How Do I Pick the Best Phone for Travel?

Lawrence Pinsky is a man of the world, and he recently contacted our Editor-in-Chief Mark Spoonauer with a question befitting of a globetrotter.

“Are all smartphones multiband?”

That sounded to us like a question from someone who’s planning on doing a lot of traveling and wants to make sure that the phone he brings on those journeys works as well abroad as it does at home. And when we followed up with Lawrence, he confirmed that this was exactly what was on his mind.

Lawrence found the answer to his question thanks in large part to his own research. But we’re going to share what we found out, too, just in case you’ve ever looked at your phone and wondered, “How can I know if this phone will work when I’m in another country?”

The quick-and-easy answer is that if your phone works on a GSM network, it will probably work just fine when you’re in another country. Almost every place you’re going to travel has a GSM-based cellular network. (The notable exceptions: Japan and South Korea — well, North Korea, too, but we’re guessing that’s probably not on your itinerary right now.)

Band compatibility is listed among the specs for phones, so it’s just a matter of looking up the specs for your device to see if the phone is ready to travel.

If you use the CDMA-based network of Sprint or Verizon, you may have read that last paragraph, turned a longing gaze at your phone and concluded that you’re never ever going to be able to take it on a trip with you. Stop fretting — your phone may be using a CDMA network here, but that doesn’t mean it can’t connect to a GSM network oversees. You just need a phone that supports the right bands.

Take my iPhone SE, which connects to Verizon’s network here in the U.S. But when I’ve traveled to Spain, China and Germany in the last few years, all I’ve had to do is pop in a SIM card for one of the local carriers to hop on the GSM networks that serve those countries.

The reason? My iPhone SE, like a lot…

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