MacMost Now 895: Traveling With an iPhone

If you use and iPhone and travel outside of your home territory, you may run into huge phone bills when you return unless you sign up for the right services. Be sure to log on to your carrier's system before you leave and sign up for voice, text and data plans to fit your needs. Or, be sure to set your phone so it never tries to use mobile networks so you won't be charged. (Apologies for the audio quality on this one!)
Video Transcript / Captions
Closed captioning for this video is available on YouTube: MacMost Now 895: Traveling With an iPhone.

Hi this is Gary with MacMost Now. On today's episode let's talk about traveling with your iPhone.

So you can see here I am on a cruise. When you are on a cruise you are traveling to lots of different countries. In this case I am in Europe. So before I left home I made sure that I took some actions that would prevent me from having a huge phone bill when I got home.

It is important to realize that if you live in the United States your plan only covers you making phone calls and using data in the United States. If you go outside of the country you will find you can still use your phone, especially if you have one that has a GSM chip in it like the AT&T phones.

But you are going to get charged a lot for these services. You can avoid some of these huge bills by setting some things up before your leave.

For instance I went into myAT&T account online and I set up three different things. See there are three different types of things that your phone does. There is voice, text messaging, and there is data. So I went into these and made sure that I chose an European plan for each of them.

Now when you are trying to figure out which plan you want for each of those it is probably important that you just choose at least the minimum plan. You see what happens is that if you don't choose any plan, say you choose no plan for text messaging, and say you send a text message. You are going to be charged the maximum for that. I think I saw prices for a dollar or more. But if you choose at least the minimum plan then you get a certain amount, say fifty text messages right off the bat with the price of the plan, but then all the overage charges, everything over those number of messages will be at a more reasonable rate. The same for data and voice. Like thirty minutes of voice at a minimum plan but then every minute over it's going to be much more reasonable if you have that minimum plan. It is going to be completely unreasonable if you chose no plan at all.

So you can choose a bigger plan of course if you know you are going to use a lot of data, you know are going to send a lot of text messages. Things like that. It is important to remember that text messages do not include i messages. i messages are sent over the internet. They use data they do not use the SMS system of cell phone carriers.

Another option, of course, is to not use anything at all. But it is very hard to do because if you are going to connect your phone at all to any cell towers anywhere you travel you are going to be using some data and you could get a phone call or text message. Remember you pay for receiving messages as well. So even getting a spam message is going to cost you a bunch if you have no plan.

But if you do want to travel and not use any of this stuff then you can put your iPhone into Airplane mode. That will shut everything off. It is important that you do that on your flight over because as soon as you land it is going to connect and you may receive some emails, you might get some text messages that have been waiting, you are going to use some data just back and forth between different apps. So it is important to do that first.

Now one thing you can do is you can use airplane mode and then go into your settings and turn on Wi-Fi. This will allow you to use your iPhone inside of hotels, apartments you rent, even cruise ships like this that have Wi-Fi. You won't be connected to any of the mobile carriers so you won't rack up any charges there. It would be like using an iPad or iPod Touch that just has Wi-Fi.

Another thing that you can do is you can limit your data usage. Go into your Mail settings and make sure you have turned off Push and Fetch for everything. Not just the main setting but for each individual account and set it to manual. This way it will only check for email when you actually go to the Mail app. So you can only go to the Mail app say if you have Wi-Fi and never do that normally. Then you won't just suddenly get email as you are traveling around and have to pay for that bandwidth.

You can also go into your settings and turn off messaging completely. This won't turn off i message. It will just turn off using the mobile carrier messaging which will save you some money there.

But it is really risky. I mean you turn all this stuff off. You don't buy any additional plans and for just a few minutes you accidentally maybe or just on purpose make a single emergency call turn these things on and you get a bunch of waiting text messages, you can get a bunch of data back and forth with your apps, and you can receive a bunch of phone calls or make a phone call and you can easily go over this stuff. That's how people end up with these nightmare bills.

