3G Access When Travelling Abroad With an iPad

Having recently travelled to the UK and the US with my 3G/WiFi iPad 1 as my sole communication device, I thought I would pass on a few thoughts on travelling with an iPad.

1) Roaming Charges Using your Canadian 3G SimCard Outside of Canada: Since I tend to be stingy (not a good quality), I have never tested using my Canadian 3G access while abroad. However, comments from others suggest it can be very expensive.

2) WiFi not as Common as One Might Think: Depending on your hotel chain of choice, I find that free WiFi is not always an option (and you should check in advance – many hotels list “WiFi availability” but it is often for a fee, as much as $15 per day). Free WiFi at airports can also be hit and miss. Likewise, although you can often find coffee shops on the street that provide free WiFi, if you are stuck in the middle of a city where there is no WiFi and need to use Google Maps or some other app, you are out of luck. I have experimented with Boingo to get paid WiFi access, but have not used it extensively.

3) Using a UK SimCard for 3G: While in the UK, I found a large number of mobile phone providers who provided “pay as you go” 3G iPad simcards. I ended up choosing a 1 GB pay as you go simcard from the Three store. The salesperson helped me to install it and set up an app so I could monitor usage. I found it useful to have Google Maps while riding double-decker buses to figure out where I was and where I was going.

4) Using a US SimCard for 3G: While in the US, I found it more of a challenge to acquire a US 3G simcard since most Internet chatter suggested you needed a credit card with a US mailing address to purchase a pay as you go simcard. However, at an AT & T store a salesperson suggested I could simply put in the mailing address of the US hotel where I was staying. I therefore purchased a simcard (a whopping $15 – I later learned I might have been able to negotiate a cheaper price or one for free from an Apple store, but that was not necessarily a convenient option for me). However, when trying to purchase the 3 GB per month pay as you go simcard, the online payment system would not accept my US hotel address for my corporate credit card. The salesperson then suggested trying my AMEX personal card, which did work (I have since seen some Internet chatter suggesting that prepaid US credit cards may also work). Ultimately, this worked out to being slightly cheaper than the hotel’s WiFi and allowed online access while outside of the hotel.

5) Travel apps: There are no lack of iPad apps for travelling: see here, here, and here for some sample lists of travel apps. My most frequently used travel apps include Skype for iPad, WeatherEye HD, the Air Canada app, Yelp, and various subway maps, depending on which city I am in.

I welcome comments and other tips for travelling with an iPad. Of course, if purchasing simcards from abroad, do so at your own risk and make sure the salesperson understands your needs before commiting to any particular simcard or plan.

Now I need how to figure out how to stop the automatic renewal of my AT & T simcard . . . .

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