1. International Travel Plan on Your Phone
Your first option is to set up an international data roaming plan on your phone. Typically, this involves signing into the account for your wireless carrier and activating the international plan option. AT&T and Verizon both offer pay-per-day and pay-per-month options, while Sprint and T-Mobile let you add on global roaming and data passes.
Most plans ask you to enter the date you want the international service to begin. When you return home, you only need to cancel the service. You can expect the cost of using these travel plans to appear on your next monthly bill.
2. Local SIM Card
A local SIM is a data card you purchase as you travel in different countries. These cards let you tap into local cell phone networks. You'll start using your phone with a local carrier and plan, and you'll have a local phone number too. Many airports offer SIM cards for sale, either in vending machines or in small phone shops.
The drawback to using a local SIM card is that your phone must be unlocked, meaning it can't be tied to your carrier. Wireless carriers are often unwilling to unlock a phone if it's too new or not yet paid for.
3. Mobile Hotspot Tethering
A third option is to use your smartphone as its own mobile hotspot. Most phones have this option under their settings feature. Once you turn the mobile hotspot on, your phone uses its data network to convert to an international Wi-Fi signal that you can use to access the internet. You'll create a name and password for your hotspot and can then connect another device, such as a laptop or tablet, to your new network. While mobile hotspot tethering is convenient, it does use up your phone data allowance and can run down the battery—be sure to keep a charger nearby.
4. Portable Mobile Hotspot Device
One of the most reliable ways to access the internet is to use a portable mobile hotspot device. These devices are much like wireless routers except they work on battery power and can roam right along with you. Your device will emit Wi-Fi signals with secure data encryption, letting you connect your phone, tablet, or other equipment for immediate access.
These hotspots are ideal for connecting a variety of devices. Portable mobile WiFi devices, also called MiFi, can be rented or purchased, and they feature numerous plans—day passes, monthly plans, and pay per GB. If you’re going for the smartest hotspot on the market, go with Skyroam's Solis X coming fully equipped with 4G LTE global WiFi, an 8MP remote camera, smart assistant, powerbank and the option to add VPN encryption as well. Quite literally a ‘Smartspot’ that packs everything you could need for international travel into one pocket-sized gadget.
5. WiFi Dongle
If you only have a laptop that needs internet access, you can use a Wi-Fi dongle, also called a Wi-Fi USB. Since it hooks into a USB slot, the device is not easily compatible with tablets or phones. The dongle works in much the same manner as a mobile wireless router by creating a mobile network signal for you to connect to the internet. You'll typically have a pay-as-you-go plan or else a short-term contract.
6. Public Wi-Fi Cafes and Hotels
A widely available option is public Wi-Fi: any Wi-Fi network in a public area designed for many users. Some public networks have a password for access, such as at hotels and hostels. For these places, you'll also want to ensure that use of their Wi-Fi is included in your nightly rate and not an additional fee, unless you’re fine with the surcharge.
You can also readily use the Wi-Fi at places like Starbucks and McDonalds, as well as many local cafes that advertise free Wi-Fi. There is a significant downside with public Wi-Fi though—unsecured browsing. If you use this option, never log into bank accounts or other important accounts. In addition, make sure you set up and use a VPN to keep data encrypted and secure.
7. Google Fi International Plan
The final option is similar to having a phone with a standard wireless provider like AT&T or Verizon. However, Google Fi is a separate type of service that includes international data within its plans at no extra charge. The service also connects you to an open international Wi-Fi hotspot or network that meets its quality specifications. Any time Google Fi connects you to an open—or public—network, it also routes the connection through a VPN for security.
Some older devices are not compatible with Google Fi's multi-network coverage but can still use one network and the Wi-Fi hotspots. You need to check the compatibility list to see if your current device will get the full benefits. You can also purchase newer devices through Google Fi which guarantee all network benefits.
8. Staying Connected During International Travel
Whether you want to go simple and get a local SIM card for internet access or stay streamlined with a portable mobile hotspot device, you have plenty of options for connecting while on the road. Travel doesn't need to mean being disconnected from your life at home or the rest of the world. You'll find that some options are best for solo travelers, while others are best for those traveling in groups. Regardless of which option you choose, you'll know that you can count on reliable internet to help you stay on top of everything that matters.