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What goes through your head before you jet off to a foreign land? Passport, check. Toiletries, check. Plane ticket, check. Turn on the house alarm, check.

Prepare your phone for the trip? Maybe not.

In the world we live in, making sure your Android device is ready for the holiday is just as important as any of the above points. Failure to do so could result in you missing out on some must-see sights while you’re on the other side of the world and land you with a hefty bill when you’re back home.

In this article, we take a look at how you can prep your phone before you leave the country.

Data Roaming

Data roaming is the most obvious place to start. Using your phone for making calls abroad can be expensive; using it to access the Internet and web-connected apps can be exorbitant.

In short – most carriers have charged far more for using data abroad than using it in your home country. They’d argue this is because of the various agreements they need with foreign carriers in order to provide you with the service, but in practice, it’s a scam.

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Thankfully, things are starting to change. In the European Union, legislation has been passed that will make data roaming charges illegal The EU Just Made Using Your Phone Abroad Cheaper. Here’s Why. The EU Just Made Using Your Phone Abroad Cheaper. Here’s Why. Thank EU! Rules introduced by the EU designed to control the cost of using mobile phones abroad take force from the 1st of July. Read More by June 2017. It’s part of the organization’s plans for a “digital single market”.

t-mobile-data

The situation is also becoming more consumer-orientated in the United States. T-Mobile now has plans T-Mobile Goes Global With Free International Unlimited Data Plan T-Mobile Goes Global With Free International Unlimited Data Plan T-Mobile (USA) has decided to shake things up a bit and see if they can get any new customers, by announcing a new plan which gives users free unlimited Internet data plans while overseas. Read More  that offer unlimited data and texting in more than 140 countries.

If you’re a frequent business traveler, you should undoubtedly get one of these plans.

(Note – if you’re not a frequent flyer and don’t have a T-Mobile plan, disable data roaming on your device by heading to Settings > Data Usage and turning off Mobile Data.)

But what if you’re planning to be away for longer? Perhaps you’re traveling around South-East Asia or doing a gap year in Africa?

Local SIM Cards

The solution to extended time abroad is to invest in a local SIM card.

Depending on where you’re going, local SIM cards should be reasonably easy and cheap to pick up. Obviously, make sure you purchase a pay-as-you-go one and don’t accidently tie yourself into a contract.

It’s also worthwhile to do some research about your destination’s biggest carriers before you leave. You don’t want to buy a SIM card only to discover it’s for an obscure provider that has terrible signal and is impossible to buy credit for.

There is one more important step to take before you leave – make sure your phone is SIM-unlocked. If you bought your device SIM-free, it will already be unlocked. If you didn’t, you will need to speak to your carrier. Each carrier will have different eligibility requirements.

Lastly, make sure you buy a sim that fits your phone – most modern phones now take nano SIMs, but they might not be so common at your destination. Watch out for micro- or regular-sized SIM cards, and be sure you know what your phone takes.

Check the Cellular Frequencies

Mobile phone providers in different countries use different frequencies and bandwidths for their networks. If your phone doesn’t support the frequency that your destination country uses, it either won’t work or will have very limited functionality.

I made this error myself when buying a new phone for my mom. I live in Mexico but ordered it from England. When it arrived, I discovered it would only support the Edge network EDGE, 3G, H+, Etc: What Are All These Mobile Networks? EDGE, 3G, H+, Etc: What Are All These Mobile Networks? Are you on the fastest mobile network? If not, where do you fall on the spectrum? These mobile network symbols can be confusing, but don't worry because we'll clear it up for you. Read More for mobile Internet. Don’t make the same error.

As you can see from the map below, most of the world has now homogenized its network. The exceptions are North America and the west coast of South America.

gsm-network

But wait, it gets more complicated.

Carriers can also use CDMA or GSM radio systems. Almost the entire world uses GSM, but Verizon and Sprint don’t. If you have a plan with either of them, and your phone doesn’t have a second SIM card slot for GSM or GSM bands, it won’t work at all outside the United States.

Bands can vary from carrier to carrier though even outside the US, so research which carriers (in your destination country) support which bands, and ensure that they line up with your device’s bands.

Turn Off App Syncing

Almost all apps perform some background syncing; everything from BBC News to Gmail is guilty.

During normal usage, that’s great. It means that whenever you open an app, all the content is instantly in front of your eyes and up-to-date.

But when you’re abroad, it can be problematic – both for cost reasons and security reasons.

We’ve already discussed the cost implications of using data abroad, but if you’re using public Wi-Fi in a small hostel 3 Risks to Your Personal Data When Staying at a Hotel 3 Risks to Your Personal Data When Staying at a Hotel Staying in a hotel can prove dangerous for your data security. If you don't want your next trip to turn into an identity theft nightmare, here are some things to keep in mind. Read More in the middle of nowhere, the chances are that’s it’s not very hacker-proof. Someone could easily intercept and read all the data that’s going out of your phone.

app-sync

To negate this, disable syncing. On your device, navigate to Settings > Accounts. You’ll be presented with a list of all the apps that sync in the background. Tap on your app of choice to enter its settings and turn it off.

