iPhone International Travel Tips - 2013

Ben Greiner -

A recent trip to the European Macintosh System Administrators conference in Sweden required me to prepare for a week of international roaming with my U.S. based iPhone. That's when I discovered the iPhone International Travel Tips article I wrote in 2009 was sorely out of date. After some research online (see AT&T's iPhone Tips for International Roamers) and feedback from friends (thanks Kiran), here's what I did to get the most cost-effective use of my iPhone while overseas. Oh, and don't forget your Travel Adapters!

  1. Rented a Tep Wireless Device. I almost rented one for my entire trip, until I studied the coverage area and didn’t see Sweden on the list (don't be fooled by the "Europe" listing, not all of Europe is covered). I did rent the UK-only Pocket WiFi version for my three days in London and it worked great! You can pickup and return at Heathrow Airport or Paddington Station. I highly recommend it. This gave me 150MB of data per day from a WiFi device that fit in my pocket.
  2. Activated International Data. My current AT&T plan includes “Standard International Roaming” free of charge. This allows me to to make and receive calls while traveling at relatively reasonable pay-per-use rates. However I needed to use data for Maps, Mail and iMessages so I activated the 120MB Data Global Add-On for $30.00/month. 
  3. Scheduled the deactivation of International Data. A great feature offered by AT&T is the ability to preschedule when a service will be deactivated and removed from your account. I scheduled the Data Global Add-On to deactivate a day after I returned home. There’s no proration for this service so I had to pay for a full month. However, prescheduling the deactivation ensured I wouldn’t forget and accidentally pay for an unneeded second month (or two).
  4. Prepared my iPhone. During the flight overseas I made the following changes to my iPhone's Settings...
    1. Turned off Cellular Data to restrict all data to Wi-Fi, including email, web browsing, and push notifications (Settings > Cellular > Cellular Data).
    2. Reset my cellular data statistics so I could accurately track my usage (Settings > Cellular > Reset Statistic). This is also where you'll want to check the Cellular Data Usage during your trip.
    3. Turned off Load Remote Images when receiving email to reduce automatic data usage while checking email (Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendars > Load Remote Images).
    4. Turned off Send as SMS for iMessages (Settings > Messages > Send as SMS).
    5. Confirmed Use Cellular Data for automatic downloads, iTunes Match, and iTunes Radio was off (Settings > iTunes & Apps Store > Use Cellular Data).

While traveling

  1. I kept Airplane Mode active, and turned Wi-Fi on, so I could get online at the conference and in the hotel room. Using Wi-Fi whenever possible ensured that I did not use much data and, when the connection was fast enough, allowed for making calls via Facebook, FaceTime, or Skype.
  2. When I was walking around (with no Wi-Fi connection) and needed to use Maps, or send and receive text messages, I simply turned Airplane Mode off and used the 120MB Data Global Add-On cellular service. 
  3. It’s good practice to not apply any updates while traveling. You never know when an update might break something. Plus, updates can consume a lot of data. During my visit Apple released iOS 7 and it was very tempting to update. However, I confirmed at the conference that the update requires verification with the iPhone's mobile carrier and that’s simply not possible when traveling abroad. Any U.S. iPhone user who tried to update to iOS 7 while overseas saw their iPhone revert to the functionality of an iPod Touch until they returned to the coverage area of their home cellular network. 

Return Home

  1. During the flight home, I simply reversed the changes made before and during the trip (see list above). 
  2. Remember to disable any International Data plans (If you were not able to preschedule the deactivation). 


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