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IT Division - Mobile Device Tips for International Travel

When planning international travel, one of the last items many people consider is their wireless device. However, it could be the most costly. Using mobile devices without an appropriate cellular/data service planning while traveling in another country, including Canada, can lead to very high roaming charges. It is not uncommon to see bills come back hundreds of dollars above normal and there are documented extreme cases in the thousands of dollars. Below are several considerations to take for international travel:

Device Standards:
Check for any operating issues with using your device(s) abroad by referring to the user's guides or you can contact your service provider. To ensure the broadcast coverage, a quad-band (850/900/1800/1900) device is recommended. To roam in Japan or South Korea, a 3G device that operates at 2100 MHz is required. You can also check with the following service providers travel guides; AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon.

Add International Service to your Device:
If you are able and planning to use your device while traveling internationally, you must be sure to contact your wireless provider to add the correct service needed. You need to be sure to evaluate voice, text, and data plans needed. Some providers have separate plans for voice, text, and data so be sure to activate all services needed. You can review international options with the following service providers: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon.

Rent Device/Service for Overseas:
There are three options to renting services for international use. 1) Contact your carrier to first see if they cover the country you will be traveling to and then ask them about providing rental service. Be sure it is only a rental and that no long term contract will be signed. (Some carrier's global phones might work on different networks overseas causing slower speeds) 2) Go with a national rental service. There are several national rental services which allow you to pay only for your usage. There are several companies that offer voice/data rental plans like National Geographic Talk Abroad Travel Service, Mobal International, Travelcell, and Cellhire. 3) Rent a local cell phone after you arrive at your destination. This was the most popular a few years ago, but has generally become the more expensive option.

Always Backup your Data:
Back up data for each device before you depart; best to back it up on something you do not plan to take or a cloud-based service. The exact method of how to accomplish this will depend on your device/service. Contact your provider for additional details.

Keep Device Off:
When you're not using your device it's best to keep it turned off especially if you lock it up in the hotel room safe. This is one way to avoid any mistaken charges for data that may occur.

According to the US Department of State there can be strict regulations about importing and exporting items, which could include technology devices. They recommend checking with the embassy of the country you plan to visit to determine what you can or can't bring in or out of the country. For a list of Foreign Embassy website pages, please visit: State Department's Foreign Embassy website page.

Be sure you have the appropriate power adapters that match the outlets in your destination. Click here to discover the types of plug/socket that will be needed for your trip.  You should also power the device off and on when reaching your destination. This allows the device to connect to local cell towers and stops it from searching for its accustomed domestic towers.

Turn off cellular data services on your wireless device. Having Wi-Fi only should mitigate extra charges. If your device automatically pushes email to your phone; it is best to change the setting to Manual. Many hotels provide service for a fee or have free service in the lobby. You can also look for internet cafes that provide Wi-Fi.

Other Calling Solutions:
Placing calls from your cellular device overseas can be costly. There are several software plug-ins using data instead of voice service to place a call like Skype, Jajah, RebTel, Truphone, Google Voice, or Yahoo messaging. When using these services you can place calls while on a free internet connection. Some do charge fees, so it's best to investigate which service fits your need along with destination. Assistance with these services can be attained by visiting the specific company's technical support.


*If you use one of the services above or any other voice/video conferencing remember you will be using data service. If that data usage is via your cellular data plan you may incur additional charges which could be quite substantial if roaming both domestically or internationally. If you are in a location where you can utilize Wi-Fi, it is recommended to do so to decrease the utilization of your cellular data plan.

Security concerns related to the use of third-party Wi-Fi networks is out of the scope of this document. For additional information on these matters, please contact the WKU-IT Security office via email at

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 Last Modified 9/24/14