Here’s how to make it work…and save a bundle
An explosion of high quality, 3rd party messaging apps is making it easier than ever to go data-only while traveling abroad. Sending messages, sharing photos, emailing, mapping unfamiliar cities, and yes – even making calls can all be done over data-only applications, cutting out traditional voice and text costs completely.
Maybe your domestic plan has an option for international travel that sounds great, but those plans are often unreliable, land you on inferior 2G or 3G networks, or limit the amount of voice minutes or texts you can send while overseas. Yikes! No one wants to arrive home to bill shock.
Make it easy on yourself and your wallet and opt for data-only plans. In particular, international data-only plans let you use the same smartphones and tablets you use at home, when you’re abroad, without the complexities. Here’s what you’ll need:
An unlocked device
A global data-only SIM card
If you have an Apple iPad with Apple SIM installed, you can simply select an international data-only plan straight from your device and get connected.
But what about voice and text?
You’ve probably used Skype, FaceTime, WebEx or WhatsApp – all of these let you go about your typical communications over data. Once you get started on these easy-to-use voice and messaging apps, you may never go back to traditional voice and text again. Here’s a break down of some of the best messaging apps available today.
Voice Apps That Use Data Only
Skype – Skype, probably the biggest player in the messaging game, has garnered a devout following, being one of the first apps to provide absolutely free calling from one user to another. Not only do they provide a great service that many people have already adopted, they offer very low rates to “Skype-out” to actual phone numbers. Screen sharing, group calls, and completely free text messaging also help for team collaboration across the globe.
Viber – This alternative gives you a full range of options for messaging and voice calls anywhere in the world. The decent feature set, comprised of messaging, photos, videos, voice notes and voice, also includes entertaining stickers that your more expressive colleagues and friends will appreciate. This is a great set of fun communication tools, all in one single platform.
FaceTime – Exclusive to Apple users, FaceTime lets you voice and video call any other Apple using friend, across the globe. Since FaceTime comes preinstalled on all iOS and Apple products, it’s an easy adoption process for your Apple colleagues to get used to.
Messaging Apps That Use Data Only
WhatsApp – Simple to set up, and syncs with your smartphone’s contact list, this feature rich messaging app combines all the components of traditional text – messaging, photos, short videos and group chat – and sends to anyone, anywhere in the world. It’s free for the first year, and only costs 99 cents each consecutive year after that. The sleek user interface is completely ad-free, making it a great option for staying in touch without any of the fluff.
Telegram – If you’re particularly security conscious, this is the messaging app for you. Telegram provides fast messaging services, encrypted at the client-server level, so anything and everything you do stays safe. The Secure Chat mode includes end-to-end encryption, so only you and your recipient can ever read the content. You can set your messages to self-destruct, leaving zero trace of your communications. You can send files to colleagues, and chat in groups up to 200, all in a completely secure environment.
Facebook Messenger – If you’re keen on staying in touch with your Facebook friends, Messenger is your best bet. Just download, and login with your Facebook credentials, and you’re up and running in no time. In addition to the typical messaging functions, Facebook offers funny memes and gifs, keeping a lighthearted feel, just like the social network itself. You can also make calls and send money right through the portal. This really is the messaging app that has it all.
Extra Precautions with Data Overseas
Even with data-only plans, you’ll want to use a few tricks to keep your mobile data usage in check:
1) Many applications run in the background (social networking notifications, e-mail, GPS, etc.) and drain your battery and data plan. Turn off notifications and restrict push e-mail. Push e-mail is a great feature that makes sure you receive messages as they enter your inbox, but push e-mail uses up data quickly. If you have an iPhone, you can change this by accessing Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendars > Fetch New Data to turn off Push Notifications. Furthermore, on iPhone, you can manually disable push notifications for each app. Click on the app and turn the Notification Center to “Off.”
2) A lot of applications use GPS to track your movements. Turning off GPS, and only using it when you need it, helps cut down on data usage.
3) Data monitoring applications providing users with stats on their usage, like how much data they use during the day and information about which applications are using the most data. My Data Manager for Android and Data Man for iPhone two popular monitoring apps. Data monitoring apps will send alerts to notify you as you go over certain data thresholds.
Going Data-Only Will Keep Down Costs, Period.
Surviving on data only is completely doable for any proactive traveler, and especially rewarding for business travelers. The cost savings can be significant and it eliminates the hassles of managing voice, text and data plans simultaneously.