International Mobile Internet Options for US Based Travelers

US based nomads don't just stick to the US for their adventures.

Whether via RV, van, boat, or ditching your typical mode of nomadism and utilizing sticks and bricks accommodations, many of our mobile brethren will cross into international territory at some point - and want to maintain an internet connection.

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General International Tips

The hurdle with international internet is not that other countries don’t have plentiful options . It’s getting connected to them as nonresidents who are just passing through the country on a short-term basis.

The tips offered in this section apply to both Canada and Mexico – as well as any other international travel you might embark on.

WiFi

Public WiFi is plentiful abroad, just like most other basic necessities of life.

You will often be able to connect at campgrounds, coffee shops, cafes, libraries, hotels, airports, and more. You will be surprised just how plentiful basic WiFi can be, even in otherwise primitive countries.

Get the Book

When traveling outside the USA, WiFi is likely going to be your cheapest and easiest connectivity solution, especially if you’re only going to be in an area for a brief time when it may not be worthwhile tracking down other options.

If you’re planning to mix in international travels with your US-traveling lifestyle, it is important to assemble your technology arsenal to include gear that is easily be portable and can be taken WiFi hunting to find workable hotspots.

Getting a Better Wi-Fi Signal for RVs and Boats

As with all public WiFi, the usual caveats apply.

Expect intermittent speeds, needing to connect in crowded public places lacking in privacy and quiet, and you will need to take precautions to keep your connection secure.

Using a virtual private network (VPN) may be a smart way to protect yourself when regularly surfing on public international WiFi.

TIP: A lot of major global websites will automatically switch to the local language if you are connecting via a local WiFi ISP, though there is often a way to override the detected language - if you can navigate the menus to find it. Using a VPN to virtually appear to be back home in the United States however will almost always keep your web experience in English.

Mobile Internet Security, Privacy, and VPNs

Voice

There are several ways to keep your voice phone service working while traveling internationally.

Because nearly every modern cell phone supports basic GSM international roaming frequency bands, the simplest option to keep connected is to just activate international roaming with your home carrier – taking your current phone on the road. This way, your home number continues to work and will ring you wherever you go.

Your default roaming rates may be expensive, but you don’t have to answer every call. And many carriers are moving towards better options for international minutes - in a growing number of places, so check your plan.

Regardless, with your phone active, at least you’ll know someone is trying to reach you, and you will have the option to answer or call back as necessary. However, if you want to make or receive calls on a regular basis while you’re out of the country, you’ll probably want to avoid the default international rates your carrier is offering to keep costs better under control.

Most carriers have special international packages that offer discounted calling rates, and allow you to keep your home number active in most countries around the world for as little as $15/month.

If keeping your domestic number isn’t important, local SIM cards abound in many countries. These SIM cards will make it harder to manage incoming calls since your phone will have an international number, but many SIM cards available while traveling offer substantial discounts for calls back to the USA.

And finally, you can rely on services like Google Voice, Google Hangouts, FaceTime and Skype to handle your calls – avoiding traditional cellular calls entirely.

TIP: If you do get a local SIM card, look into ways that you can forward calls to your US number so that people back home can still easily reach you.

Cellular Data

The most important international data tip is to turn OFF data roaming on your devices when you are close to international borders - unless you are certain you have a plan with good international roaming coverage.

The default international data roaming fees from most carriers can be extremely high – and there are many horror stories about accidental astronomical bills from inadvertent roaming.

If you do need cellular data overseas, you may be able to avoid the default roaming rates by activating an international roaming plan with your US-based carrier – saving a substantial amount in the process.

Roaming with your home carrier may be ideal if you’re only planning a short trip, will primarily be relying on Wi-Fi, or won’t be needing much data to get by with. But for longer trips or heavier needs – it often makes sense to look into other options.

Additional Member Only Content

If you're a MIA member, please log in to see the rest of this guide - which contains additional information on:

  • International roaming policies & options of the US carriers
  • Global SIMs
  • Obtaining local SIMs

Summary

US based travelers looking to do some international exploration have a variety of options for staying connected. With some research, planning, and flexibility, many nomads exploring outside the confines of the US have been successful in maintaining some form of mobile internet.

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