Conventional wisdom says that once you reach a foreign country, you should just buy a SIM card and switch over to it while you’re there. Conventional wisdom is wrong. For starters, you need service the moment you land, whether it’s to call the hotel, summon an Uber or just text family that you’ve arrived safely. You may be able to find a SIM vendor at the airport, but do you really want to rely on that? And what if there’s a language barrier and you need tech help?
My advice: Get your SIM card in advance. You may pay slightly higher rates overall, but you’ll also be good to roam as soon as the plane touches down.
The big challenge — as with virtually any SIM swap — is that you inherit a new phone number, which can cause text-messaging complications. Because of the whole new-number thing, I discovered mid-vacation that I couldn’t reset a Gmail password — which I needed to do because one of my Gmail accounts tends to go bananas (read: insist it’s suspicious activity) whenever I connect to an unfamiliar IP address. (Anyone who can help me solve this longstanding problem, which I’ve researched heavily, gets a box of doughnuts.)
See, that account uses two-factor authentication, meaning that in order to verify my identity, I have to verify receipt of a text message. But I couldn’t do that because my primary number wasn’t accessible while I was using the foreign SIM. Hmmm.
The solution: plan ahead. Before leaving, make sure all critical accounts — bank, email, work, Facebook, Twitter, etc. — are set to verify your identity using a different (i.e. non-text-message) method. This might be a secondary email account, an app like Google Authenticator, or even a local friend’s phone number.