If you plan to use your U.S. cell phone while abroad, determine what type of functionality you would like to have. One option is to only use Wi-Fi abroad. Applications such as WhatsApp, Skype, and Google Hangouts will all work with a Wi-Fi connection. You will need to learn how to turn off your mobile network on your device so that you will only use Wi-Fi. It is important to note that Wi-Fi may not be as fast, reliable, or available as you are accustomed to in the U.S.
Another option is to purchase an international plan with your cell phone carrier before you leave. International plans vary in cost and coverage but generally allow you to use text messaging, data, and calling at a fixed rate. You should speak with your cell phone carrier about the types of international plans they offer. This option will likely be the most expensive.
Or, you may wish to consider buying an inexpensive pay-as-you-go cell phone once you arrive in your host country. In most countries there is no charge to receive texts or phone calls – not even those coming from the U.S.! Purchasing a basic pay-as-you-go phone once you arrive in country and using your U.S. smartphone exclusively on WiFi will almost always be the most cost-effective option. In some cases, your provider will even offer a basic in-country phone to you free of charge, and you only pay for the texts/calls you make.
Internet and WiFi
Internet access varies in each study abroad location. Internet cafés are also widely available internationally for public use.
Laptop or no Laptop?
While taking a laptop rarely causes problems at customs, and most come with internal dual voltage capabilities, use precaution when taking electronics abroad. Check with your host institution abroad and with students who have already studied at your host institution to decide if you should take your laptop with you.
Voltage and Electrical Appliances
The voltage in much of the world, including most of Europe and Latin America, is 220–250V instead of the 110V common in the United States. If you plug a U.S. appliance into an outlet with a 220–250V current, you will overheat and destroy it and possibly shock yourself. However, most computers, cell phone charges, have built-in converters (make sure to check the label). It is best to purchase small appliances that have dual voltage or run on batteries. You will probably also need to purchase adapter plugs to modify the flat U.S.-style prongs into the shapes used in other countries.