Communication While Abroad

The information on this page is meant to assist students in preparing to communicate while abroad with their friends/families, host country friends and contacts, and GVSU. 

Mobile Phones



Social and Translation Apps

Calling Home

Language Learning

Mobile Phones

Students will want to have access to a mobile phone while abroad. It will be important to be able to stay in touch with local contacts, friends, host families, and be able to call emergency services. Students have several different options available when considering mobile phones abroad. The best option will vary based on location, preferences, and length of time abroad. Please review the options to make the best decision for your program.

Purchase a SIM card

  • Purchasing a SIM card in the country where you will study is an easy and affordable option. You can easily purchase a SIM card in the airport when you arrive or at a convenience store. With this option, you have control over your plan (minutes, data, texts) and you can pay as you go. This type of plan is usually inexpensive if you mostly plan to use data and texting.
  • This is only an option if your phone is unlocked. You can contact your mobile carrier in the US to find out if your phone is locked and request that it is unlocked before you go abroad. If you still owe a balance on your phone, you may be required to pay the remainder before your carrier will unlock your phone.

Purchase a phone in-country

  • It is possible to purchase an inexpensive phone in-country primarily for the purpose of staying in touch with local contacts, friends and emergency situations. Students choosing this option will generally purchase a cheap phone and SIM card for a pay-as-you-go plan.
  • Students who choose this option generally bring their Smart Phone with them abroad to use over WiFi.
  • Something to note with this choice is that unless you purchase a smart phone, you will not have access to transportation and translation apps while your are outside of WiFi range.


Phone Rental

  • There are several phone rental companies that rent phones to students who are studying abroad. This is a good option if you want to be able to access the internet while not connected to WiFi.
  • An internet search will provide you with multiple companies that provide this option. If you are studying abroad through a provider, they may have recommendations on phone rentals for your destination.
  • Beware of hidden fees before signing up for this service.


International Plans

  • The majority of US carriers offer international phone plans that can be customized based on your needs. 
  • This option is generally not recommended for students going abroad for longer periods of time because it may be more expensive than the previous options.
  • Call your carrier to explain your situation and find out pricing and plan options.
  • The advantage to this option is that you do not need to change SIM cards or phones.

This post from has more advice on mobile phones while abroad.

Using WiFi to Call Home

There are several free or inexpensive ways to do video and phone calls over the internet while abroad. 

  • Skype Skype is an internet service that allows you to talk over the internet through video chat or voice. With Skype you can have conversations free-of-charge with other Skype users. You can also call landlines or mobile telephones at a very low rate by purchasing Skype credit.
  • Google+ is available to anyone with a Gmail account and allows video and voice calls over the internet. 
  • FaceTime is an option when both parties have Apple Devices.
  • Facebook Messenger is another option for both voice and video chat.
  • WhatsApp also provides the option to video chat or voice call
  • Viber is also similar to the above listed options


The Apps and services available will vary from country to country. We highly recommend that you research availability of Apps in the country you are travelling to and, if needed, research popular Apps to download ahead of time and encourage your friends and family to create accounts with the same Apps. This will make it much easier to communicate after you arrive.


Email is the primary method of communication that GVSU will use to communicate with students while they are abroad. It is important that students regularly check their GVSU email for updates and important information. In the event that students have trouble accessing their GVSU email abroad, please provide the Padnos International Center with an alternative email address.

Most students are equipped with WiFi access in their housing and on campus. This is information you may want to research when making your housing choices.

There are some email service providers that may not be accessible in all countries. Research this before you go to ensure that you have access to an email account while abroad.



If you are mailing items or packages while abroad (or having them mailed to you) you will need to adjust your expectations regarding the postal or courier service. Here are some important things to keep in mind when mailing overseas:

  • It may take much longer than expected for items to arrive. Letters will generally arrive within two weeks of mailing but packages can take much longer. 
  • Items entering any country will need to be cleared by customs. The time frame for customs clearance will vary from country to country and it will also depend on the types of items you are mailing. The postal or mailing service does not have any control over customs decisions or the time it will take for items to be cleared (this is also true of items entering the United States). We do not recommend having items mailed to you abroad less than six weeks prior to your departure because they may not arrive in time.
  • The mail system in your host country may be very different than in the United States, so be sure to look at policy changes and be wary of what can and cannot be sent overseas.
  • If you utilize the US postal service to mail anything abroad, your insurance for your package will only cover you until it leaves the United States. We highly recommend selecting a service like FedEx, DHL, or UPS for overseas mailing of important items.

Translation Apps

Translation Apps have become quite advanced and can be very useful as you navigate a new language. We recommend downloading a few different options before you go abroad so that you are prepared in case you need to use this type of service. Some popular examples are:

Google Translate (can be used offline for many languages)

iTranslate Voice 


Microsoft Translator

Papago (only for travel in East Asia)


Social Apps

WhatsApp is a very popular messaging app throughout the world and often more common than Facebook. Past students have recommended downloading before going abroad.

MeetUp is a great app for finding local groups that get together in your area. Groups can be social dinner meetups, groups that go hiking, groups that have English language practice, book clubs, etc. This is a great way to meet locals and find other people that share similar interests in your study abroad destination.

Language Learning

Many free and low cost resources exist to learn languages before going abroad and while abroad. This is a brief list of some of the available options.

Duo Lingo 

BBC Languages



Page last modified August 24, 2018