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How To Stay Connected Abroad

Staying Connected Abroad

Whether you’re travelling for work, are a digital nomad or just need to check in on your business at home, staying connected abroade is becoming an increasingly important.

A few things will influence how you decide to stay connected when travelling overseas. Your budget, your destination, your country of residence, how secure the network needs to be and how often you need to get connected. The aforementioned are all factors that will influence which “connection option’ you choose.

Wifi Hotspot

WiFi Hotspots

There are two types of WiFi hot spots; the free public access networks (not always secure) and the paid, usually semi-secured ones. It’s never a bad idea to think about wireless security, especially when staying connected abroad.

WiFi hot spots can be found practically anywhere. I was cycling in the middle of the Kazakh desert, and came across a small restaurant on the outskirts of a tiny farming town – to my surprise they had free WiFi access! This is also probably the cheapest connection option and if doesn’t require any additional software, plans or gadgets to use.

On the downside, it can sometimes be frustrating trying to find a good, reliable network in a quiet location. You also can’t always get connected when you want and some advanced planning might be needed. Furthermore, for those who do business, work with financial/identity information or otherwise need a secure network might not find this solution acceptable.

Generally speaking, this option is good for budget travelers, travelers that don’t need to be connected 24/7, and for those wanting to supplement their other connection methods (such as phone data).

Google Project Fi

A relatively new wireless service provided by Google, which I haven’t yet tried. The service aims to remove the international borders that typically trap wireless subscribers. The immediate drawback for me is that Fi is only available on Google branded phones. Sorry iPhone users, you’re out of luck for now. Google Fi is also “only” available in 135 countries, so double check your destination is included in their list before travelling or signing up with their service.

Though the wireless service does sounds good, I haven’t been able to find many reviews from users, which means taking Google’s word on whether this is actually a good connection option for overseas travelers.

Sim Card

Add International Roaming to your Domestic Plan

Most countries will offer phone plans with data. The cost of this will totally be dependent on the country you live and are travelling to.

If you live in a country like the US where phone and data plans are relatively cheap using a US SIM for international data usage could be a good option. My brother, who currently lives in NYC, uses his US SIM card for all international travel. He has an awesome plan where all international roaming, including unlimited international data, is included.  And it’s not like he’s traveling only to Western Europe. He travels to some far out places, like Pakistan, Malawi and Tanzania and has had no issues.

On the other hand, if you live in a country like Canada(where I currently reside), phone plans with data (let alone international roaming) are insanely expensive. This means that adding international service is really not an option for me.

Buy a Prepaid SIM Upon Arrival

A great option(possibly the best) is to buy a SIM card with data once you arrive. I’ve frequently done this in the past, and usually find this to be the cheapest option. When I do this, I use the data on my phone along with WiFi hotspots to complete my work. Prices vary, but ballpark about $10 for a couple gigs of data. It is however, always advisable to check local network availability maps before traveling. Many developing countries may have several competing carriers that don’t necessarily offer comparable coverage.

If you’re really uneasy about relying on local vendors to provide data, Amazon does offer some global traveler SIM’s. But honestly, I’ve never tried them, their reviews are mediocre and they appear overpriced.

Travel Router TL-WR802N

Travel Routers

I know for a fact that Aaron swears by these devices. Specifically he uses a TP-Link N300 Wireless Wi-Fi Nano Travel Router.  What is a travel router? Well, it’s basically just a miniature version of the router you probably have at home. Typically they’ll run off USB power and offer limited range as compared to their full size counterparts. However, having the ability to turn a hotel’s wired connection into a secure wireless network is priceless overseas. No more dealing with foreign networks and questionable security. Furthermore, you typically have the option to run travel routers in repeater mode, making multiple authentications a thing of the past.

Other things to consider

Restrictive Internet Access

If you are travelling to certain countries that have strict internet restrictions, such as China, Iran and Central Asia, you will want to invest in a VPN.

While I was travelling in Iran, my website actually got blocked. I went through 5 different VPN providers before I found one that actually allowed me to access my website, Gmail and Facebook. The VPN I ended up using was a local one – sometimes it just pays to ask the locals what they do.