The 4 Best Phones for Teens Going Abroad

by Published

You’re sending your little pumpkin abroad for the first time and you want to make sure they can you in case of emergency. And yes, a pic of them with some homemade gelato by The Colosseum *could* be considered an emergency. 

girl looking at phone in the dark with face lit up

You want to stay connected, but not too connected with your teen while they travel.

With communication technology as advanced as it is, it’s safe to assume you’ve already got a family plan and your teen has a cracked screen, but what when they go abroad? We know you’ve got a TON of questions like: Are there specific teenage phone plans through their program? What is the best cell phone for a teenager going abroad? What phone plans should you look into? Etc., etc. 

Things to consider

As you start looking into the best phone plans for teenagers traveling abroad for the first time you should take into consideration:

  • Your current cell phone plan. If you already have a family plan and your student already has a cell phone, check with your current carrier their international offerings. You might find the best phone plans for teenagers going abroad are the plans you’re already on! 
  • Your kid’s average data use. When you’re looking at your current cell phone plan and any prepaid teenage phone plans, you need to have a talk their data usage. Between Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and any other social media and apps they’re into, they’re likely using a TON of data. If your teen is constantly over-using data, even the best prepaid phone for international travel is going to rack up charges. Have a convo with them the data they use now, and how they can limit their data use while traveling. This will help you suss out the best cell phone + plan combo. 
  • Will they have reliable access to WIFI? Access to WiFi means less data usage which means you’re spending less moo-lah on teenage phone plans. Some countries will have better overall access to free and reliable WiFi than others. Which, ultimately, might serve as a great way to keep your kid’s phone usage in check while traveling, guaranteeing their really absorbing everything around them and actively participating. 
  • Their program’s technology policy. It’s the age of the smartphone and #FOMO. And while student safety is every provider’s No. 1 priority—and know that keeping in touch with you, the parent, is a huge part of that—it’s also important to ensure your teen gets the most out of their experience. That means being PRESENT and keeping the hashtags to a minimum. A lot of teen travel programs will have some kind of technology policy, whether it’s no phones and your check-ins are limited, a no-phones in the classroom policy, or just a cap on phone time during the day when they’re out exploring. You’ll want to take this into consideration before dropping serious dough on phones for teens traveling abroad. 
  • Don’t forget an adaptor! Not only will it be SO much more expensive to buy this on the fly in an airport, but you run the risk of your teen having to spend a day or two with a dead phone and no way to check in! 
Gif, new girl, Jess tripping while texting

No matter what phone and phone plan you settle on, make sure your teen stays present and engaged in their travel experience.

International data plans vs. Pay-as-you-go vs. Pre-paid options

Your head is still swimming from all the different high school study abroad options and now you’ve got to figure out the best phone plans for teenagers?! Yeah, it’s a lot, but we’re here to break down your phone plan options and give you our best recommendations. 

International data plans

For convenience-sake, if you have international data plans or options through your current carrier, LOOK INTO THEM. It can be as easy as making a phone call and your teen can use their own phone (if they have one already) abroad. This is the best option for teens who will be abroad longer-term. Very little muss and very little fuss. However, this might not be the cheapest option, so if you’re looking to save money… 

Pay as you go

If you know exactly how many minutes or how much data your teen will use while abroad, this is a great option—especially for short term programs. You’ll buy a set number of minutes and amount of data for a fixed cost on a card. But, if your teen starts to run out they might be in a bind if you need to send them a new card with minutes and data!  

Pre-paid travel phones for teens

You’re free from a contract with any fees for going over on minutes or data. You pre-pay for a set amount of minutes, data, and texting, in advance (like pay-as-you-go), but refilling a card isn’t necessary. This also can work as a “pre-paid” monthly charge for unlimited calling/texts or extra data. 

Pay-as-you-go and pre-paid phone plans are best for teens on short-term programs and are lower cost than just looking into international data plans for your current phone plan and carrier. But, it’s important to weigh the costs with what you and your student need while traveling. 

red payphone box

Maybe you go ooooold school and buy an international calling card and hope that phone booths still exist?

