Do you want to use your mobile phone on your next trip abroad?

If so, you'll want to check a couple things before you set sail.

First, you need to ensure your phone is compatible with the networks at your destination. And second, if you want to save on roaming fees, you need to confirm it's unlocked.

This guide will walk you through both of these considerations and provide some background information to help make this technical topic simple.

Let’s take a look…


#1. Does Your Phone Support the Right Frequencies?

Like your WiFi router or satellite receiver, cell phones use wireless frequencies to transmit and receive signals.

Those frequencies, however, can change depending on the country you are in as well as which network you’re trying to use.

This means that for your phone to work, it needs to be compatible. It needs to support the same standards, frequencies and bands.

So how do you find that out?

One way is to dig through the user manual and check your phone’s specs. Once you’ve found what frequencies it supports, you can compare that to the ones used by the service providers in Europe or wherever your destination might be to ensure they match.

Not your idea of a fun way to spend an afternoon?

Luckily there are plenty of sites that make this process a little simpler. They allow you to enter your phone’s model number, select a service provider, and see exactly what is (or isn’t) compatible.

Our two favorites are:

WillMyPhoneWork
FrequencyCheck

When ensuring your phone is compatible, here are a few important tips to keep in mind:

In general, the more frequencies a network has in common with your phone, the better your reception and coverage will be. You want as many frequencies to match as possible.

You’ll need the exact model number of your phone. Simply knowing you have a Samsung Galaxy S8 or a Huawei Honor V10 won’t cut it. The frequencies supported from model to model might change--even if the phones all share the same name.

The easiest way to check your phone’s model number is to look in the settings or options menu. There you’ll typically find a menu item called ‘About phone’ or ‘About device’ with the information you need.

Alternatively, if you still have the original box lying around, you can look there for the model number. Or, contact your current cell phone company in Canada.

If you’re planning to buy a phone specifically for travelling, you’ll also want to check the frequency specs carefully. You need to know exactly what model number you’re buying as these are often what differentiates a US, UK, or global version of a phone.
 

Tip: Be sure to also check service coverage at your destination. You can do this using a tool like RootMetrics or by looking at a carrier’s official coverage maps.


#2. Is Your Phone Unlocked?

If you want to save on potentially expensive roaming fees while travelling, we recommend picking up a local SIM at your destination or purchasing a special travel SIM card before you set off. But to use either one, your phone will need to be unlocked.

So how to know if your phone is locked?

Well… it likely depends on where, and how, you bought it. If your service provider gave you a discount on the phone or you signed a contract, there’s a good chance it’s locked.

If you paid for your phone upfront or bought it directly from the phone manufacturer, there’s a better chance it’s unlocked.

In any case, you’ll want to verify your phone is unlocked before setting off on your voyage.

The easiest way to check is to insert the SIM of another provider to your phone and see if it shows a signal. Or, you can simply call your current provider and ask them.

If your phone is locked, you’ll want to ask your phone company about unlocking it.

Depending on your contract situation and regulations, they might unlock it for free. Others may require a fee.

If unlocking through your service provider isn’t possible, don’t worry. You have other options, such as third-party services, who can help.


To Summarize

The ability to use your phone on a different network can help to save you money when using your phone while traveling abroad.
To work properly, the frequencies used by the network you’d like to use must match the frequencies supported by your phone.
With good coverage, more matches will mean better service.
You’ll also need an unlocked phone in most cases. Your carrier might be able to help with this. If not, third-party services are an affordable option.

We hope this guide helped clarify any concerns you had about travelling abroad with your cell phone.

Bon voyage and please send us a postcard!