Long-haul flights can try the patience of the most seasoned travelers. When you finally disembark in your destination country, your focus is likely on collecting your baggage, clearing customs and arranging transport to a hotel so you can finally put your feet up. As you stand by the luggage carousel, you pull out your phone to check your messages when a disturbing text message alert pops up from your Canadian wireless carrier, through their roaming partner in your destination country:
‘Welcome! Roaming charges are $3 per minute, $1 per text and $15 per MB data.’
While it’s tempting to ignore those warnings and assume that your corporate cell phone has lower rates, it may not be the case. If you arranged to have a travel pack added before you left, you are ahead of the game. However the amount of data the packages include is usually pretty low, and if you’re not careful you can still end up with a large roaming bill.
It is unfortunate that data roaming is so expensive, because mobile data can greatly enhance your travel experience through the use of local maps and language translation and currency conversion apps. If you want to be able to use all of this functionality when traveling, and even stream the latest cat video from YouTube, the solution is to get a local SIM card. To use a local SIM card, your phone will have to be unlocked, and it will give you a new phone number local to your destination country. Local SIM cards give access to local rates, and it’s almost always prepaid (not tied to any billing information) so there’s no risk of a shocking bill showing up after you get home.
Local SIMs are a great deal, but what makes it even better is how convenient they are to find and use. The best option (by far) is to set it up before you leave the airport you fly into. Fight that jet lag and after you exit the customs area and enter the public arrivals section, scan the area for mobile service kiosks. In most major airports, you will find more than one option available. Don’t worry about being too choosy here – any provider you choose will be very cheap compared to using your home carrier’s rates. Go up to the kiosk you like the look of most and ask the clerk for a local SIM card. Usually, clerks in these airport kiosks speak decent English, and even if you have never used a local SIM before, rest assured that clerk has set this up for hundreds or thousands of travelers before you. The clerk will likely ask you what kind of plan you need, which is most likely a mix of voice minutes, texts and data. The amount will depend on how much you use, but remember that you can easily top up if you run out of credit so don’t worry too much about the specifics of the plan inclusion. The SIM plus the plan, usually for 30-days, will usually cost $20-$50.
Once you have selected the plan, pass your phone to the clerk and ask them to insert the SIM card and provision the data for you. This should take just a few minutes, and will reduce the possibility of getting the SIM back to your hotel and finding out it’s not working correctly. Before you leave the kiosk, do a test call and check your email and browser data to make sure it’s all working. Remember to keep your home SIM in a safe place for when your trip is over.
While the thought of making an extra stop on your way out of the airport may not be too appealing, getting your SIM sorted out right away will reduce your need to monitor your data usage and hunt down WiFi hotspots so you can focus on enjoying your trip.