How to Use Your iPhone for Free Abroad
Today we go everywhere with our phones and traveling without them is not an option. However, data roaming fees, excessive charges for texts and calls can lead to many people turning off their phone and leaving in in the room. Luckily there are ways to use your iPhone abroad for free. This requires no jailbreaking or unlocking iPhones. The key is to be flexible and to realize you may not always have access to texting, calling, and the internet at all times when traveling but you can get them all for free.
There are many apps out there that let you text for free but the iPhone allows you to send unlimited texts over wifi for free using iMessage. iMessage is built right in to the messages app so there is nothing you need to do to activate this feature. There are some limitations to this. These will only be free over wifi and only to other people with iMessage. This means you must be texting someone who uses an iPhone with iMessage. iMessage is part of any iPhone with iOS 5 or 6 so most people will already have it. For myself, this is easy because over half the people I text have iPhones. And free WiFi is easy to find in most cities. You may not be able to text at any given moment but at most restaurants or cafes you will be able to connect. You don’t even have to go inside and buy a drink, just stand on the sidewalk and connect. Locked WiFi? Just ask if you are a customer. I always do and the server is happy to provide it to me.
Back to iMessage. Be sure to always turn off your data when using your iPhone overseas to be sure you don’t get billed for any unwanted charges. Another great thing about iMessage is you can use it with the iPod touch and iPad as well.
There are many texting apps that are free alternatives to iMessage you can use as well. For example, you can text/message in facebook, google voice, skype, meebo, WhatsApp to name a few over WiFi for free.
How to Text From an iPad or iPad mini
Any apple device can such as an iPad or iPhone can be used to text using iMessage. All you need to do is login with the same Apple ID that you are currently using on your iPhone. This way all of you contacts will still receive texts from you as the sender and your devices will be synced.
You can use iMessage with any of the following:
- Phone number
- email address
- Apple ID
This is handy if you share an Apple ID on multiple devices but do not want your iMessages showing up on each device. To change these settings head to Settings/Messages/Send & Receive.
You can set up how you receive your iMessages on each device. Choosing from your Apple ID, email, or number. Choose one or as many as you would like people to be able to reach you at through iMessage.
How to Know You Are Connected to Wi-Fi
Just look at the status bar of your at the top of your iPhone. If you see WiFi bars you are connected and it is free to text away. See below as an example. You can even turn off the cellular signal of your phone and data to be sure you will not be charged.
Keys to using iMessage
- Only text others with iMessage and be sure they have iMessage on (it is on by default but can be toggled on/off in message settings)
- Note that iMessage is only for iOS 5 and 6 (the latest iPhone software)
- The texts will appear blue when texting someone with iMessage
- No need to activate iMessage as it is automatic when it recognizes two devices with iMessage (blue text bubbles)
- Only text when you have a WiFi connection to avoid charges
WhatsApp Messenger: The Best Alternative to iMessage
If you have have a smart phone and the recipient also has a smart phone there are plenty of apps out there that are just like iMessage. For example, WhatsApp Messenger is 99 cents in the app store and is a great way to text overseas. Both parties don’t need an iPhone to text for free. As long as both parties have the app and are you are using WiFi in a country other than your home country it is free. I use them both when traveling depending on who I am trying to reach.
One great perk of WhatsApp Messenger is when you do return home you can continue texting anywhere in the world for free. So if you make friends traveling way it is a free way to stay in touch. When in your home country WhatsApp will simply use your data plan so there is no need for WiFi and it is still 100% free to text abroad(from home). But note this is only at home where you can use your regular data plan. If you are out of your home country you have to have a WiFi connection to use WhatsApp for free. I hope this is clear.
Learn more about WhatsApp and how it works at WhatsApp.com
Unless you have a jailbroken iPhone you have to use WiFi to use facetime anyway(or pay the additional fees). FaceTime is 100% free to call anyone on an iPad, iPod touch, Mac, or iPhone. Again, just find some free WiFi in the city you are visiting. You do not need to be constantly connected when traveling for leisure so being disconnected part of the day is nice anyway. Hopefully you can make better use of the time when you are connected.
Best alternative to FaceTime
Skype might be what you are used to using and they have made a great iPhone app. It allows for calling for free or very cheap depending on the type of call. FaceTime’s purpose is video calling but Skype will allow you to make regular calls back home when needed. Be sure to add some money to your account before you leave to make things easier.
One last alternative is Google Voice. It allows you to text and call right from the app. You can even create your own custom phone number for it for traveling. Again everything can be done for free over WiFi.
Browsing the Web and Email
I think it is pretty clear here how to browse the web over WiFi. The only thing I cannot stress enough is do not use any international data plan. Usually as soon as your plane touches down or you enter a new country you get a text about some $20/MB data plan which is horrible. If your phone is automatically downloading emails you can expect an enormous cell phone bill. Turn off your data roaming, and change your mail settings. See below for more information on this.
iPhone Quick Guides
- Tap Settings on the iPhone’s Home screen.
- Select Fetch New Data.
- Pick the desired mail checking interval for POP and IMAP accounts under Fetch.
- Choose Manual to disable automatic checking.
Turn off Data Roaming
- Tap the Settings app on your homescreen
- Tap General
- Tap Network
- Slide the Data Roaming slider to Off.
Turn off All Cellular Data and Only Use Wi-Fi
- Tap the Settings apps
- Tap General
- Tap Network
- Slide Cellular Data to “Off”.
Alternative Paid Backup Plan
There may be times when you have to make a call or text in another country. Most likely (depending on your plan) you will pick up on the local cellular network. This is great for emergencies but it will be pretty pricey to connect.
The best option is to temporarily add features to your existing plan. You can do this online or by calling in. For example, Mexico has a calling plan for $4.99/month from AT&T. You can add it for just one month if you would like and remove it the next.
If offers these discounted rates:
• $0.59/min. roaming in Mexico
• $0.09/min. calling from the U.S. to a Mexico wireless device
• $0.25/min. calling from the U.S. to a Mexico wireless device
And for $10 you can buy 100 texts. These are better rates than making calls and texts without them. I would recommend them for when you absolutely need them but try to stick to WiFi. The best part is they are one time fees and you can remove them from your plan when you get home.
If you happen to use a lot of voice or data abroad with no plan that is ok. When you get back home call your carrier and you can retro-activate a plan that can save you money on minutes and data you have already used.
Still there is no need to purchase any texting or calling packages if you have enough patience while traveling. Just use WiFi and text and call for free no matter where you are in the world.