Use Your Phone Anywhere in the World: Free and Low-cost Options


use phone anywhere in the worldMy next trip is to Japan and, once again, I’m researching the best way to use my phone as I travel.

Communications technology is changing quickly so it’s worth another look.

I typically stay offline as I travel unless I stop into a coffee shop or some other place with free WiFi. But with digital access from cellular providers changing and new services and apps being developed, there may be easier ways of staying connected.

So here’s an update to my review of free and low-cost options for using your phone anywhere in the world.

communal tables

Restaurants and cafes with communal tables are great places to eat not so solo and to find free WiFi.

Stay in Touch as You Travel with Free WiFi and Great Apps

I’ve used Starbucks free WiFi in North America, South America, Europe and Asia. Yes, I’ve used it just about everywhere I’ve traveled. Of course, Starbucks is not the only place you can get free WiFi but it is a reliable source. (Except in Paris where, surprisingly, I found McDonalds to be better. Go figure!.) You’ll also find it at independent coffee shops, your hostel, hotels and restaurants.

  • The upside of free WiFi is that it’s free. If you’re fine with getting online periodically free WiFi is perfect. I’ve been using it for years but I must admit I’ve had occasions when I’ve had to use my phone’s regular service and incurred roaming charges.
  • The downside is that your identity can be exposed to hackers. As regular readers know I recommend having a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to protect your identity online – especially when you’re on public WiFi. A VPN is an app you add to your computer, phone or tablet and turn on when you’re on public WiFi. I use StrongVPN and pay $69 for an annual plan. I did the set up myself – it was easy. Read VPN for Travel: What, Why and an Easy Setup Guide. Do it once and you’re set for years of security at home and abroad. If you just want it for a specific trip you can buy the service of a VPN for a month for $10.
  • Apps that let you call anyone from your phone over WiFi.
    • Skype – Get a Skype account and add the Skype app to your phone and you have two options.
      • Add a small amount of money (it typically costs just over 1 cent per minute) and call a mobile or landline whenever you choose.
      • Use Skype calling or video free by connecting to others who use Skype. Inviting someone you want to connect with is easy.
    • Hushed – Subscribe to Hushed for as low as $1.99 per month and you get your own private number for talk and text in 45 countries. Our tech advisor, Doug of iHelpInnovate, recommends this platform for the quality of the call as well as its privacy features.
    • Google Voice – You get a free phone number for calls, text messages, and voicemail. You can use the apps on smartphones and computers, and you can link your number to any mobile or landline number.
  • Social media apps that let you call friends on their platform.
    • What’sApp – Call or text friends and family free over WiFi with What’sApp. You can call to any other phone within your What’sApp phonebook. It’s owned by Facebook which means that Facebook will get your phone number.
    • Facebook – An addition to Facebook messenger is Facebook calling. Both parties need the Facebook Messenger app installed on their phone.
stay connected as you travel

Here are a few of my Instagram photos from my trip to Ireland and Northern Ireland that I could upload on the spot thanks to my Skyroam mobile WiFi. You can follow us on Instagram where we are solotraveler.

Roam Like at Home

More and more telecommunication companies have introduced roam like at home options. This typically means that you pay an additional flat rate per day for the days that you use your phone in a roaming area. The rate will depend on your home country, provider and where you’re traveling.

  • Canada. Rogers has Roam Like Home and Telus has Easy Roam which charge on a per day basis of usage. Rogers charges a maximum of 10 days per billing cycle. Telus caps charges at $100 for the US plan and $150 per billing cycle for the international plan. Bell’s cap is 20 days per billing cycle.
  • United States. You have a couple of choices here and your decision will be affected by where and how much you travel. T-Mobile and Sprint both bundle international roaming into a monthly package starting at $45/month. Verizon offer you a $10/roaming day options ($5 if you’re in Canada). You’ll find more details on options here.
  • Europe’s new roaming policy. This is right from the website where you can read more. “The EU “roam like at home” rules mean that when you use your mobile phone while travelling outside your home country in any EU country you don’t have to pay any additional roaming charges.

Mobile WiFi Devices

I don’t have the patience for juggling SIM cards with my unlocked phone and, fortunately, that’s no longer necessary. Here are a few options.

  • Skyroam. With a Skyroam you buy a device and then top up service for it then just turn it on as you need it. If you cross a border your digital access crosses with you. The data is unlimited and so fast that I could use apps like the data-sucking Google Maps to find my way around and stream a show on Netlix at night.
    • Note: Technology changes quickly so if you only travel once a year for a week or so, this would not make sense for you. If, however, you travel a many times a year, skyroam would be great.
  • Knowroaming. No device is needed with Knowroaming but it only works with unlocked phones. Apply their Global SIM Sticker ($29.99) to your SIM card and it will activate whenever you roam or change out your SIM card for their Global SIM Card ($9.99) when you travel. Download their app, upload some credits and you’re ready to connect.

use phone anywhere in the world

satelite phoneThe Satellite Communicator Option

If you’re traveling beyond mobile service you’ll need a satellite communicator to stay in touch. I haven’t used one in my travels (though I could have used it in Patagonia perhaps) but my brother-in-law, a really techie guy, uses inReach by Delorme. It offers texting but no voice. You can also get one with navigation built in.




Last updated: 13th February, 2018

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