Dear Lifehacker, I’m taking a trip to the US soon with my partner, and we want to be able to use our phones to contact one another while we’re there, and maybe give our folks the odd shout to let them know we’re alive. So we’d need a decent data pack at the very least, and ideally the ability to call or SMS. What’s the cheapest — and easiest — way of doing this? Thanks, Roaming To Reno
Tourist picture from Shutterstock
Despite some reductions in costs in recent years, roaming charges for Australian carriers are still very high. Unless there’s an urgent business need to maintain your existing number, we never recommend using your Australian SIM overseas. It’s too easy to run up an enormous bill. Remove your SIM on the plane and pop it somewhere safe, and plan on buying a prepaid SIM when you arrive.
This has two advantages: you’ll be paying local rates for your calls, and you can’t experience any “bill shock” — the worst that can happen is your credit will run out. Since you’re only travelling to the US, your phone will also have the same charges throughout the country. (This is easier than roaming to Europe, where crossing a border is easily done but can change the amount you are charged.)
Bear in mind also that there is plenty of free Wi-Fi on offer in major US cities, via cafes, hotel lobbies, shopping centres and other areas. For casually staying in touch with family, this can often suffice, and you can use your US credit for calling your partner, booking restaurants or other America-centric activities.
I’m loath to recommend individual carriers, since coverage for the main US networks varies a lot depending on where you travel, and what you choose might vary depending on your trip length (some carriers offer 30-day prepaid deals which make sense for longer journeys but are overkill on brief trips) . The most visible carriers in the US are AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon. Do some advance research and choose a plan that suits, then head into a store (like Australia, you can’t move for mobile phone stores) to acquire it. That way you can be sure the SIM actually works.
The one inconvenience of this approach is that you’ll have to let family and friends know what your “temporary” number is if they do want to text you. However, this is a small price to pay compared to high roaming charges. Enjoy the trip! If readers want to recommend specific plans, we’d love to hear it in the comments.
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