Recommended phones for teens on their travels

Here are our four recommendations on the best phone plans for teenager to study abroad. Whether you’re looking for a smartphone or throwing it back to a prepaid flip phone, you’ve got options! 

1. iPhone 6s 

Because it’s always the cream of the crop in smartphone landia—not just one of the best phones for teens—and we’re almost certain your teen has already asked for one. Seeing as we’re now on the iPhone X, you can get your brand-loyal teen the iPhone 6 or 6s at a much more affordable rate. You can probably also find some very affordable pre-owned or refurbished iPhones that are already unlocked (which is great for traveling teens!). 

The iPhone 6s contains 16GB of internal storage, which is enough for your kids to save some totally ‘grammable photos abroad and download helpful travel apps without paying for any extra memory. Just don’t forget to buy a screen protector and case! 

  • Carriers: Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Virgin Mobile,
  • Cost: ~$300 
  • Where can you find it? , , and any carrier store

2. Moto G5 Plus

For your stylish traveling teen, the Moto G5 Plus is one of the best (and still affordable) phones for teens. It starts with 2GB of memory and 32GB of storage, with a microSD card slot for up to 128GB of extra storage. Aka TONS of space for your photography-loving teen. Both cameras—rear and front-facing—are amazing quality, so your teen will be able to snap every selfie and sweet landscape shot no matter what. 

Since the Moto G5 is already unlocked, all you need to do is switch out a SIM card to switch carriers and plans. A major bonus for frequent fliers and teens traveling internationally. 

  • Carriers: Any carrier—the phone is unlocked! 
  • Cost: ~$229
  • Where can you find it? ,

3. ZTE Max XL 4G LTE Prepaid Cell Phone

If you’re looking for the best prepaid phone for international travel, and something your traveling teen will still want to use, the ZTE Max XL 4G LTE from Virgin Mobile is a great option. It’s got all the style and functionality of a smartphone without the primo price tag. It also comes with 16GB of internal storage (like the iPhone...without the iPhone $$$), so your kid won’t miss out on taking great photos and saving them to hashtag later. 

  • Carrier: Virgin Mobile
  • Cost: $69.99
  • Where can you find it? , Virgin Mobile carrier stores

4. LG B470 Prepaid Cell Phone

The classic choice for most prepaid teenage phone plans. Throw it back with this AT&T LG flip phone. If you have trouble selling your kid on carrying this bad-boy around, play up it’s vintage look and feel. This phone is all utility, which might make it the best cell phone for a teenager studying abroad. You can call, with a little practice they can text, but it doesn’t come with any additional distractions as a “dumb phone.” Plus, it’s the best prepaid phone for international travel with a reasonable price tag. 

You just might want to teach your teen T9 texting before they take off… 

  • Carriers: AT&T
  • Cost: $29.99
  • Where can you find it? , AT&T carrier stores
Gif, Ugly Betty, flip phone open

The dramatic effect is worth any texting hand cramps.

Our final pieces of advice

No matter which of these phones for teens you end up going with, it’s important to have a conversation with your kid mindfulness when using their phone while traveling. Not only could walking around with their eyes stuck to their screen, or with their phone constantly in their hand make them a target for theft (or other common travel dangers),  but it creates a barrier between themselves and their fellow students as well as the local culture. It can really detract from their overall experience if they aren’t careful. And you want to make sure they get the most out of their time abroad!

You should also sit down with your teen to make a tentative communication plan. Iron out what your expectations are versus theirs and how you can support them to have an immersive experience abroad (even if you really want to talk to them all day every day). 

[Your Child is Overseas—Now What?]

Finally, be sure to let go yourself… you don’t need to check in daily. Seriously. Don’t.

Call me, beep me, here’s how you should reach me

The teenage phone plans that work the best are the ones that fit into your budget, have a functional phone that fits you and your traveling teen’s needs, and keep you in reasonable with them while they’re off exploring. The most important thing is that your kid has an AMAZING experience abroad. The rest is just details. 

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Topics:  Before You Go, Parents