Freeze! Before you snap that sweet selfie in New York City's Times Square, or Instagram that mountain of poutine you're about to eat for breakfast in Montréal, your cellphone bill is begging you to read this. We strongly recommend consulting your provider before you start using your phone outside of your service area. Many plans include unlimited calls, texts and even data plans nationwide, but as soon as you go abroad you could be looking at hundreds of dollars in additional roaming fees.
Let’s say you're on a class trip to Quebec City from your community outside of Boston and that your phone provider is Sprint. You’ve crossed the border and you’d like to check the weather. You open the weather app on your phone and find the info you’re looking for. Then you check your email and receive something with a photo attached. It reminds you of something you saw on the news; you open CNN in your web browser to look it up. You then decide to Tweet about it. This otherwise normal, 2-minute interaction could cost you up to 75$! And you haven't even arrived at your destination yet! It adds up fast.
Note: this anecdote also applies to our Canadian friends travelling south of the border!
If you plan on bringing your phone but only intend to use it sparingly, your best bet is to set your phone to ‘airplane mode’. That way your data won’t ‘roam’ for a connection, and in the event of an emergency where you must use your phone you can simply revert back to your normal settings. Keep your eyes peeled for free WiFi connections in places like hotels and restaurant franchises. These 'hot spots' will give you a chance to go online without worrying about your data. This would be your chance to check email, catch up on Facebook and Instagram that gorgeous group shot you took earlier.
If having full access to your phone is a priority during your student travel program, many providers offer temporary international plans. These make it much cheaper to perform basic online functions: email, social media, etc. International plans (sometimes referred to as 'passport packages') definitely soften the blow and are more than worth looking into. Spending a few dollars on a supplementary plan could mean saving hundreds of dollars on your next phone bill.
Even if you do purchase an international plan, data usage isn't infinite and will still cost you a pretty penny if you're not careful. To avoid any nasty surprises, we recommend turning off apps and push notifications. This makes it a lot easier to manage your usage. Speaking of which, we also suggest setting up your phone so that you can literally track your usage during your trip. Most phones’ system preferences give you the option to set your data tracker to ‘zero’ at the beginning of your trip so that you can check in from time to time to see how you’re doing.
We hope this helps! Next up in Jumpstreet Tours' Student Travel Survival Guides: Travel Documentation!