International Phone Options for Students Studying Abroad

My son is going to be spending his fall semester this year in Spain (Madrid, to be exact). I’m trying to figure out the best phone options for him. Ideally, he’d use his current phone and have unlimited voice and data, same as he has here. We have AT&T, and if I’m reading their website correctly, there are two options – a pay for usage type plan (which seems like he’d blow through in a heartbeat) and an “international day pass” plan, which offers unlimited voice and data for $10 a day. This I think is primarily used for people on vacations. I have to assume he’ll be on his phone every day, so $10 a day x 4 months = approximately $1200. Seems like there has to be a better way. Anyone have any experience with this? Thanks in advance!

Since he’s spending some time there, it’s best to get a local SIM chip when he gets to Spain. Cell service in Europe is different than in the US. There are lots of providers who offer unlimited calls/texting and lots of GB for a cheap price. The SIM chip will have a European number. To have his current US number be saved and active, have him port it to Google Voice. GV is a web service and he can use the GV app on his phone to make and receive calls over wifi/data using his current number while he’s in Europe. When he gets back, he can port his GV number back to ATT. We did this when our kids studied abroad and it worked out great.

Many people in Europe also use apps like WhatsApp for texting rather than normal cell texting. That can be used without a SIM if he has wifi. You and he can set that up on your phones before he goes so you’ll be able to communicate that way if he doesn’t have cell service.

If you have an extra phone, have him take it with him. Phones get lost/stolen all the time and this way he’ll have a backup. Most GSM phones will work in Europe, but check your particular phone to be sure.

Not sure I would recommend GSM even though it should basically work—at least make sure his phone has some 4G or 5G capabilities, just in case. Anyway, then he can go to the mall or airport and buy a pre-paid SIM card with unlimited calls. Data may be limited, though—obviously check in any case!!

I would guess that his program will have some sort of orientation before the fall and phone stuff is likely to be a topic that will be covered. When I did a semester abroad they even had students from the prior year’s group come in to answer questions. Other than that, it’s highly likely that free wifi in public places, on campus, coffee shops, etc. will be available, which will cover most of what he’ll need. Other than that, a local SIM is the way to go.

Would changing him to a Google Fi plan be an option? Fi is amazingly flexible - free roaming and free international calls for most places. I used it in Thailand, for instance, and was able to call local restaurants with the same ease as calling my family in Florida.