May 14, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Alyssa Walker

Toothbrush? Check. Clothes? Check. Books? Check. What else do you need to make your study abroad stay perfect? Your smartphone, prepped and ready to go.

You may rely on your smartphone more than you realize--or maybe you realize it. For some people, their smartphones are their connection to the outside world. For others? They're fancy cameras with email and texting.

Regardless of your perspective, if you're studying abroad and plan on taking your smartphone with you, it's best to be ready for might lie ahead--or not. 

Let's take a closer look at five strategies for preparing yourself--and your smartphone--for your study abroad experience.

1. Make sure it works abroad

How do you do this without getting there first? There are a few things you can do. First, see if your phone is locked. If you purchased your phone in a prepaid plan, it may still be tied to your telecommunications company. If you're not on a prepaid plan, you probably have nothing to worry about. 

A device that is locked in your network will need to be unlocked. To do this, contact the company where you bought your phone and have them unlock it for you. You may need to pay a fee and you'll need your phone's IMEI number, which is a long one. Call the company for help with this. 

In addition to making sure your phone is unlocked, you'll also need to understand the difference between GSM and CDMA technology. 

Most countries use a combination of both. You should probably steer clear of CDMA networks if you're studying abroad. You're more likely to encounter GSM networks wherever you go. 

Even with a GSM phone though, you still need to make sure that your phone supports the frequencies used in your destination. Call your provider to check. 

2. Research contracts

Whatever you choose, maximize your ability send and receive calls and texts, and maximize your cellular data. Keep international data roaming off (see #3). If you're currently under contract, it may be worth upgrading to international roaming.

Keep your data usage low by using a web browser like Opera, and a messaging app like WhatsApp, Viber, or Skype so that you don't have to pay for texting. 

If you don't need constant internet access and are willing to work with Wi-Fi hotspots, go with a wi-fi only contract. They're often less expensive.

Another tip? Get an international SIM card that will work abroad. Some of these are included in contracts, and some require you to pay a bit more money. If you're headed to a more obscure destination, consider a local SIM card. Contact your current provider on how you can procure one of these.

3. Watch out for roaming

We've said it before and we'll say it again: beware roaming. Fees are high. If you haven't already covered roaming in your contract (see #2), you could be surprised by exorbitant roaming fees on your bill. Your cellular plan probably doesn't cover roaming charges.

Some companies, like the US's T-Mobile include free SMS and slow data in over 120 countries in its SImplie Choice plan. Your best option? Check and double check--and decide if roaming is worth it. It probably isn't. 

4. Change the language on your phone

If you want to learn a new language as you study abroad, you can--and should--change the language on your phone. Change it on your email accounts, social media accounts, and browser settings. You'll learn quickly if you're texting, calling, and web browsing in your target language. 

One app, DuoLingo, is a desirable--and free--option for learning too. It's easy to install too.

Bonus if you have an iPhone: Bonjour Siri has options in English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Mandarin, Chinese, Cantonese, Japanese, and Korean. 

5. Use it for pictures

Your smartphone is a great recorder of big (and not-so-big) life moments. Use it to take pictures with new friends, as well as photographing food and landscapes, and just about anything else you'll encounter.

If you're a professional photographer and or an aspiring one, you may want to bring y our DSLR or mirrorless phone, but otherwise, your smartphone camera should do a great job recording your memories. 

6. Learn how to live without it

Yes, there's always the chance that you may not be able to use your smartphone while you're abroad. 

If you want it with you, do your homework (see #1-5), but don't be disappointed if it ultimately doesn't work out. 

Your best moments shouldn't be spent with your phone anyway. They should be spent living, learning, and embracing a new and different culture, making new friends, and trying new things.

That's what it's all about, isn't' it?

Learn more about studying abroad. 

 

Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.

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