Best Smartphone Apps for Keeping in Touch While Abroad

By Debora Aberastury on January 28, 2019

Long gone are the days where the only form of communication when abroad were expensive phone calls and letters that took weeks (or even months!) to arrive. Nowadays, communicating from abroad has gotten much easier.

Although, it is not as straightforward and easy as one might think. There is a cornucopia of apps out there to help you keep in touch with those back home.


What if You Don’t Have a Smartphone?

Even if you don’t have a smartphone – don’t fret. If you have an iPod touch laying around, it does the trick. You can also ask family members or friends if they have an old (but not too old) smartphone that you can borrow. There are also websites out there where you can buy used smartphones (i.e. FreedomShop, Glyde, and Swappa). Prices run anywhere from $55 and up.


It is a small investment, but very much worth it when you are abroad. If your smartphone ends up being unlocked, you can buy a SIM Card when you arrive in easily accessible places – think grocery stores, corner stores, touristy areas. It is not 100% necessary to have a SIM Card – but it does come in handy when you have to make a local call or when you need to fill in a phone number for your UberEats account.

Before heading abroad, you may want to check with your phone provider to see if they have any feasible international plans. U.S. providers Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint all have plans, but it depends entirely on the prices and the use you will make of it whether you chose to go with an international plan or with a SIM Card.

A large majority of places – mostly in Europe – will have WiFi available. Even in more remote parts of the world, WiFi is available in certain parts of the city. In Havana, Cuba, for example, WiFi is available in certain street corners, parks, or hotels.

Before Departing…

You may not realize it until you are abroad that some apps do require you to receive a text message confirmation code to proceed. Although there is a chance that you may choose to get a SIM card while abroad, it is easier to get particularly your communication apps downloaded before you step onto that airplane.

It will also allow you to help your family members and friends to download the same apps, if they don’t have an account already. Because, let’s be honest – there is at least one family member or friend who will need you to walk them through it.

And it is always smart to download a few more apps than necessary, especially when it comes to apps for communication. While one app might have tremendous reviews, once you arrive in your host country, it may not work at all.

Best Commonplace Apps

The apps you already use to communicate day-to-day with friends and family can be easily used abroad as well. These are apps that you will likely already have accounts for, might already be on your phone, and that you may already have contacts on your lists.

There are three apps that have very similar features – Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Snapchat. Whichever you choose is up to you, your family members and friends, as well as the availability to access it in your home country (i.e. WhatsApp, for example, is banned in China).

All three have the ability to let you send private messages, video call, group chat, as well as add photos to your ‘Story’ – giving your contacts another way to keep up with your travels. You will need a phone number (which you can confirm before you leave) for WhatsApp. With Snapchat, a phone number is optional as well as with Facebook. If you happen not to have a Facebook account, you are able to sign up for Messenger with your phone number.


Best Alternative Apps

There are some less known apps that work well if the first three options don’t work out for whatever reason. Viber, Tango, Skype, and Kik - while less known – all have similar features as well.

Skype is the oldest out of the lot. Founded in 2003, Skype is best for video chats as well as messages. It also allows you to buy credits to call any phone number in the world. Skype may be a good option for you if you have grandparents or great aunts and uncles that you want to be able to call, but who don’t have or want to use a smartphone.

Viber’s video chatting feature is still in Beta, so while that feature may not be the best, it works wonderfully for texting friends and family. Tango has a lot of fun filters, stickers and games to play along with your family and friends while you video chat. Kik is very similar as well. You don’t need to add a phone number for Kik, just a username.

Best Country Specific Apps

There are some countries where there are internet restrictions that also affect the apps that you are able to download and use. Just because there are restrictions doesn’t mean, though, that you are out of options.

China is one of the most restrictive countries. WeChat is your best option if you happen to be studying in China. If you find yourself in Cuba, Imo works well despite the spotty WiFi and is popular among Cubans. Although you do have the option to video chat, the connection can be bad.


Although a majority of apps will work in Japan and South Korea, it doesn’t hurt to also download some country-specific apps. For Japan, LINE is incredibly popular. As for South Korea, it is KakaoTalk. It is a great plan B for you to use with family and friends back home, as well as an easy way to connect with new friends.

Last but not least…

Don’t ever forget the power of an email. If you are in a country with spotty WiFi or just unable to contact someone, email is the way to go. Before you depart make sure to get all of the emails you need from contacts from home and make sure that they all know that in case all else fails, you are just an email away!

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