Anti-Theft

It’s always a good idea to set up anti-theft apps on your phone 4 Android Anti-Theft Solutions Compared: Which Is The Best? 4 Android Anti-Theft Solutions Compared: Which Is The Best? Anti-theft apps like Lookout, Cerberus, Prey, and Android Lost offer a wide range of options for finding or protecting your device: GPS location, sounding an alarm, locking the phone, wiping the data completely, and more.... Read More , but it’s arguably even more important when you’re away from home. The last thing you want is a thief gaining access to your photos, plane tickets, travel itinerary, and various ID numbers.

device-manager

Anti-theft apps will let you lock your device remotely, wipe its contents, and even see where it is on a map.

The operating system ships with a default app called Android Device Manager Find My iPhone for Android? Meet Android Device Manager Find My iPhone for Android? Meet Android Device Manager Jealous of the iPhone's Find My iPhone app? Well, lucky for you there's an equally awesome app for Android called the Android Device Manager! Let's take a look at it. Read More , but there are lots more to choose from in the Play Store. Most of the major anti-virus companies offer a product.

Prepare Your Apps

Remember, if you’re outside your home country, you will not be able to access the same apps in the Play Store – many of them are geo-locked. Even if you can download them, you have no guarantee that they’ll work.

You need to make sure you’ve got all the apps you need 11 Android Apps You Need for Traveling the World 11 Android Apps You Need for Traveling the World If you're going to be travelling anytime soon, you need these apps. Read More pre-installed before you depart.

That includes obvious things like Google Translate Travelling With Google Translate? 4 Tips To Improve Your Experience Travelling With Google Translate? 4 Tips To Improve Your Experience If you plan on travelling to a foreign country anytime soon, Google Translate can really help you, but it has its limitations. Here's how to best make use of this wonderful app. Read More and apps for booking hotels The Best Hotel Search Engines to Grab Great Deals When You Travel The Best Hotel Search Engines to Grab Great Deals When You Travel We sat down to look for the best hotel booking experience online. The ones who are making it cheaper, easier and safer to get a room. Here are our definitive top 10. Read More , checking flights Get the Cheapest Airline Tickets with These Apps Get the Cheapest Airline Tickets with These Apps Looking for cheap flights? Then you definitely need to download at least one of these apps! Read More , and ordering taxis 39 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Uber 39 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Uber Read More , but also covers maps that can be accessed offline, anything you use for entertainment, and news and sports apps that you use to keep abreast of things going on back home.

skyscanner

As a slight aside, if you’re a Spotify Premium subscriber How to Get 3 Months of Spotify Premium for Free Right Now How to Get 3 Months of Spotify Premium for Free Right Now Ever wanted to try Spotify Premium without paying anything? Here's your chance. Get three months for free! Read More , you need to access the web at least once every 30 days to keep your offline songs available. If you know that’s unlikely, perhaps because you’re trekking through a desert or camping in a rainforest, you should make alternative plans for your music consumption.

Staying in Touch

Okay, hands up, who uses WhatsApp? Given that the service has a user base of 1 billion people, there won’t be many readers who don’t.

Remember, though, there are a lot more chat apps that you can use while abroad. Shay Meinecke looked at several of these services No Roaming Fees: How Traveling Internationally Can Be Cheaper No Roaming Fees: How Traveling Internationally Can Be Cheaper There's no reason to spend a dime on roaming fees. Yet, I constantly hear about people forking over their hard-earned money to talk with friends or family while traveling abroad. Read More back in January and came to the conclusion you need to install WhatsApp, Skype, WeChat, Viber, and KakaoTalk if you want to be covered all over the globe.

That might be overkill if you’re only going to one place, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Buy a Case

The last thing I’ll recommend is to invest in a good case for your device.

Yes, I know they can have impact on your phone’s aesthetics and make it feel chunkier in your pocket, but when you’re hopping from hotel room to hotel room, using endless methods of transport, and speaking to your significant other every couple of days, your device is going to take a hammering.

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If you break your screen or damage the charging port, you’ll be in trouble. Your phone is even more vital while you’re abroad, especially considering that you’d have a hard time replacing or repairing it while there.

How Do You Prepare for Travel?

Everyone has their own routines and rituals for international travel, but as you can see, it’s important to make your phone a regular part of those pre-journey plans.

How do you prepare to leave the country? Do you have any tips or tricks that could benefit your fellow readers? Do you religiously make use of any of the tips in this article?

As ever, we’d love to hear from you. You can get in touch with your ideas and opinions by leaving a message in the comments below.

  1. NickB
    July 1, 2016 at 11:50 am

    Totally agree with the author that a local SIM card will give the cheapest rates and the best connections for data. However, there are occasions where it's more convenient to get an international SIM card. For example, if you're traveling to several countries in a short space of time (as I do for business occasionally), getting a local SIM isn't always easy due to some countries having registration requirements. I find that with my international SIM, it picks up a new network every time I cross a border. The prices aren't quite as cheap as a local SIM, but are often significantly better than roaming on my domestic service, especially in more off-the-beaten-track locations. I've used one from http://www.telestial.com for many years, and it's proven to be very effective.

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