Cell Phones and Communications

For safety reasons, we recommend that all students abroad have a cell phone that they can use abroad for local calls and, ideally, for international calls as well.  Many study abroad programs now require that students abroad have a functioning cell phone with them at all times for emergency purposes.

To figure out which cell phone option is best, we recommend that students:

  • Read their program’s predeparture information about what the program recommends as cell service varies considerably country-to-country
  • Review the section on cell phones in the Whitman student Program Evaluations from previous students who have attended the program to see what they recommend
  • Contact the student’s US cell phone provider to find out if the student can use their US cell phone with a local SIM card abroad.  If not, consider purchasing an inexpensive local pay-as-you-go cell phone. 
  • We do not recommend adding a global service as part of a regular US cell plan for students abroad for more than two weeks as these plans are expensive to use long term and locals may not want to call a student’s number if it is an “international” call to a US phone number
  • Keep in mind that Facetime, Whatsapp and Skype are free services for international voice and video calls when WiFi is available.  Many students find these to be inexpensive and easy ways to communicate with home.
    • In order for students to optimize their level of academic engagement and connections to the local community off campus, we recommend that they try to limit their communications with friends and family at home. Staying “too connected” with home can sometimes be emotionally taxing for students and diminish their ability to build new ties and friendships off campus. A plan to communicate once per week with family works well for many students. Note that while abroad students may have more limited access to the internet especially rural locations or on excursions.
    • If a student cannot be reached when there is a family emergency, please contact the program directly or Whitman Off-Campus Studies (OCS). It is also a good idea to develop a plan for what would be done in the event of a family emergency while the student is away. We suggest discussing with your student ahead of time about how a family emergency would be communicated and whether or not the student would return home.
    • If your student chooses to travel independently while off campus on a weekend trip, for example, please encourage your student to leave their travel itinerary with you and with the local program staff in case they need to be reached.

Computers and Internet

  • Students should check their program’s predeparture information to determine if they should bring their own laptop. 
  • For many destinations, it is highly recommended for students to bring their own laptop and it would be extremely inconvenient without one. 
  • Virtually all study abroad programs and universities abroad have computers available to for their students to use to type papers and access the Internet.  Typically there are a few computers for many students to share, so using the program’s computers will be less convenient than having your own laptop. 
  • In addition, due to high demand or limited internet bandwidth, some programs limit use of program computers to “official business” and do not permit students to use program machines for social media, personal business, streaming movies, etc.
  • Students should also make sure that they have property insurance to cover their computer if lost or stolen while are overseas.


  • Virtually all study abroad programs provide students with email access. But there may be times when students are on remote excursions when it is not available.
  • Some programs provide students with their own accounts, while others have one shared account for all students to use.
  • Some Whitman students have preferred to keep using their Whitmail accounts at Whitman.  Accessing Whitmail is fairly easy, but the connection can be slow, which can eat up costly minutes if students are using an Internet café. Some students prefer to use Internet e-mail accounts for this reason. Google, Yahoo and Hotmail have free e-mail.
  • Students who choose to use a non-Whitman e-mail address while abroad should forward their Whitman e-mail to the non-Whitman account. The OCS Office and other campus offices will use students’ Whitman e-mail accounts to communicate important information to them.
  • Students on campus mailing lists who want to avoid being inundated with messages while abroad should remember to unsubscribe from them before leaving campus.