Cell Phone Solutions for Digital Nomads
Let’s face it – us digital nomads need our smartphones to keep tabs on our work/business (and to post *cough* brag-post our incredible photos to social media). Having adequate cell phone data access is right up there on this list of must-haves when living in a foreign country. Lucky for you, we scoured the deep dark web and did some field-testing ourselves to determine the optimal solutions for your specific needs.
Which digital nomad are you?
Match yourself with the list below to find the most advantageous cell phone solution tailored for your unique situation.
The ‘Borderless, I Want To Get Off The Plane & Check My Email (or Instagram) and Don’t You Dare Take Away My iPhone’ Solution
Cost: $70/month (1 line), $60/month (2 lines), $47/month (3 lines), $40/month (4+ lines)
Carrier: T-Mobile ONE
*An important item to note is T-Mobile says “free texting + unlimited data up to 2G speeds in 140+ countries and destinations. You won’t be snapchatting from the beaches of Thailand or checking your email at the pyramid of Giza with the 4G speeds you may be accustomed to in the States, but it’s a close alternative.*
If the above features don’t quite suit your needs T-Mobile offers 2 add on options to “amp” up your coverage even more.
Option 1+ The T-Mobile Add-Ons
Personally, 2x the data speed vs. the standard T-Mobile One plan AND unlimited 4G LTE mobile hotspot is worth the extra $25 a month for me. After all it is a business expense that Trump is paying 30-40% for, right?
Some important notes to consider prior to making the jump to T-Mobile (from your current carrier)
¬ Your current smartphone will need to be paid off in full before you leave your current carrier
¬ Your current smartphone will need to be ‘unlocked’ and able to connect with another carrier (a simple Google search with your carrier, smartphone model, and “unlock” will help you determine how to do this. All major cell phone carries now allow customer to unlock their device, so this is easier than ever.)
¬ If you’re like me, you’re concerned about moving your current number over to T-Mobile. You can check that here – https://www.t-mobile.com/switch/
The Tech-Savvy, Cost Conscious, What’s App/Google Voice/Google Hangout/Any Free Messaging Service + Local Sim Card Option
Cost: Varies based on country’s Sim card prices and data usage, $20-$50/Month
Solution: Use wifi when possible, local networks when not possible.
When you have access to Wi-Fi you will use the full menu of free calling and messaging applications that the tech and internet titans have bestowed upon us mere mortals (thank you Zuckerberg, Cooke, and Page). From here you can manage your correspondence along with the ability to check email / all your other business needs via Wi-Fi when available.
When you do not have access to wifi you will use a local sim card for your preferred smartphone. This will enable you to maintain all the above needs via local data (speeds vary by country).
*This approach requires more administrative effort than the T-Mobile/Project-Fi (below) approach (buying SIM cards at each country, topping them up, and juggling VoIP / messaging apps). However, it can result in a lower monthly outlay if done properly (at the cost of added administrative/juggling efforts).*
How to Receive Calls Overseas to Your American Number
Google Voice is the best VoIP solution we have found that enables you to be easily reachable by your American friends/family/clients as well as make free calls to the US. Essentially you “port” (transfer) your American number from your US carrier to Google Voice and set up your phone to receive calls and messages through Google Voice. This is free after paying Google the one-time (yes, one time) $20 setup fee.
Our good friend Adrian Holovaty at holovaty.com (okay, I never actually met him) provided an excellent writeup on how to set up and manage your communication needs via Google Voice. With this solution, your friends and family will be able to communicate with you via your US number. Even better, your clients will never even know you are outside the country – boom!
There are other slightly more expensive solutions for calling that depending on your preferences may satisfy you. These include Skype (2.3₵ a minute to the US, or $14 a month for unlimited calling to the US + 63 countries) and any other specialty VoIP providers like Grasshopper if you need personalized greetings and multiple lines.
How to Obtain Your International SIM Card
Before you go down this route you need to make sure your cell phone is “unlocked”. This means it can be used with another carrier. (a simple Google search with your carrier, smartphone model, and “unlock” will help you determine how to do this. All major cell phone carriers now allow customer to unlock their device and many come already unlocked. This is easier now than ever.)
With this approach, you buy a prepaid SIM card in the country you are living/traveling and pop it into the SIM card slot of your current smartphone. They are available at most airports and major shopping centers. There are many different SIM card providers that vary by country, so you will want to reference this database to research the best provider and package based on your destination.
This database is an encyclopedia of all the SIM card information you could ever wish for, so rather than try to recreate the wheel we are just going to point you there for your personalized SIM card research.
The Android Runs the World Supporters and Distressed iPhone Users Looking for a New Partner Solution – Project Fi
Project Fi is Google’s very own cell phone plan that FINALLY simplifies your monthly phone bill. It even includes attractive perks such as credits for unused data that the major network providers refuse to provide. Thank you Google!
The main catch is that you need to be on a Project-Fi supported device which are obviously limited to Android devices.
This is a major turnoff to Apple/iPhone handcuffed consumers who would rather suffer in a data-less limbo fiery hell than do without their blue iMessages and FaceTime privileges (I am one of them). All iPhone users willing to entertain a switch and certainly Android users should check out Project Fi though. It is a pretty kick-ass solution.