One of the best perks we miss when working for a multinational company is the negotiated telecom deal it has. For a long time, we had a $30 unlimited international data plan for the iPhone — it didn’t matter where we were or how much data we consumed, the monthly fee was only $30.
Now that we are doing this thing, we obviously don’t have that perk anymore. We miss simple things like having access to Google Maps or being able to search for things on the go, internationally, without paying exorbitant data roaming charges. So how do we manage now?
We Use an Unlocked MiFi
What is a MiFi? It is basically a WiFi router that is connected to a mobile network. Most MiFis allow up to 5 devices to be connected to it. Coupled with a prepaid data SIM that we purchase in the country we are in, we have internet access no matter where we are. We use an unlocked Huawei E5331 from Amazon for around $70.
Here’s an example of our savings. Half of the team was in Southeast Asia for this past Christmas holiday. We went to Hong Kong, Singapore, and Indonesia. In Hong Kong, we purchased a prepaid data SIM from CSL/1010 (100HKD or ~$13USD), giving us unlimited data access for a week. Buying a data roaming plan from Verizon or AT&T would’ve cost us at least $25 for just 100MB of data. Having a MiFi was a huge saving — and we didn’t have to worry about going over. 100MB is not a lot of data and apps use up data like no tomorrow.
We only turn on WiFi on our phones and connect to the MiFi via WiFi. We then depend on Viber and Skype for voice calls.
Using a prepaid data SIM works in most countries. Some countries like Japan and Brazil only allow vendors to sell prepaid SIMs to legal residents. How do we work around this limitation?
Data Access in Countries Where Prepaid SIMs are Only Available to Legal Residents
In countries such as Japan and Brazil where we cannot legally purchase a prepaid data SIM, we use a vendor like XCOM Global to rent a MiFi device before departing from the United States. This is not a cheap solution: XCOM Global, for example, charges $14.95 a day for a MiFi device. However, if you need data, this is still significantly cheaper than an international data roaming plan.
Rely on WiFi
In most countries we’ve visited, we’ve found that WiFi coverage is usually good, which makes WiFi a decent backup plan. But obviously, WiFi might not be available when you most need it.
So What Are the Caveats with a MiFi?
Here are few of the shortcomings with MiFi:
- Poor battery life. We also have an LTE MiFi for domestic use and their battery life sucks too. We always carry an external battery pack with us.
- 3G coverage outside of major cities usually isn’t great.
What Else Do You Need to Know?
We rely on the Pay as You Go Sim with Data Wiki to check for the best provider we should use for the country we visit. Another resource that you will probably need is the Access Point Name (APN) settings for the provider, we use GSM Nation’s APN finder to set it. While most providers will work without any APN settings with the MiFi, some will need it in order to access the Internet.
This has worked well for us and allows us to be connected no matter where we are so we can update this site daily.
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