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Getting Internet While Traveling Internationally

If you’re a full-time RVer based in the US, you may have already established a mobile internet setup that allows you to stay connected as you roam about the country. But what if your travels take you further south into Mexico, north into Canada, or maybe even to another continent? Will your US-based setup be sufficient for you to have internet while traveling internationally?

Just as setting up a US-based mobile internet arsenal requires a little knowledge, making sure you can connect outside of US borders requires a little research and planning in advance as well. Here are some tips to help keep you connected while traveling internationally using mobile internet.

Public Wi-Fi in Other Countries

One of the simplest and most basic options for connecting to the internet is using public Wi-Fi sources.

Getting Internet While Traveling Internationally 1Just as in the US, you will find that many campgrounds, coffee shops, restaurants, and other public spaces may offer free Wi-Fi. In fact, you may actually find public Wi-Fi sources are more prevalent in other countries, particularly in places that are accustomed to a lot of international visitors.

This can be a very simple, easy – and often free – option. But using public Wi-Fi in other countries comes with some of the same limitations that it does at home. You may find this option sufficient for simple tasks like checking your email or route planning, but it likely won’t be a viable option for high-bandwidth activities like streaming television or movies.

Cellular Data Across Borders

The next option is to just simply use your US-based cellular data plan while in another country. Many postpaid data plans, especially premium plans, will have some international roaming data included with the plan.

Getting Internet While Traveling Internationally 2Most often, the included international data will cover Canada and Mexico. Outside of North America, there may be more limitations. You may still be able to get data, but it may be something you need to purchase or add to your plan.

Even if you have international data included with your plan, make sure you know what the specific terms are in relation to international data. There may be limitations on how much high-speed data can be used in a month, or even per day. Some plans require that your purchase international “passes” to use data outside of the US.

Some plans may automatically enable international roaming and charges. If your phone is turned on, it will start looking for a connection. As soon as you start using any data (such as sending TXT message, or checking e-mail) – you are billed.  So be very careful that you understand exactly what the specific terms of your plan are and turn off international roaming features on your plan if you don’t intend to use them.

Some types of plans – particularly reseller, prepaid, and MVNO plans – may not have any international data included at all. You won’t be able to connect at all once you’re away from US towers on these plans.

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Here are a few additional tips for using cellular:

  • Acquire and activate any new plans you’re planning to use before you leave the US. You often can’t activate plans once you’re outside of the US, and it may be difficult to have a SIM shipped to you while you’re traveling in another country.
  • Activate any needed international features in advance as well. You may need to log into your plan online, or you may need to actually speak to an agent in order to turn on or add any needed international features on your plan.
  • Learn how to turn on roaming for your devices. The process to do this can vary from device to device. So, make sure you know exactly how to turn it on – or off – before you need to do it.
  • Check your device frequency compatibility. Make sure your device is compatible with the frequencies that are used in the countries you will be traveling to. Higher-end devices like iPhones will work with most frequencies, but many of the more mainstream, lower-end devices might not have the bands to roam internationally – even if your plan includes it.
  • Determine if there are any limits on how much time you can spend roaming internationally. Some plans will have restrictions on the amount of data or time that you can use international data, and your plan may get cut off if you exceed those limits.
  • For extended international stays, consider getting a SIM from a local provider. Again, determine what your options are for the local providers in the location you’re visiting before you get there. (More info on this for Mexico-bound RVers can be found here.)
  • Make sure your devices are carrier unlocked. If your device is locked to one carrier and you get a SIM from a different carrier, you may not be able to use the new SIM in your device. Unlocking a device is much easier to do while you are still in the US, so do this before you travel.

Satellite Internet for International Use

Starlink is making international travel across borders much easier, particularly if you stay on your home continent. If you have the portability feature enabled or the RV version, Starlink currently allows international roaming within your home continent at no extra charge for up to 2 months.

Starlink still has the same pros and cons for use as it does anywhere, of course. It needs a clear, unobstructed view of the sky, it uses a lot of power, and it can be affected by the weather, just to name a few. But if you have it on board already, it can be a great option.

Getting Internet While Traveling Internationally 4Starlink coverage is expanding further and further, already including parts of Mexico, Canada, and Alaska – and will continue to expand even more in the future.

If you’re traveling outside of your home continent and want to use Starlink, then you would need to get set up with Starlink in that continent, which may not make sense if you’re only there for a short period of time.

Global options are available with their Maritime service, and hopefully, a future ability to add on transcontinental data as needed, which would allow you to take your dish to different continents.

Using a VPN

One best practice we recommend to international travelers is to use a VPN service. This will make your connection appear as if you’re in the US, even if you’re actually in another country.

This can be particularly useful for helping you connect to sites with tighter security measures, and sites that may limit international traffic. It can also help you get around any limitations placed on streaming services outside of your home country.

One caveat to this is that some streaming services will try to block VPN services, so it may not always work perfectly.

Also, using a VPN does not mask your actual data use in another country. The amount of data you use on a VPN will still count towards any international data restrictions your plan has.

Plan in Advance: Internet While Traveling Internationally

We mentioned this earlier in the article, but it’s very important so we’ll mention it again.

Make sure you do all of your research, homework, and any new plan acquisitions before you leave your home country. If you arrive in a new country and don’t have your options sorted out, you may find yourself in a position where you don’t have any connection at all – and therefore no way to research what other options you have. Make sure you have a plan in place before you go.

Additional Resources

While most of our content at the Mobile Internet Resource Center is aimed at traveling within the US, we do have several resources with information about getting internet while traveling internationally. Here are a few of them:

There are several ways to get internet while traveling internationally.

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Jen Nealy

Jen and her husband Deas were full-time RVers for 5 years, and now they part-time travel in their van from their home base in Asheville, NC with their dog Finn. Jen works part-time for the Mobile Internet Resource Center.

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