Using Your SIM Card Overseas
When cellphones first came to South Africa we had a choice between two service providers. Dave chose to go with Vodacom and I went with MTN. Locally I do not think one is better than the other. But when we travel there is a vast difference. So, how do we go about using our sim card when overseas?
Download off-line maps and a translating app
Google maps allows you to download off-line maps which are available on your phone for 30 days. I have found this to be fantastic. You can search for places but you will not be able to use the direction function. No need to worry as the little blue dot moves with you using GPS. This way you will know if you are heading in the right direction. I also make use of Google translate. I have the Italian and French dictionaries saved as these are the two countries we visit most often.
Before you leave
I would highly recommend that you turn your mobile data off before you leave the country. Data costs when overseas will be prohibitive and not worth using. Activate your international roaming. Even if you do not use your phone at all it is worth having this service should an emergency arise. Make sure your carrier is set to automatic.
When you land
When you land and turn your phone on, your phone will search for a service provider. As soon as you are on a local cellphone network you will be sent an SMS from your local service provider. This short message will outline the costs for calls, texts and data. MTN has charged me up to R20 to send a text message! Vodacom never charge Dave so go figure? I am also charged when I let my calls go to voice mail. This usually does not amount to much and so I leave my SIM card in the phone. If you would prefer not to have this happen to you, take your sim card out of your phone. You will still be able to make emergency calls.
Get a local sim card
Dave and I have a spare phone with a UK Vodacom pay as you go sim card. I only use this for airtime in case we need to make phone calls when we are away. Or to send text messages. If you are planning a trip to the UK I can highly recommend getting a giffgaff card. They will post it to you anywhere in the world. If not, buy a sim card when you land at the airport. You can ask for data and airtime. Keep in mind that you won’t need much data when travelling as most places have free wi-fi. For this reason I purchase very little data for our UK number. If you need to tether your phone to other devices make sure you ask before you get the sim card whether this is possible.
As data is so cheap overseas nearly every single public place offers free wi-fi. This includes most major train stations, some trams and busses and even some trains. Restaurants, coffee shops and pubs expect you to use their wi-fi. Just be sure to order something as a way of paying for it. All hotels have wi-fi, but not always in the rooms. Make good use of this to check emails, and send messages. I use WhatsApp for calls and messages as my App of choice.
Did this help?
I hope this helps you when travelling abroad. I have done a fair bit of research into the various options and would suggest you check which network offers the best coverage for where you are travelling. It takes a lot of stress off your shoulders if you do this before you leave home. Let me know in the comments below which sim card you use for travelling.