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Do you remember back before smartphones, when we all used those indestructible Nokia bricks? When our batteries lasted for days, it took forever to send a text, and you’d get hit with roaming charges if you were too close to the next state over and made a call?
As cell phones became more commonplace, out-of-state roaming within the US virtually disappeared, making things easier for commuters and travelers. One might have hoped that international roaming would have gone the same way, but so far, no luck; even if you add a temporary international plan to your US account, voice, text, and data roaming abroad can cost a fortune.
Fortunately, there are a few good options for traveling abroad and using your smartphone. One is to keep cellular data off when you’re abroad, download Google Maps data to use offline, and otherwise rely on wi-fi from cafes and your hotel. Another is to buy or rent a mobile hotspot. You’ll need to make sure it’s charged and loaded with credit, though, and you’ll need to keep an eye on your phone’s connection to the device — if it drops and you fall back onto cellular networks without realizing it, you can be charged massive data roaming fees.
If you want to use your phone while you’re abroad the same way you do at home, where you can keep Google Maps open, and you can check Facebook and Instagram without having to worry, your best option is to buy a sim card from a local carrier and put that in your phone. You’ll get access to a phone number from the country you’re in, and with a prepaid plan, you can add data, voice, and text as you need it, generally for low rates.
There’s just one catch — many US carriers “lock” the phone you purchase while you’re under any sort of contract or payment plan, meaning that it won’t work with another provider’s sim card. If you have an older phone that still works, you may be able to have it unlocked by your carrier, subject to terms, but unless you buy the phone outright, you may not be able to use it with any other carrier.
That means that your best choice may be to buy an unlocked smartphone outright, either as your primary phone, or as a spare to use when you travel. If you use it as your primary phone, you’ll be able to seamlessly switch sim cards as you travel without losing any of your content or settings. If you use it as a secondary device, you can still log in to your various accounts and access anything you have in the cloud.
Amazon offers a ton of unlocked phones, including top-of-the-line models like the iPhone X, budget-friendly smartphones, and even basic phones for the traveler who mainly needs a way to make and receive calls. Below, take a look at a few of the many great options.
Unlocked budget-friendly smartphones
Antonio Villas-Boas/Business Insider
These smartphones may not be the latest models, but they offer a ton of features at a great price and run advanced versions of their respective operating systems. They’ll be able to handle anything you need during your travels.
Some of these phones come with “Amazon Prime Offers and Ads.” That means that when the phone is connected to wi-fi, Amazon might display ads on the home screen. In exchange, there’s usually an extra discount on the device.
Unlocked late-model smartphones
The latest phones on the market, these are the unlocked versions of some of the best devices available. These present a good option to someone who is looking for a new primary device which isn’t tied to a carrier. You can choose any carrier and plan you want at home, and swap out sim cards whenever you’re on the road.
Unlocked basic phones
While these phones are simple and have limited features compared to what we’ve become used to, they still offer solid options for talking and texting. They’re also useful as emergency backup phones to store in a drawer at home with a pay-as-you-go plan attached. While some phones may have carrier-specific branding on them, they’re still fully unlocked and will work with any compatible GSM carrier abroad.