’t provide a phone number, you can use online phone services like Skype, WhatsApp or whatever other services are available (sorry, that’s not my thing as I avoid phone calls whenever possible).


Companies that provide hotspots typically offer both rental and purchase options. For a rental, you’ll pay more per day and will be responsible for shipping charges (often included in your bill), If you purchase the device, you’ll still need to pay a per day charge but it’s lower than the daily rental fee so if you’re going to use a hotspot often, it may be worth it to purchase it in the long run.

Purchase prices run from $99 to $150 and daily charges cost between $8 to $10 a day.

The one thing you’ll need to consider with a mobile hotspot that isn’t a concern with the other options is battery life. This device is going to be connecting to the internet and multiple devices, all day long. When the hotspot runs out of battery, there goes your internet connection. Another concern is that you’re only connected to the internet when you’re in range of the hotspot. If you have two people using it, you’re going to have plenty of together time if you want to stay online.

Here are some companies that sell and/or rent mobile hotspots.

Final Thoughts

While there are a number of ways for you to get online when traveling, the one that’s best for you will depend on how often you travel, where you’re going and how much data you need to use. For the casual traveler, using the data from your cellular provider may be enough when combined with the WiFi at your hotel. If you’re going to be traveling in one location for weeks or months, getting a local SIM will usually be the best option. Roaming SIM and Mobile Hotspots are specialized items which will be perfect for some users but overkill for the casual traveler.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary



1 comment

Timothy Archer April 26, 2019 - 9:40 am

Two phrases match my experience:
” we left AT&T for T-Mobile” and “Well, if you get decent reception in your house, anyway. We don’t.”

Exactly. T-Mobile is wonderful internationally and downright crappy domestically. If it were just for me, I’d consider T-Mobile again, because I’m out of the country a lot. But for my family, driving the highways of Texas, the connectivity problems are too much to handle.


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