Cell Phone Tips for Cross-Border Tripping

By chet | July 4, 2014

I was recently swimming in the Rio Grande inside Big Bend National Park and just a few feet to my right was Mexico.  I fondly remember the days of crossing the border as a kid to eat enchiladas and paletas.  As I sat in the river, my buddies and I started considering the idea of visiting the small Mexican village of Boquillas.  Of course, this requires a passport, but our other big question was – What do we do with our cell phones?

Can we make calls over there?  Can we snap and share photos?  We didn’t want to get charged a busload of money because we’d crossed some invisible barrier, but also didn’t want our cell phones to hold us back from exploring.  Ever wondered the same thing?

To find out more about how to travel internationally with a cell phone, I did some research and here’s what AT&T told me. For Texans who want to explore the great big world beyond our borders (which does in fact exist) but don’t want a big bill, here are some tips.

  • Review the International Plans.  It turns out that as soon as you use your cell phone outside of the US, you are on an international plan.  If you know you are going to use your phone, you can sign up for a plan before you go, or you can just use the pay-for-use rate, which is going to be more expensive.  Details on AT&T’s International Plans are right here.
  • Turn off your data. Without a prepaid plan, data usage is going to hurt.  So you might want to turn it off.  An easy way to do this is to switch your phone into “airplane mode” so you can still use your camera or listen to music without racking up your phone bill.  And if you want to keep your data on, post to social media sparingly each day so you can keep track of how much data you are using. If you plan to be posting often, turn off the automatic video play settings.  Those videos will use more data than you expect.
  • Be Prepared to Avoid WiFi.  WiFi can be spotty, before you embark on your international journey, make sure to look up and program into your phone any emergency numbers for your area – doctors, the embassy, tour buses…  This way you don’t have to use bad WiFi searching for these things once you land overseas. To further monitor when your phone is using WiFi, set your email settings to receive email manually instead of automatically, then only check your email when you are sure there is a WiFi network.
  • Customer Service is Helpful.  AT&T also suggests writing down their customer service number (916-843-4685) in case something comes up while you’re traveling. To ensure comfort while abroad, AT&T even has a roaming app that will track your data use and alert you to when your allotted number of minutes is about to expire. While AT&T devices work in more than 210 countries, you will want to make sure that your device will work in the country you are traveling to by checking the AT&T Travel Guide.  Other carriers should have something similar.
  • Bring a charger.  But not just any charger, an international charger so you can make sure your phone is ready to go.
  • Consider Insurance.  Remember to get some insurance before you leave to make sure your phone is covered in case of theft.

I hope this was helpful so the next time you consider jumping to Mexico or somewhere else, you’ll know what you’re getting into…at least from your cell phone.  As for the rest of your adventure – that’s up to you….


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