So it is almost the kind of thing you have to do if you plan on using your iPhone at all overseas at least get the minimum plan for each of these three and then have to deal with at least a somewhat large charge but avoid the possibility of a massive charge when you get home.

Then you want to watch out too because the plan you buy, say I bought the European plan, which works for all the countries I visited. However, the cruise ship has cellular here that is not included in that plan. So a few times my phone has tried to connect and I have had to turn on airplane mode really quickly so it doesn't connect to the ships' cellular which would cost, it said, ten dollars a mg.

So I hope you found these travel tips for your iPhone useful. It's always best to go onto your web site for your carrier and check to see what they've got there. Call them if you have any questions. Just make sure you have it all setup before you leave. Then of course remember to shut all this stuff off when you get home so that you don't continue to get billed for it month after month.

Until next time this is Gary with MacMost Now.

Comments: 28 Responses to “MacMost Now 895: Traveling With an iPhone”

    6 years ago

    I made a mistake once when I was Stateside. It cost me close to $900!!!

    6 years ago

    What about buying a disposable SIM when you get to your destination and going local. Should be a lot cheaper than using a US based carrier. You can always forward your US number to the SIM number when on WiFi and then you won’t miss a call either.

      6 years ago

      Have you ever done that? My understanding is that it won’t work with an advanced smartphone like an iPhone — or at least you won’t get all services intact like you would expect.

        6 years ago

        I have used my unlocked iphone 4 in Hong Kong Macau and the Philippines with local SIM cards with no problem. In HK and Macau the HK SIM card gave me unlimited 3g data and with a long distance phone card 400 minutes of long distance back to Canada. In the Philippines a Smart SIM card gave me unlimited data with some texting and phone calls. I never used LD though on Smart, but did use Skype. As for forwarding my Canadian cell, that would cost a fortune & midnight calls in Asia!

        6 years ago

        Just returned to Australia from UK Spain and Germany. Used international SIM bought in Aus and loaded into in an old iPhone3 (unlocked). This gave me a UK number. Worked perfectly for calls and text in Spain and Germany, ironically not so good in UK but we were often in weak reception areas. Also took current (and faster) iPhone4S and used only in free wifi areas for email and nothing else, making sure data roaming always turned off.

    6 years ago

    Long time MacMost subscriber. Love the show!!! Looks like you had a great cruise. This episode was interesting and brought up a question… Can you buy an oversees SIM card and put it in your iPhone (AT&T). I use to do it all the time with a dumb phone. The SIM cards were more affordable (specially in Africa and South America). Can you do the same thing with an iPhone?

      6 years ago

      I think you’ve got to have the phone “unlocked” to allow access to other systems, even when you put a new SIM in. I’m actively investigating this now as we’re headed to Europe in the fall.

    6 years ago

    looks like the same itinerary we have booked for this fall. Which line were you on?

    I’ve already killed my AT&T plan & pulled the SIM, making my iPhone into an iTouch. Set up my old cell number as a Google Voice number and picked up a cheap TING phone with hotspot as a my car phone. Added some VOIP to my neutered iPhone and iPad. Can see how I arranged it all here:

    Kim Sinclair
    6 years ago

    Went to the States spring 2013 and At&T could not provide a short-term plan, e.g., GoPhone for a month, for the iPhone.

    6 years ago

    We’re taking a car trip in France in September. Does anyone have any tips on using IOS Maps or Google Maps in France for navigation?

      6 years ago

      My experience is that they both work equally as well, but they both eat up a lot of bandwidth as the map needs to keep updating and pulling data as you drive. Check out ForeverMap ( which I recently recommended. You can download all of France before you leave home, and then use the map without using much bandwidth.

    6 years ago

    We recently visited Iceland, which has good cell coverage. My Verizon iPhone 5 comes unlocked, so I recently removed the SIM card in Iceland and purchased a Vodaphone SIM card in Selfoss (our first stop). It worked very well. Siminn is another company that is recommended. Check them out. It’s easy!!

