Use Your Smartphone's GPS Internationally Without Incurring Roaming Charges

It's extremely comforting to have GPS with you when you're travelling in strange foreign lands, but unfortunately any incoming call could charge you fees. Reader Aaron shows us how to avoid these fees while keeping your GPS turned on.

Photo by Johan Larsson.

I've been researching online how to travel to Europe with my iPhone, and think I just came up with an original idea. I haven't seen this suggested anywhere else online.

I'm biking up the Mosel River, so I want to use my GPS map app to track my route and distances. This doesn't require data or cellular connection, only GPS. However, the GPS receiver doesn't work in aeroplane mode. But if aeroplane mode is off and I receive a call, I'll get an international call fee (even if I don't answer it).

My solution is to use call forwarding. Turn on call forwarding to my office phone (I don't have a home phone anymore). Any calls received will be directed to the other number and not to my phone in Europe. Then I turn off data roaming as well. So no calls and no data (except via Wi-Fi), but the GPS still works! I called AT&T and verified that the call isn't routed to Europe and back to my office, so it's safe.

Turn on call forwarding through: Settings > Phone > Call Forwarding > On/Off.

It's also easy to toggle on and off, in case you really need to be able to receive a call. This also doesn't affect your ability to make outgoing calls in any way.

This would of course also work for anyone who sets up an international roaming data plan through AT&T, but doesn't want to accidentally receive any calls. I ran this entire scenario by the AT&T rep I spoke to and she agreed that it would work the way I intended.

While we don't have a foreign country nearby to test this theory out, the logic is sound. One thing to keep an eye on: You might incur charges for call forwarding, which would offset some of the advantages of not paying for roaming charges.


    i thought if you have call forwarding it will first route through the "foreign" country and then forward back to the home country; hence double-dipping the charges?

    You need to be really careful with this!
    You need to set up the call forwarding before you leave your home country.

    If you only set it up when you are in the foreign country and someone calls you from your home country, you may be charge for the call from your home country to the foreign country AND for a call back from the foreign country to the call-forward number (or voicemail if you've set it up to go straight to voicemail). At least that's how it worked with (non-US) carriers I've been with.

    Bear in mind that your GPS subsystem might require a data connection to get localised if you travel far enough from your home location or last known position (at least, an iPhone does). Data roaming is at least as expensive as voice roaming, so you may want to switch that off too.

    Recently while travelling without roaming enabled on my phone, I couldn't find a free Wi-Fi connection in Hong Kong, so I couldn't get a GPS fix. But once I got to Italy and connected via my hotel's Wi-Fi, the GPS was able to lock in and stayed pretty accurate in that region. In France, I had to use data roaming to get a fix and find my way around using Google Maps, and I burned through about ten euros of credit in one day trip.

    if you use a non-iphone you are fine... just turn off a-gps and use normal old gps. it will take longer to get an initial fix.

    gps was around a lot longer than the internet. you do *not* need a net connection to use gps unless you own an evil phone...

    oh, and saving the maps locally is a good idea... garmin, nokia and even google maps can be stored locally.

      Map cacheing is a big plus if you want to avoid data charges. On Android, the Brut Mod for google maps can cache, as can Maverick. The trick is to get a wifi connection, then browse over your intended route (and a bit either side in case you get lost) at the zoom level you normally use, and the maps will be waiting on your phone when you travel.

      Or, of course, the easier answer is to get a local sim card. Most of Europe has very reasonable unlimited data pay as you go deals (unlike Aus!).

    If you're forwarding all incoming calls then why bother even using the same SIM? Just buy a local pay as you go SIM with some data included and avoid all the forwarding nonsense. This means you can still make outward calls and you can give a same-country number to anyone you meet on your travels.

    I do this every time I go abroad on holiday. I take my phone, buy a cheap PAYG SIM and chuck it out when I head back to Australia.

    My android has downloaded entire maps and stored them on to a separate SD card. I then forward my phone to my voip number which records a message and emails it to me.
    When in wifi, I collect messages and either email back or phone on skype.

    Cost = Nothing

    On my Android (2.2) phone, GPS works fine in airplane mode. GPS is entirely passive, it receives radio signals, but does not transmit anything, there is no reason at all for airplane mode to turn it off. BRUT mod for google maps can cache maps if you want maps, MyTracks will also still record tracks, you just won't get pretty maps behind the track.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now