WhatsApp for International Travel

I travel internationally a lot and having the tools to communicate back home, without having an enormous bill at the end of the trip, is important. With FaceTime and Skype, the phone conversations are easy and no-cost, but the text messaging has been getting out of hand.

With my Verizon iPhone, there is a cost to both send and receive each text message – $.25 to send; $.20 to receive (Verizon rates are here. AT&T’s international text messaging rates are listed here.)

How many times is a text message a simple one-way note? More often than not, the text messages are conversations that go back and forth for awhile. Say ka-ching, ka-ching to a simple grand finale text that just says “Thanks” or “Bye.”

So when my daughter told me about WhatsApp, I downloaded it, tested it when out of the U.S., and now consider it my favorite text messaging app for talking with family, friends and colleagues – all at no cost!

Beyond sending text messages, WhatsApp offers these features:

  • Ability to see when the recipient’s phone has received the message (and hopefully it is read soon thereafter!)
  • Group chats (great when trying to coordinate dinner plans with multiple people)
  • Show your current status (user defined or select from a list of choices such as “In a meeting” or “Sleeping”)
  • Record an audio note (great for when you have too much to type or want to say ‘Goodnight’ in voice vs. text)
  • Share location so your recipient knows where you are
  • Ability to send and receive photos

It may have other features as well, though these are the features I’ve been using. I especially like the ability to send and receive photos. While my iPhone’s Messages app does successfully transmit photos when I’m in the U.S., it will not send any photos when I’m out of the country, even though I have the international phone feature turned on.

Now I can send all the photos I like using WhatsApp, communicate to anyone else on WhatsApp, and all at no cost.

WhatsApp is supported on most Android, BlackBerry, iPhone, Nokia, and Windows smartphones and can be downloaded from the WhatsApp site. There are also some rumors that Google is looking to acquire WhatsApp in the near future.


  1. Don’t forget that to use WhatsApp you either have to be on wifi or have an international plan on your phone. Thus, WhatsApp is no different than using Skype or iMessage just to send a SMS.

  2. Carol,

    I used to use an AT&T iPhone and I always got the international text plan before traveling. Recently I switched to Verizon iPhone 5 and I have an upcoming trip to Ireland and I had a few questions. Does Verizon work fine in most of Europe? (I know they are CDMA and AT&T is GSM). Do you get an international data plan or just try to use hotel WIFI when using Skype? Any other recommendations?

  3. The issue for me is getting my message recipients on one app; some of my recipients prefer Viber, others even more niche products.

    For those people with dumb phones, its good yo have SMS available. For that, I use Google Voice.

  4. The WhatsApp is great while traveling. Yes, you need a wifi connection but you can find FREE wifi at McDonalds, Starbucks and other cafes around the world. Never been an issue for me.

    iMessage with iphone is good too. Although, it only works with iOS devices.

  5. I love Whatsapp. I have unlimited international data plan and it works flawlessly. Also try out the vonage apps which works on 3G/Wifi and you can call any US number for Free. You can also buy block of minutes to call other places for cheap.

  6. Ryan,

    Your mobile from Verizon will not work in Europe, the network is GSM in Europe.

    I think Google voice is a pretty decent alternative if you are sending SMS to US number and the recipient will reply to an US number as well and you’ll receive if your mobile overseas is on 3g/wifi coverage area.

    I use a lot whatsapp because I am based in Brazil. When I am in Europe I use it mostly buying a prepaid SIM card with data plan (A SIM is usually 10 euro and the plans aare usually 10-15 euro including a lot of megabytes , more than I can use during the stay). And it is very practical because people still send SMS via whatsapp to my Brazil phone number, altough it is in a SIM in my pocket and not in the mobile, since it uses data connection and not the mobile carrier SMS center.

  7. I have been using Whatsapp for about 18 months now. Almost all of my messages are work related because my customers are International. I actually use it just a much when I’m in the US as I do when I travel. It’s free for them to get me via text that way.

  8. Finally a really, really useful posting by a BoardingArea blogger. Thank you for the useful and informative tips. Your posts are among the best.

  9. My daughter has whatsapp and took her iPhone5 to europe. When she arrived in europe the app asked her for a local number there. How can she use the USA number while in europe?

  10. Hi Ken – I use whatsapp for texting, both to individuals and groups. I have never been asked for a phone number, either domestic or international. There is one setting where my phone number is stored, so maybe this is missing? Settings > Chat settings > Advanced > My Phone. For calling, she may want to use Skype, Viber or Facetime. I have used all of these successfully for calling friends and family when traveling internationally. Carol

  11. I have a question. I have been in Malaysia for a year and was excited when I found out I could call other people using WhatsApp. I was able to call the US using the app once a few months ago, but ever since then it has not worked. Was there an update that made it so that feature no longer works?

  12. If traveling in Southeast Asia it would be best to have WhatsApp, Viber and Line on your smartphone as well as Messenger, because the popularity of these apps varies between different countries. I travel frequently around Southeast Asia and use all four regularly (because which one you use depends on which apps your recipients have on their phones of course). WhatsApp is fully encrypted so it’s becoming more popular for that reason. I’ve been having problems with Messenger lately – it’s been doing strange things after software updates – so I prefer to use WhatsApp where possible. Note that recipients can turn off the feature on WhatsApp which enables you to see whether they’ve read the message, so that’s one advantage that Messenger has, because you can’t turn off that feature on that app.

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