So let's get excited and do this thing!
Part 1: Cellphones
Cellphones can be pretty tricky when it comes to going abroad. Do I need a SIM card? An international plan? Can I text/tweet/Facebook/tumble/Instagram/Google/fly to the moon? Is there wi-fi? The list goes on and on. Hopefully, I'll answer you questions, and if not, the trusty Google machine will work it's magic for you.
- Can I use my phone while traveling/studying abroad? Yes, for a price. International fees for calls, texts, and data usage are pretty high and fees rack up quickly. The first thing you should do is contact your network provider and find out if your phone will work overseas. Click here to chat with International Support for Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T (sorry if yours isn't here!).
They will tell you whether your phone is compatible with the network supported by your respective country/destination. If compatible, your provider can offer you an international coverage package so you can use your phone while abroad. This can be expensive, so I only suggest it if you're going to be gone for 2+ months or are traveling to multiple countries over a long period. One girl in my program paid over $500 for an unlimited international plan--and that was for only a month!
If your phone isn't compatible (mine wasn't), you can either buy a plan in your destined country (again, expensive and only recommended for long-term stays) or buy a pre-paid phone there (this is what most students do). This is the route I took and I'll write more later and link it here. You can also download different apps that allow you to make calls and send texts via wi-fi while your phone is on Airplane Mode.
- Do I need an international SIM card? Truthfully, I have no idea how a SIM card works. I wiki'ed it and it was way beyond my computing abilities. However, I do know that you need one when in countries that use GSM networks. If your phone is compatible, you can have your phone "unlocked" so that it'll work overseas. Then, you can buy a SIM card at your destination.
If your phone isn't compatible with the network, you can skip all this. Confusing, I know.
(If anyone smarter than me knows more about this SIM card crap, please do not hesitate to let me know!)
- What's Airplane Mode? Airplane mode is your new best friend (and yes, I know the numbers got messed up). Airplane mode turns off all your calling, texting, and data using capabilities on your phone, while still allowing you to use wi-fi. This is a great thing for people who aren't planning on buying an international plan or who can't use their phones while abroad. Any of your apps that utilize wi-fi will work without impacting your billing statement. That's right, no bill. It's like getting free data wherever you go!
- Can I text/tweet/Facebook/tumble/Instagram/Google/launch-missiles while traveling abroad?Yes! With an international plan, you should be able to use your phone just as you would in the States. Airplane mode will allow you to use most of your apps whenever you have access to wi-fi.
- Is there wi-fi in my country? Likely yes. Nearly all countries have wi-fi available. Most major cities and college campuses have wi-fi and even smaller places will have at least one modem. It may not always be free, but it will be there.
If you're going to the middle of the desert, rainforest, or jungle? Don't count on it.
- Can I use my phone on the plane? Only on airplane mode, and after the pilot announces that you can turn on your cell. All call and text functions must be turned off for the duration of your flight.
Part 2: Computers and Tablets
What on Earth would we do without our computers?
- Should I bring my laptop/tablet? This is entirely up to you. If you're a student, most definitely bring one or both with you. If you're just vacationing for a few weeks? Maybe just your tablet. Think about how likely it will be used. If you think it's worth bringing, bring it.
- What's the risk of my laptop/tablet being stolen? This depends on your destination country/city and where you're staying. If you're going to Europe and staying in a nicer hotel or apartment, your stuff should be safe. Sometimes hotels will provide safes in the room that you can put your stuff in, or have a "house safe" if you're worried about theft. If you're in a shadier area, you might have to carry your laptop/tablet with you, which will be a hassle.
You can also download anti-theft software. If you report your device as stolen, the software will automatically lock down your computer and use GPS to find it's location. Some programs will completely wipe the device's memory so no personal information (or any information for that matter) will be out in the open.
- Can I use my computer/tablet on the plane? Maybe. Some airlines are starting to offer wi-fi during international flights (for a significant price) but most likely you won't have access. Many people will do paperwork on flights on their computers and many use tablets in order to read on long flights. I'd definitely check with your airline if you have any concerns.
Part 3: Charging your Electronics
- Will I be able to use my charger? Yes, but you'll need a plug-in adapter. International outlets are different from American ones, and some countries also use a different power level than the US. Buying an adapter from any electronics section of a store will allow you to use your chargers that have American plugs. (You should also be able to use different adapter fittings to charge electronics that you buy overseas that have international plugs).
- Should I buy an adapter or a converter? A converter moderates the power level of your country to a level compatible with American electronics. You mostly need a converter when using hot hair tools, electric razors, and with phone and camera chargers. The converter will prevent the increased power level from frying your tech.
Laptops are now built with internal converters (all those after 2009ish), so you won't need one for it overseas. In fact, using an external converter with your laptop lowers the power so much that it won't actually charge!
FIY: Nearly all converters come with an adapter!!
- Will I need more than one? This depends on how many electronics you plan on bringing. If you have multiple things that need wall outlets, I'd definitely advise bringing at least two.
However, to save yourself time and money, figure out if you can combine any of your chargers. For example, my Kindle, mp3 player, and camera all have USB-plug-in chargers; thus, I can charge them through my laptop while it's plugged in to the wall. If you can charge multiple things at once, you won't need to bring more than one adapter/converter.
Honestly, those are all the electronics questions I can think of. If anyone has more questions, don't hesitate to leave a comment or send a tweet! I'd love to add more helpful hints!
See you in my next post! Bon chance!