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How To Use Your Smartphone To Make Free Calls or Send Free Texts While Traveling Abroad

Umpteen travelers headed to places outside their home country are often unsure of how to continue using their Smartphones without incurring large, unexpected expenses. Many such travelers will be leaving their regular calling territory in which they are accustomed to unlimited voice calls, unlimited texts, and cellphone data plans with decent monthly allotments. Such features are often luxuries in numerous countries including those in The Bahamas, Caribbean, Central America, Mexico and elsewhere.

If you are an international traveler requiring cellphone service similar to your home territory, you may need to consider enrolling in one of your carrier’s International Calling plans prior to your trip. Verizon, AT&T and other carriers have plans designed for people who need to be available anywhere and anytime while they are out of their home country. Business travelers who must be in “constant contact” with their office, customers, suppliers, etc. may be best served by enrolling in an International Calling Plan tailored to their voice, text, and data requirements. Depending on the chosen features, cost for these International Calling plans can be fairly substantial ... but less expensive than getting hit with an astronomical bill for not signing up for a plan upon the return home.

Most vacationers, however, have cellphone needs that are substantially different from a typical business traveler. Individuals, couples, and families on vacation to The Bahamas, Caribbean, Central America, Mexico, and elsewhere often just wish to de-connect somewhat from their lives and work back home. They don’t want to fully unplug. Rather, they want the opportunity to periodically send or receive phone calls, share photos, texts, and emails with friends and loved ones.

So, how might the typical international vacationer “stay in touch” with others back home? How can they communicate without “breaking the bank”? For lots of our clients, the answer is right in their Smartphone courtesy of U.S. carriers Verizon, AT&T, and others. It’s called WiFi Calling. Instead of relying on a cellular phone network, WiFi Calling uses your available WiFi network to place your call over the Internet. Fortunately, most of VHR, WORLDWIDE's villas, condominiums, and apartments have WiFi, and since WiFi access is important to guests who rent the accommodations we represent, we include this information in our property profiles.

The benefits of WiFi Calling using your U.S. cellphone carrier's program include:

  • It's included at no additional charge with your existing voice plan and compatible device.

  • You can make and receive calls and texts with WiFi using your phone number.

  • WiFi calls to U.S. numbers are free, even while traveling internationally.

With WiFi Calling enabled on an iOS or Android Smartphone, once the phone is connected to an available WiFi network, the traveler can send or receive free voice calls to any U.S. phone number. These calls can also be made to U.S. Smartphones which are simultaneously connected to a different WiFi network elsewhere in the same international country. For example, a golfer having just finished her round of seaside golf can connect to the Clubhouse WiFi network and place a voice call to her WiFi connected family at their vacation villa.

Each major U.S. carrier has their own set of WiFi Calling features and limitations for both domestic and international usage. The prepared international vacationer would review their carrier’s web site to decide if WiFi Calling using their cellphone carrier's program will satisfy their needs in advance of their trip.

And then there's WhatsApp. We use WhatsApp (available as a free download from your iOS or Android cellphone's store) a lot because, like the programs offered through your cellphone's carrier, it's free. However, WhatsApp adds one benefit that your U.S. cellphone carrier does not: you are able to make free calls, send texts, and share data over WiFi to other cellphone users - even if they don't have a U.S. cellphone number.


Well, the 'free' WiFi Calling available through Verizon, AT&T and other U.S. carriers is only free when calling/texting from one U.S. cellphone number to another U.S. cellphone number. It is not free when making calls or texting from a U.S. cellphone number to a caller in a foreign country (even the country you're in at the time of the call) unless they also have a U.S. cellphone number. (You'd be surprised how many people outside the U.S. have a U.S. cellphone number just for this purpose!)

With WhatsApp, as long as you have access to WiFi, you can call or text a taxi (most drivers have WhatsApp, we've found), or contact anyone in your foreign destination who also has WhatsApp on their cellphone at no charge.

In any case, no matter which route you choose, WiFi Calling isn’t automatically enabled on capable Smartphones. To turn yours on, go to the Settings menu.

For iPhones go to Settings > Phone and then toggle WiFi Calling to “on”.

On Android phones, you’ll generally need to first activate HD Voice then activate WiFi Calling, as follows:

  • HD Voice: Settings > Advanced Calling > Activate Advanced Calling and follow onscreen instructions

  • WiFi Calling: Settings > Networks > Call, where you can then toggle WiFi Calling to “on”.

Once a capable Smartphone is enabled for WiFi Calling, it will send or receive voice calls and texts automatically via WiFi whenever the phone is logged into a WiFi network, both in your home territory or in most other countries.

If WiFi Calling has been chosen as the cellphone mode for use when traveling in other countries, the smart user will also change two additional settings to their Smartphones once they board the aircraft to their international destination. Both Cellular Data and Data Roaming must be disabled so that the Smartphone will not try to automatically connect to the international country’s local cellular network. Having both Cellular Data and Data Roaming set to “off” should prevent the possibility of incurring local carrier fees and charges.

  • To disable Cellular Data on an iPhone, go to Settings > Cellular > Cellular Data and toggle “off”. Then go to Cellular Data Options > Data Roaming and toggle “off”.

  • To disable Data Roaming on an Android phone, go to Settings > Mobile Networks > Data Roaming, then toggle to “off”. To disable Android’s Background Cellular Data, go to Settings > Data Usage > then toggle “cellular data” or “background data” to “off”.

With Wi-Fi Calling enabled and cellular data disabled, the Smartphone of the international traveler is ready to send and receive voice calls and texts with U.S. phone numbers without being charged.

By following these simple instructions you will arrive home without the fear of an enormous cellphone bill waiting for you in your mailbox.

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