What to do with your cell phone when studying abroad

cell-phone-studying-abroadIf you have a cell phone service here in the US chances are you’re paying a monthly service fee from one of the major cell phone service provider – moreover, if you have a smart phone you will probably be paying no less than $70 per month.

But now your study abroad dream has come true! You are going to study abroad next semester and you will be out of the US for several months, so you ask yourself, what am I going to do with my cell phone service while I am studying abroad? If you cancel your service and return home, your phone number will be gone and you will have to tell your friends that your new phone number has changed. Let’s face it, it is a hassle! Here are some options that you may want to consider:

Suspend your phone service temporarily

Sure you might be able to use your phone while you are abroad by turning on your international service plan with your provider, however be prepared to pay an extremely high rate for international calls. Another option you may have is to suspend your service temporarily. This means that you will pay a reduced rate to maintain your phone number and at the same time you will stop all phone service while you are away. Different companies have different names for this service and various terms that may apply. Call your service provider and find out what their conditions are so that there are no surprises!

Unlock your phone

Most cell phones sold in the US are locked, which means that the cell phone provider blocks the access so that you cannot use your phone on another company’s network. If you have a smart phone – or even expensive phone – that you want to use abroad, you can unlock your phone by contacting your service provider or Google “how to unlock your cell phone”. Once your phone is unlocked, you can simply buy a sim card, insert the card into your phone, and have a working cell phone for both international and local calls while abroad (this will work if you are using a GSM phone, if you are an AT&T or T-mobile customer).

Verizon uses a different mobile technology called CDMA which is not widely used around the world so this method will not work in most cases. If you don’t want to or can’t unlock your phone you can also rent or buy a whole pre-paid cell phone package to use abroad.

Use the internet to call

If you have a smart phone, download applications like Skype on your cell phone so that you can use it to call home while you are abroad. If you have the iPhone4 or higher,  you can also use Facetime over a wifi connection. Service like Google Voice will also let you text message any phone in the US for free and people can also leave you a voice mail on your virtual number.

Hopefully one of these options will help you with your study abroad experience – good luck!


Posted by ahoontrakul

Originally from Thailand, Apinant grew up in the United States and has extensive international experience traveling throughout Asia, Australia, North America and Europe. He has lived, studied and worked abroad in China, England, Taiwan and Thailand. Apinant is a graduate of the University of Florida with a Masters in International Business and a Bachelors of Science in Business Management.

3 thoughts on “What to do with your cell phone when studying abroad”

Ludosti says:

Nice and easy! Ty

Shelly says:

Can I simply say what a relief to discover someone that really understands what they’re discussing on the net. You actually understand how to bring a problem to light and make it important. More and more people have to read this and understand this side of your story. I was surprised you aren’t more popular since you definitely have the gift.

Katie says:

When I studied abroad in Barcelona this past month I used G3 Wireless. I really liked it because it was pay as you go, not prepaid, so I didn’t have to worry about running out of minutes or going over my minutes or anything like that. They also made it really easy to set up!


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