    David Smith
    6 years ago

    As a Canadian who travels with an unlocked iPhone, I always pull the SIM card when leaving the country.
    When in USA, I get a GoPhone SIM card from AT&T.
    When in Europe, I buy a local SM card. No surprises when I return home, and local SIM cards are cheap.
    As for GPS, I take my Garmin car GPS and load it with European maps. If I didn’t have my GPS on my last trip to Italy, I would still be lost in the mountains.

    Steve DePass
    6 years ago

    Gary, again, you’ve demonstrated that you will go to the ends of the earth to keep us up to date, and knowledgeable! Good episode, thanks..

    Bruce John Shourt
    6 years ago

    Did you have a body mike? It looks like something clipped onto your shirt but not a windscreen. If you did was it not connected or did you have a failure and you had to use the camera mike? Jenna Mourey (“Marbles”) recently passed the ten million YouTube subscriber number and she has made some of her weekly recordings with bad audio because she refuses to get or use a body mike, even though she recently thanked me for the suggestion. Always make a test recording & playback with headphones.

      6 years ago

      It was a mic on me, yes. The windscreen I had wouldn’t fit it. The situation didn’t give me a chance to test much, so I just went for it. Sometimes you have to do that. If the audio was worse, I simply wouldn’t have published it. But it was passable.

    Marc Kashinsky
    6 years ago

    Also going on a cruise. What about the use of apps like WhatsApp or Millitalk (both in iTunes) for textmessaging only? I use Verizon as my carrier and still have to check with them about options. Great show; read it religiously!

      6 years ago

      App-based messaging uses Internet data, of course. So it is a good option whether traveling or at home. It is essentially the same as using iMessage, except that iMessage is integrated with the same app that does SMS. Either way, you need to train friends to use those apps or iMessage instead of SMS with your mobile number. All it takes is one friend to send you a few SMS messages and there goes your bill.

    mike darr
    6 years ago

    With AT&T, the “World Traveler” is the package I add to my service when I go abroad to Europe. It is a good deal and can be subscribed to for a few days, a week, a month, or longer.

    John C Stires
    6 years ago

    I’m a nature photographer and typically spend over three grand on a camera. IT KILLS ME to see the FANTASTICALLY clear shots (like Barcelona) that come from iPhones (my new iPhone is 3 wks old!) Thanks Gary, good post.

      6 years ago

      Who said it was shot with an iPhone? 90% of my shots were with a Canon SX230, a nice compact. I mostly used the iPhone for the pano shots — it is so handy for that.

    6 years ago

    I have used international SIM cards in my unlocked iPhone. It is very easy. It is also cheaper to rent an iPhone at international airports. Just log into your icloud account and everything you need is there. For example, in South Korea it cost $8.00 US per day to rent an iPhone with an unlimited data, voice, and text plan.

    See this site:

    6 years ago

    loved the photos! were they taken with an iphone, or are you using a camera and uploading? (maybe a topic for a future podcast!)

      6 years ago

      I mostly use a Canon SX230 at the moment. But I do love to take photos with my iPhone. But the Canon has an optical zoom that the iPhone can’t match.

    Sascha Wintz
    6 years ago

    Gary, what boat where you on? Was that the Norwegian Epic?

    6 years ago

    Unless things work totally differently in US plans, all I do is leave data roaming always turned off (settings-general-cellular-data roaming). Incoming sms are free, I only answer them with some other app or email when on wifi somewhere. Same for phone calls, I reject the call and then call back with i.e. skype or face time when on Wifi. I am on a t-mobile plan in the Netherlands, but over the years (and I travel a lot) I have hardly had any extra costs at all.

      6 years ago

      Things DO work differently in the US. All major carriers charge for incoming SMS messages. So when you get a piece of spam, or a message sent to the wrong number, you pay for it or it counts as a message on your plan. If you have unlimited messaging, then it doesn’t matter.

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