Home. Transitions Abroad founded 1977.  
Travel Work Living Teach Intern Volunteer Study Language High School

How to Take Your Electronic Devices Overseas

by Volker Poelzl
Resources updated 8/2023 by Transitions Abroad

Take your digital devices overseas

Readers often ask questions about the electronic devices they plan to take overseas. This article summarizes the most critical issues travelers and expatriates should be aware of when taking their smartphones, laptop computers, or other electronic devices overseas. Among the primary issues concerns compatibility with local electrical standards, high-speed internet access, and whether smartphone and data transfer frequencies vary from country to country. The good news is the ever-increasing global compatibility of these devices with each generation of products and wireless networks.

Laptop Computers

For detailed advice on taking and using your laptop overseas, check out my article: Taking your Laptop Computer Overseas — Practical Tips for Staying Connected Abroad.

Cell phones and Smartphones

The first item on most people’s list of what to take overseas is their cell phone, now almost always packaged with sophisticated smartphone capabilities. If you plan on bringing your phone, make sure it is the now widely adopted GSM mobile phone with multi-band capabilities. GSM has become the de facto global standard for mobile communications, with over 50% market share, and operates worldwide. You can use your provider’s international roaming service if you have a GSM phone.

Alternatively, switch out the out the SIM card and use a cheaper local phone service provider at your destination or new home abroad.

The service provider locks some cell phones to ensure you can only use them on their network, so make sure your phone is unlocked before you go. Several companies sell kits to unlock your phone so that you can use your device with other providers. You can also purchase an unlocked cell phone in your home country, but some can cost much more than locked mobile phones bundled with a service plan. If you own an unlocked GSM cell phone, you shouldn’t have any problems taking it overseas and using it with a local provider, but again, be aware of the costs.

If your phone doesn’t work when you arrive at a destination, you have several options when purchasing a cell phone overseas: You can get a cheap pre-paid mobile phone. Unfortunately, this option does not usually include web email and data transfer services. These pre-paid phones are limited to phone calls and text messaging. The advantage is that you do not need a permanent address, which is excellent for shorter-term stays abroad, or if you travel around a lot. Another option is to buy a mobile phone or smartphone overseas and then sign up with a local service provider for phone calls, email, and internet access.

If you plan on traveling to several countries briefly, you should consider bringing your phone from home and signing up for an international roaming plan with your provider at home. Regardless of your cell phone service provider at home, international roaming plans for phone calls and data are usually quite expensive once you leave your provider’s coverage area. Most major cell phone service providers have roaming agreements with overseas companies and offer reception in large regions. Still, you should research the details before your trip to ensure you will have a signal to avoid disappointment.

If you stay overseas for an extended period, you can sign up with a local wireless network, which is much more cost-effective than paying for roaming charges with your cell phone or wireless plan at home. Doing so requires some shopping around, but will save you a lot of money.

Power Compatibility and Other Issues

If you bring your cell phone, ensure the power adapter will work with the voltage at your destination. You may need a plug adapter to fit the local power outlet. Make sure you have easy access to replacement parts, such as batteries and power adapters, by researching if they are available locally or by arranging for an easy way to have them shipped to you. It can be very inconvenient to have a dead cell phone battery and not be able to find a quick replacement. The same applies to other electronic devices that use rechargeable batteries (often lithium) that only work with your particular models, such as mp3 players, DVD players, digital video cameras, etc. When the rechargeable battery on my digital camera burned out in Guatemala, I was fortunate to be in the country’s second-largest city. It still took me an entire afternoon involving visits to over a dozen electronic stores before I finally found a shop that could place a rush order to have the battery shipped from the capital. Another concern is power surges, which can be common in developing countries. To ensure no damage to your power adapter during a power surge, you might want to consider taking along an inexpensive and light portable portable surge protector.

The good news is that options for web access via cellphones, tablets, and laptops are becoming more common by the day, and in some countries, connection speeds and WiFi hot spots surpass those in your home country. As with all practical aspects of travel, preparation, and research is the key.

Volker Poelzl is a Living Abroad Contributing Editor for He has traveled in over 40 countries worldwide and lived in ten for study, research, and work.

Related Topics
Taking Your Laptop Computer Overseas
Cheap Alternatives to Your cell phone Abroad

About Us  
Contact Us  
© 1997-2024 Transitions Abroad Publishing, Inc.
Privacy Policy Cookie Policy Terms and Conditions California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) Opt-Out IconYour Privacy Choices Notice at Collection