Using A Cellphone Abroad

Planning a trip to  a foreign country can be stressful. You try to cover all your bases. Plane  ticket (for us cheap flights to Hong Kong), check. Passport, check. Visa’s, check. Work covered, check. Etc… Etc… (these etc… can go on forever, there is a lot to make sure of before you board that plane, especially a trip to Hong Kong). The one thing that often gets overlooked, could be the most important, (especially now a days, it’s our life) your cell phone.

You see folks other countries don’t operate the same as the US of A, if your carrier is in cahoots with foreign providers you are in luck, sort of, if not you my as well leave your phone at home and just get ripped off on one when you get to the China train station or airport of your destination. (for the record the airport is the worst place to do anything related to this, if you exchange your money there you my as well include your first born) Here is my experience as we got ready for our trip to China.

I have been with T-Mobile for over 23 years, and I let them know that when I call, and it usually guarantees me some new feature for free and $20 off my next bill. All you have to do is ask. Anyway, I have a bare bones plan with T-mobile, pretty much all I had to do is request the international block be taken off, (if you don’t have this active on your lines, I would do it, it’s free and protects you from spam calls from Russia). My plan already came with free international roaming with free data and messaging. Now this is where they can get you and get your good. While the service of having international roaming, basically phone call abroad, was free the service wasn’t. I was quoted $0.20 per minute. Keep in mind this is for calls you both make and you receive, AND voicemail’s. So. If you don’t want to rack up a huge bill (and it will rack up fast, believe me, put your cell phone on mute and change your voicemail to let the callers know for the next few weeks you won’t be able to take phone calls OR LISTEN TO MESSAGES, so don’t waste their time. The solution?? Texting. Texting was free on my plan. (I am sure most of these plans are the same). You can text back and forth as much as you want, it’s free.


Now, before you get too excited you need to know there are some tweaks you may to do your settings before texting will work. (My wife learned this the hard way when she got to Hong Kong) Unless you change the roaming settings on your phone you will be able to text but you won’t be able to receive texts. (or it might be vice versa I can’t remember) BUT, when you call your carrier and tell them your plans have them walk through your settings and make sure all is good. Otherwise your texting wont work correctly.



For me data was also free. With data I mean emails and internet. Emails work great and shouldn’t be a problem, the internet is where you are going to struggle a bit. For the most of the US the LTE network (which I think is 4G or maybe more) is pretty standard. When you get overseas, depending on what type of relationship your carrier has with the international carrier, the service is to going to blow, and blow hard. In Hong Kong we were able to get 3G service using our data line. When we got to China it was 2G, that’s the dreaded “E” as the signal on your cell phone. It will take you back to the AOL and Net zero days of dialup internet. Don’t plan on using your phone to do anything of substance on your trip, unless… can snag WIFI from somewhere. Most hotels have it and most decent restaurants will have it, you just have to ask. If you find a place that has it, be nice to them because in a bind you may become their newest bestest customer.



Before our tip VPN’s were like a foreign language to me. Never heard of them and had any idea what they are for. A VPN or “virtual private network” is needed for 2 reasons.

  1. Your foreign country may block services your need to live. Facebook, Google, Instagram, Snap Chat, Pinterest and most social media apps are all blocked in China. The way around it is a VPN. You basically pay a monthly fee, my plan is around $15/month, and what it does it put you in contact with a server from a different country that allows those apps. So for most of the time in China I have been connected to a server in Los Angeles. It basically tricks your phone into thinking it is somewhere else. With the VPN you can use your apps and phone as if you were on your back porch sitting an ice cold lemonade, when in fact your are in China pounding a plateful of real dumplings and exotic food.


  1. The other argument for a VPN is for security. If you are hooked up to a VPN server you are basically virtual. Hackers and spammers have no way to access your info. If you are doing anything financial or of personal security (like writing down your SSN or drivers license number while filling out an online form) I would suggest using a VPN. They are cheap and I have been happy with it. The only downside to the VPN, so far, other than the $15 drop in the bucket each month, is it can be pain in rear end constantly connecting and reconnecting trying to find a server that will work. All US locations don’t work with all apps. Make sure you find a VPN that has a free trial and 24 support, it will save you from headaches.


Heading out on a vacation is a lot of work. Before you board that plane make sure you take the time to call your phone carrier, ask the right questions. Do your research on a VPN for your area, sift through the spam on the internet and find actual reviews. Finally have fun and take lots of great pics with that cell phone you are married to. BON VOYAGE!


Cheap Flights to Hong Kong
How We Retired Early
Will My Cellphone Work Abroad?
Things To Do In Hong Kong
What Is Durian?
Are Fast Are Bullet Trains?
Breakfast Foods In China
What Life In China Is Like

When I am not blogging my real job is a fortune cookie maker. We make personalized fortune cookies, with your personalized message inside. Visit us at or!


14 thoughts on “Using A Cellphone Abroad

  1. I’m so glad you did a post on this because I was going to ask! I knew/know a lot of social media is blocked there. Honestly, it is probably for the best based on what I see happening on these sites here in the states (LOL). I actually became accustomed to using a VPN because my husband is from and currently in the UK. In order to enjoy each others shows and such, we use VPNs. I am not sure which you use but there are free options. I use Hoxx myself.


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