When you consider that in just three years the number of Americans who own a cell phone has jumped from 17 % in 2010 to 91% in 2013, the implications are incredible. And while smartphone users are increasing at a bit of a slower rate (up to 56 percent according to a recent Pew research poll), Americans continue to choose the smartphone for personal and professional purposes.

And while smartphones become easier, their screens become larger, displays and operating systems trendier and more flexible, the one area that hasn’t seen much improvement remains just out of reach—and this many experts say, is just what the providers want.

Placing international calls and managing data and knowing how much you’re going to be charged– is even more of a challenge today than it was a few years ago.

A quick how-to guide on how to be smart with your smartphone device while out of the US can help ensure you get ahead of the charges before they get ahead of you.

1. Determine how much data you’ll need. Then track it while in use. It’s very simple to monitor your usage. To start, you’ll want to reset your phone’s data meter, which you can find in the Settings menu. You can also download data meter apps that will help you track your usage. A few of these include:

      • myWireless (AT&T)
      • NetCounter (Android)
      • Stats Free (Android)

2. Set up an International Plan. If you don’t have a roaming package with your provider for international calls and data usage, you’ll want to enroll in a package before your trip. If you’re not sure, call your provider to find out what options are available.

3. Know where your hot spots are. If you were wondering if the same rules on hot spots here apply “across the pond,” you are right. You can get emails, use apps, and travel the Internet free of charge through Wi-Fi when you are connected to hot spots around the world. You can find a directory of free and paid for spots via JiWire at jiwire.com. Some providers will provide you access to thousands spots for as little as $8 a package (paid hot spots).

4. When you get on the plane, put your smartphone in Airplane Mode. And don’t take it off. If you don’t want to be charged for receiving calls or voicemails left on your phone, keep it in airplane mode.

5. Make sure you also shut off your roaming before you land. You can always reactivate it if you need to, but you’ll save yourself a bundle with this tip. 

6. Shut off push notifications too. While you’re in your settings, go ahead and configure your phone to turn off your notifications; these pull data like nothing else, and outside your home field, the cost of keeping all your notifications going is steep. 

7. Stop automatic download of email. If your emails are set to automatically download, you should probably set this to manual download so that you can control when your phone needs to pull on that extra bandwidth—maybe while in a hot spot!?!

Whether you’re going to be gone for a short business trip or taking a vacation abroad, international calls can be expensive and can quickly send your bill through the roof. You can always call your provider and ask for a break if you do go over, forget to recalibrate some of your settings or simple make one too may calls. But you can’t rely on that. Your best bet is to plan.

Be smart with your smartphone and make sure you go through these simple tips. Doing so can at least keep your wallet happy. 

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