Replacing Your SIM Card for International Roaming

Woman texting on cell phone

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If you're traveling overseas and plan to bring your cell phone, it's important to make sure you've thought about the different ways to save money before you go.

The first place to start is to make sure your cell phone will actually work in the country you're visiting. Different service providers have different service zones, and while you can always access Wi-Fi, you may not be able to use data. From there, sign up for international roaming and perhaps international data roaming plans offered by your cell phone service provider. However, some service provider have terrible international data plans that either don't work, are incredibly expensive, or both. In that case, you should consider some money-saving alternatives for international cell phone roaming charges. If you travel frequently and don't mind juggling multiple devices, consider purchasing a phone specifically for international trips. If you want to keep your phone, but use it abroad, consider turning it into a native phone.

Going Native

Another way to save money while traveling is by turning your cell phone into a "native" cell phone by replacing the SIM card on the phone.

Many travelers don't know they can replace their phone's SIM card (the little electronic memory card that identifies and configures the phone) with a local (or country-specific) SIM card. In general, when you do that, all incoming calls will be free, and outgoing calls (local or international) will be significantly cheaper. You also should be able to use 3G and LTE data without incurring astronomical fees.

SIM Cards Change Your Number

You need to understand that when you replace your SIM card, you'll automatically be getting a new phone number since cell phone numbers are actually associated with the SIM cards and not the individual phones. You should hold on to your existing SIM and simply pop it back in when you get back home. If you end up putting in a new SIM card, make sure you share your new number with the people whom you want to be able to reach you, and/or forward the calls from your existing cell phone number to the new number (but check to see if that will incur long-distance charges).

What to Do Before & After Buying a New SIM Card

If you're considering replacing the SIM card on your phone, you also need to make sure you have an unlocked phone. Most phones are restricted, or "locked," to only work the specific cell phone provider you originally signed up with. They essentially program the phone so that it won't work on other carriers' networks. In most cases, though, consumers can unlock their phones by typing in a special sequence of keystrokes so that the phone will work on other carriers' cell phone services and with other carriers' SIM cards.

Make sure you brush up on your destination's policies for tourist or foreign SIM cards. For example, it's not very easy for tourists to get a local SIM card in India, so advance planning is necessary.

Also be sure to verify that your phone supports the right network frequencies. This can be checked online with websites like Will My Phone Work. All you need to know is your phone's model and submodel and the carrier you wish to use it on. The last thing you'll need to know is what size SIM card your phone requires.

Once you have your new SIM card, make sure you keep the old one in a safe place, you'll need it once you're back home!

Where to Buy a SIM Card

If you've been in an international airport, then you've likely seen kiosks selling various types of SIM cards. You can purchase prepaid SIM cards that are valid for a certain number of days after activation or for a certain amount of data. These SIM cards can be used for data only, or a combination of data, voice, and texts. Certain destinations also sell SIM cards at convenience stores and of course, in mobile phone stores. You can also buy them in advance online.

Other Options

If replacing your SIM card is too complex or confusing, don't worry. You can also save money on your cell phone bill by using Internet calling services such as Skype or Facetime. Just make sure you have data roaming turned off.