Every freelance writer, digital nomad, or remote worker who is traveling overseas will need Internet access – sooner or later. If you are working and traveling, you will need it the moment you arrive in a new country. No problem, many people think, I’ll use the hotel Wi-Fi, free access at McDonalds, or Wi-Fi hotspot at a nearby café. Sure, if you know what you are doing, because recent news reports showed us that multiple hotel Wi-Fi networks in Europe and Middle East were infiltrated so that hackers could collect guests’ banking and other passwords.
What can a traveler do to have an Internet access overseas that doesn’t cost a fortune and that is reliable and secure? The answer is to purchase a prepaid SIM card with a data plan in each country you visit.
The objective is to use a prepaid SIM card on a smartphone, or on a 4G router. You can use as much Internet you want without having to worry about paying more than the price of the data package you have paid for. Better yet, you can turn your smartphone into a Wi-Fi hotspot and connect your laptop or tablet to the Internet via your personal hotspot.
In many countries, a prepaid SIM card is easy to get. Find a mobile network operator’s retail shop, a mobile phone store, an electronics store, or in some countries, a kiosk that sells SIM cards. Choose the initial amount of data that you want (often starts from 1GB), and make sure you get the information on how to top up more data (if you need to). In some countries, there are no formalities – you just pay and that’s it. In other countries, you have to show your passport (the salesperson may have to copy it), and fill in a form.
Turn your smartphone into a Wi-Fi hotspot
Your SIM card is the key to establishing Internet access, but some technical stuff has to be maneuvered before it will work. If you only want Internet access for your smartphone, turn off the phone, remove the current SIM card from your phone, insert the prepaid card, and start the phone.
An advanced solution is to turn your phone into a WiFi access point for your other devices. Here is how to establish your own Wi-Fi hotspot:
1. Insert the prepaid SIM card into your phone, and start the phone.
2. On an Android device, tap Settings -> Mobile hotspot and tethering -> Mobile hotspot.
3. Tap the Mobile Hotspot switch to set it on. If this is the first time you are turning you phone into a Wi-Fi access point, change the hotspot name and password to your liking. This is the Wi-Fi network name your other devices will connect to and the password you have to enter on those other devices. Anyone within the Wi-Fi signal range can detect your hotspot and try to connect to it, so keep that in mind when choosing the password.
Depending on your phone’s Android version, the described process may vary a bit. Once completed, the phone’s Wi-Fi signal is reserved for connections to the hotspot (your phone), and your phone’s mobile network connection (it doesn’t matter if it is 4G or 3G, the only difference is the speed) provides access to the Internet for all devices.
Now, connect your laptop, or other device to the new hotspot you just created by entering the hotspot password you specified.
If you regularly need a personal Wi-Fi hotspot, get a dedicated 4G router
People who travel and work want to ensure they have the tools and connections everywhere they go. Assuming that you already have a SIM card with a data plan that you can use in a country where you have arrived, the best product to have is a Mobile Wi-Fi/4G router. The router connects to a 4G or 3G mobile network for Internet access, and provides Wi-Fi signal for your devices to connect to.
Having a dedicated device for Internet access lets you use your smartphone’s phone number for phone calls and messages, and save its battery.
The Wi-Fi/4G product category doesn’t have a self explanatory name, but for instance, this Amazon search lists plenty of products. The key things when choosing a product are:
The product is battery powered for mobility.
It is unlocked, and accepts any SIM card you insert into it.
4G is the fastest mobile data connection type at the moment, but as a backup connection, 3G works as well.
I have been using a Huawei 4G mobile router for a couple of years – sometimes continuously for months – without problems in many countries and on many networks.
When you get your router, connect your laptop to it. Login as admin, and change settings if you have to. This is important: save the router’s local IP address and admin password into your password manager, because you will have to access the router admin panel sooner or later. For instance, some networks send text messages to the phone number associated with the SIM card, and the only place where you can read them is the router’s admin panel.
The nice thing with prepaid SIM cards is that they work as a backup connection if your main Internet access point fails, and you can use it when on the road – without having to spend hours looking for a Wi-Fi signal.