So much more than a phone, smartphones let users surf the web, read email, check the weather, view maps, get directions, track calories, update statuses for social media accounts, check bank and credit card statements, play games, and stay in constant touch with family, friends, and co-workers. Unplugging for a week or even a day is hardly an option, which is why international travelers often get hit with high roaming charges and international fees when using their smartphones abroad.
Turn off data roaming.
If your phone's data roaming option is on, your smartphone will access any available network -- even if it's not your own -- and those other networks charge a pretty penny to allow you to use their service. By going into the phone's setting and disabling data roaming, you'll protect yourself from those hidden charges but still be able to access data with your phone via a Wi-Fi hotspot. And since most hotels and many restaurants and cafes have Wi-Fi, it's usually easy to find a free signal. You can always turn data roaming back on to access the web/email or make a phone call, but it's best to keep your smartphone in airplane mode and enable Wi-Fi when needed.
If you leave data roaming on, turn off push notifications and location services.
All those automated email and Facebook updates drain your data and cost you a lot of money. Your apps also automatically update the location which drains more data. Turn those features off, and manually update your accounts when you're within Wi-Fi range. It may not be as easy as receiving automatic updates, but just think how much money you'll save by putting up with a little inconvenience. Also avoid using maps when not on Wi-Fi since loading the graphics takes up a lot of data.
Once you're connected to Wi-Fi, you can use Skype to make Skype-to-Skype calls for free or Skype-to-mobile calls for about $.10 per minute. You'll save dollars on even just one phone call by using this method, and with a strong Wi-Fi connection, it is hard to tell that you're using the internet to make a phone call.
Purchase an international calling plan before you go.
If you absolutely must keep data roaming on while you're away, save yourself a bit of money when using your smartphone abroad by planning ahead and buying a plan. Track your usage before you go by checking your balance online. Then choose the most appropriate plan for you. AT&T plans start at $25.99 for 50 MB of data and go as high as $199.99 for 800 MB. Verizon data plans start at $30 for 50MB and go up to $125 for 300 MB. It's not cheap, but it's much cheaper than roaming charges by the kilobyte.
Take or buy a cheap phone abroad.
Many countries sell SIM cards at convenience stores for just a few bucks. If you're planning on making a lot of in-country calls, it's worth having a cheap or older phone that you can use solely for phone calls rather than using your smartphone abroad. You'll have a local number and will be able to send and receive text messages as well as phone calls.