Our mobile phone solution for long-term travel

Both Rachel and I are bringing our iPhones with us (both are unlocked) on our around the world travel adventure and life reset. Our original plan was to maintain one phone number and cellular plan so that our banks, friends and family, etc., all had the same number for us that they have had for years. With the second phone, we were going to purchase local SIM cards and use those for local calls and local data while traveling. 

It sounded like a great plan until I started researching a bit more.

We have been Verizon Wireless customers for years. Unfortunately, their international options are quite expensive for people who plan to travel for extended periods of time. As an alternative, I found several positive references to T-Mobile, which allows you to use your plan internationally at no additional charge (although the data speed is significantly limited).

This sounded perfect – I could simply port my number from Verizon to the T-Mobile plan and be good to go – Easy! Wrong.

T-Mobile 90 Day Rule

The T-Mobile option is solid…if you are traveling less than 90 days. After 90 days they suspend your account until your phone pings on a cellular tower back in the United States. I spoke to several levels of support at T-Mobile and they confirmed this. Rachel and I also spoke with someone at a T-Mobile store and they verified it, as well. Something to note is that this is waived for US troops serving overseas, which we think is great. 

Verizon is out…T-Mobile is out…What next?

The online travel community is terrific. We put out a Twitter post asking for suggestions and quickly heard back from several people with great suggestions for us. FYI – if you’re looking to connect with fellow travelers, search for #traveltribe and #ttot on Twitter (#ttot = travel talk on Twitter). There are many helpful people on there!

Our Final Solution

Initial Transition

We are keeping our Verizon Wireless plan until we arrive in Australia (our first destination). This way, we know we have a phone number and data during our travel and for our initial arrival. I called Verizon and they activated “Travel Pass” on our account. The way this works is that if we use our plan internationally, we will be charged $10 for the next 24 hour period. A nice short-term solution, but as you can imagine it would get expensive very quickly for the long-term.

Local SIM Cards

Upon arrival to Australia, we will purchase a local SIM card. Once we verify that it works, we will cancel our Verizon plan. From that point forward, we will operate 100% with local SIM cards in each country. Several of our traveler friends suggested that this is the most effective solution, both functionally and financially.

Staying in Touch with Friends & Family

Fortunately, technology makes this quite easy. Our primary methods of communication will be email, Skype, and the message features on Twitter and Instagram.

Banks, Storage Unit, Insurance Company, etc.

We established a Skype phone number for $50/year. This allowed us to have an established phone number that we provided to companies and businesses. We also purchased Skype Credits so that we can call landlines in the United States via Skype for only .023 cents per minute. This will be used sparingly, but it is good to know it is an option.

Account Verification

Some services require a mobile phone number to verify our identity in case we get locked out or need to reset our account. In these cases, we put the mobile phone number in for a very close friend. He and his wife are also the ones who are receiving our forwarded mail for us.

So there you have it, this is how we are handling our mobile phones and numbers for our RTW trip. We’re sure there will be snags along the way and that there will be times that we can’t get in touch with people or they can’t get in touch with us, but that’s ok! That’s part of the fun and adventure of travel!

Do you have any thoughts to share about hitting the life reset button? Please post below or contact us directly!

8 Comments

Thomas · June 30, 2018 at 10:04 pm

Phone pre paid in Europe? Coverage from Berlin to greece
Looking for good data, but calls and text will be hardly used

    Peter · July 2, 2018 at 8:58 am

    Hi Thomas – We’ve heard of people having great success with purchasing prepaid phones. We don’t have any personal experience with doing this, but may give it a try at some point! We hope all is well!

Todd Powell · July 1, 2018 at 6:33 pm

Another good way to keep in touch is with Watsapp. We used it a lot to chat to our family while we were travelling.

    Peter · July 2, 2018 at 8:59 am

    Thanks, Todd! We have that, as well, but we weren’t sure if/how it will work once we disconnect our Verizon Wireless plan. We’ll be testing it out!

      Alan& Leanne · July 8, 2018 at 4:17 am

      We use WhatsApp all the time for staying in touch with friends and family when we travel and it just works whatever SIM/phone number you switch to, and however many SIMs/numbers you go through – we even used data only SIMs in Japan recently and it still worked fine. Just don’t create a new identity for each new number/SIM.

        Peter · July 9, 2018 at 12:09 am

        Thank you – this is great to know! We can’t wait to see you in New Zealand!

Michael Perry · July 4, 2018 at 4:48 am

Hi guys. I’ve done the local SIM card thing for data in Japan and Hong Kong and then here in Vietnam purchased through Viettel. My unlocked iphone 7 plus has been perfect for me using a data sim card with NTT docomo in Japan, whatever service I had in Hong Kong, and now for 4 months throughout Vietnam. I know of a few other vagabonders that stayed with their US plans but finally cancelled. If you need to have phone service there is Whatsapp but there are other choices too. I needed a US phone and SMS service even in Vietnam for a variety of reasons. You can go with Google Voice, Hushed, Line2, and a bunch of others that offer VOIP services. I used Hushed and get a US phone number and SMS, plus voicemail for very reasonable annual rates. There are a bunch of alternatives but a lot of businesses use Whatsapp so I maintain that service as well.

    Peter · July 4, 2018 at 8:09 am

    This is terrific info – thanks for sharing! It’s great to hear the success you’ve had with using local SIM cards in your iPhone. It’s amazing how many different solutions there are!

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