Travel Tip Tuesday: Traveling Internationally with the iPhone

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If you’re like many of us, you can’t travel without bringing your iPhone with you.  It’s a handy camera, keeps you connected with all of your friends, and can be a great tool if you get lost in a city you’re not familiar in.

Today’s Travel Tip Tuesday comes from a new guest blogger who recently traveled on a Contiki Europe trip.  Check out his tried and true tips for those of you looking to bring Apple abroad. (Sorry Android users! We’ll have tips of your next time!)


Guest Blog Post by Justin McClelland, Contiki traveler

So you’re leaving the country for a while and you want to take your iPhone huh? Well I have the medicine. Keep reading and I will save you a few hours of your life in Google research. With all the time saved you could YouTube the entire Jenna Marbles catalogue (you can thank me later).

Ok, down to brass tacks…

iPhone 4 and earlier:

If you have an iPhone 4 or earlier model. It’s going to either be a version that operates on a GSM (Global Systems for Mobile Communications) network or a CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) network.

Below, I breakdown the major differences between these two network technologies.

Advantage Disadvantage
  • Utilizes SIM cards which allow the switch of networks and phone at will.
  • Dominant technology in all countries minus the USA
  • Ability to use voice and data at the same time
  • Beaucoup dropped-calls
  • Less dropped-calls.
  • Dominant technology in the USA
  • No SIM card
  • Limited global use: 50 countries have coverage that’s spotty at best. They’re mainly in N. America and the Caribbean.
  • Japan and S. Korea also use CDMA, but their CDMA frequency is different than that of the USA. This means you can’t use a USA iPhone 4 there.

So as you can see, if you want to travel about the world with your iPhone 4 or earlier, you’ll want your phone to use GSM. If you don’t know what network your iPhone 4 uses and you bought your phone in the USA, this is how you can tell.

Company AT&T Verizon

And if you didn’t buy your iPhone 4 in the USA. Your iPhone 4 is GSM if it has a SIM card slot. CDMA if it doesn’t.

iPhone 4s:

If you’re one of the cool kids with the latest iPhone 4s, it’s my guess that Siri could tell you everything that you’re reading right now. However, I’ll fill you in anyway.

The iPhone 4s is a hybrid of GSM and CDMA. That’s right, it works on both networks. So by default, if you have an iPhone 4s you are equipped with a “world phone”.

So let’s take a breather and huddle-up. Because this stuff gets real techie and confusing real-quick.

  • If you have an iPhone 4 or earlier. CDMA = Bad. GSM = Good.
  • If you have an iPhone 4s, you’re set because it’s GSM/CDMA.

Ok, let’s continue.

Now that we know what type of iPhone you can travel with. We need to talk about your options for usage. And this only applies to those who’ve bought their iPhones in the USA. As elsewhere, the 2-year contract model that binds a customer to a specific service carrier doesn’t exist.

You have three options:

(1) You may internationally roam directly through your USA carrier (Sprint, ATT, Verizon)
(2) Use an international SIM card with coverage in the country you are visiting
(3) Use a SIM card that’s local to the area you’re visiting

The easiest is option #1, you simply call up your carrier and enable the global option on your phone. This is cool if you really only plan to use your phone very seldomly.

Option #1 example (Western Europe travel for 30 days):

AT&T Costs
450 min/month local call plan (sunk cost) 39.99
World travel package 5.99
Voice calls at $1/minute (460) 460.00
Data at 800 mb 120.00
200 texts 30.00
Total 655.98

* The local call plan is a sunk cost because you will still have to carry at least a local USA voice plan while you travel.

With option #2, you may buy a data SIM card from an online vendor such as iPhoneTrip and pair it with Skype. For this option, the Skype app would be required and it would allow you to make calls over 3G or WiFi.

Option #2 example (Western Europe travel for 30 days):

Skype + Costs
Skype unlimited call world plan 14.00 data card @ 50/mb per day or 1,500 mb/month 239.70
200 texts 20.00
Total 273.70

* The unlimited calling plan would only be so over WiFi, otherwise each call would use 3G data at approximately 1.52 mb/minute. In the cost-example above 700 mb were allocated for calls and 800 mb were allocated for strictly data (Facebook, Instagram, Pandora, etc).

Also with this option, you will need to “unlock” the phone so that it can be used with other networks. This can be done via a simple phone call to your carrier and they’ll perform the process with you over the phone, if you qualify. But if you don’t qualify and want to get your Macgyver on. You can YouTube “iPhone Unlock” and do it yourself.

And option #3, you may just hop-off the plane and cop your SIM card at the airport locally. With this option you’ll have a local phone number and will be set to make local phone calls to your new friends you meet at the pub. This may make sense if you don’t need to call home and you plan on staying in one country. If this suits you, it is by far the cheapest of the three.

I hope this article makes a confusing topic a bit more digestible. There’s nothing worse than meeting some cool peeps abroad and not having a way to contact them later on, trust me. Now you’ll be better prepared to take your iPhone with you abroad, without selling your first born child to foot the bill.

About Justin:

Justin McClelland is an entrepreneur that has a passion for fitness, philanthropy, and travel. For his 2nd visit ever outside of the United States, he went on the Contiki European Highlights tour which then inspired more travel, a 2-month trip to Thailand. You can read more about Justin and his travels on his blog and you can reach out to him on his Facebook page

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