Before you set off, make sure you discuss this with friends and family to find the best form of communication for you based on the costs of international communication and time differences. Set expectations with friends and family on how often you will touch base. Last but not least, while keeping in contact with them is important, don’t let it interfere with your experiences abroad! You’re in another country - Don't miss out on opportunities that only exist while you are there!
In your OEA application you are asked to complete a questionnaire called "FERPA - Information Release." This means whoever you list on this FERPA form is able to call or email our office and ask for certain specific information regarding you, your program information, program fees, etc. If you do not list anyone on this FERPA questionnaire, or if a family member or friend calls and asks for this information and they are not listed on your OEA FERPA, we are legally unable to communicate specific information about you or your program with that individual. Note that this FERPA release is separate from and regardless of whomever you may have listed on your University FERPA release. We recommend that if your parents or other trusted relatives/friends will play a role in helping you prepare for your program abroad, you should share information about your OEA application and what the OEA has communicated to you with them. However, a majority of the information in which they may be interested can be found on our website.
The availability and prevalence of WiFi and Internet access will vary per country. It is recommended that you research access, availability, and security of WiFi at your destination through your host university, your living arrangements, or local free resources. UNC Charlotte utilizes Eduroam, secure, world-wide, roaming access, which allows students to obtain Internet connectivity when visiting other participating institutions (refer to the following VPN section).
Eduroam's website allows you to search for wireless connectivity local to you, and will typically be found on a local university or campus. Once you find a location, you will be able to access the WiFi for free using your NinerNet login credentials (your UNC Charlotte email and your NinerNet password). Students can also download the Eduroam app (iOS version or Google Play) to find participating institutions in order to gain secure Internet connectivity.
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) connects your PC, smartphone, or tablet to another server somewhere on the internet, and allows you to browse the internet using that computer’s internet connection. So, if that server is in a different country, it will appear as if you are using the internet from that country, and you can potentially access sites that you couldn’t normally in the host country. It also adds a layer of security.
Students should note that in some places, like China, popular sites such as Facebook, Google, and more are not accessible through the country's internet. However, by utilizing a VPN, you may be able to get around those restrictions and access those sites. However, students should always be careful to abide by host country laws.
Students are strongly encouraged to follow UNC Charlotte's FAQ instructions to learn more about how to download the required software & connect to the VPN in order to enjoy a secure internet connection while abroad.
As you arrive in your designated country, please make sure you are able to access your UNC Charlotte email account. If there are restrictions (e.g. Google cannot be accessed in China), set up email forwarding from your UNC Charlotte email account to another account easily accessible in that country or use a VPN (see above). E-mailing is the primary way the OEA will contact students while abroad, so please be sure you are checking your email often using a secure internet connection.
Each student may handle their phone situation abroad differently depending on several factors, such as their budget, what's available in their host country and their personal communication habits. Study Abroad Alumni have often done one or more of the following:
purchase an international plan
Some carriers have international plans that can be used for free or for an additional costs. Depending on the carrier, international plans tend to be expensive. Please contact your phone provider for more information regarding their international plans.
Purchase a SIM Card Abroad
Some students have decided to "jailbreak" their phone so that they can purchase a SIM card in their host country in order to use their phone locally. It is important to contact your cell phone provider to determine if this is possible and how to unlock your phone. Once the SIM card purchased abroad is inserted in the phone, students are typically assigned a local number and are able to use the phone as normal.
Most students take their smart phones abroad and turn "airplane mode" on for the duration of their program. This way they are not using data. You can have your WiFi on while your airplane mode is on. This allows you to utilize apps on your phone that work with WiFi only without using data. Students are encouraged to contact their cell phone provider with any questions regarding not using their phone or data plan abroad and only using phone apps when they have a WiFi connection.
Purchase a "Pay As You Go" Phone Abroad
Cell phones can usually be purchased abroad depending on which country you will reside in.
Communication Apps that work on WiFi
There are also free calling/texting apps such as LINE, Viber, WeChat, Google Hangouts, WhatsApp, KakaoTalk, Facebook Messenger, Tango, Skype, FaceTime, and other various applications for smartphones. These apps will allow you to communicate via a secure WiFi connection without a cell phone or data plan. You may also have the option of purchasing data cards (depending on host country) or Wi-Fi eggs (portable Wi-Fi on the go).
- iMessage: Available on iPhones only. Text with other iPhone users for free when connected to WiFi
- Viber: Searches your phone contacts to import contact information for any of your contacts who also have the Viber app. Send free text messages and free calling through WiFi
- WhatsApp: Free text, calling and video calling through WiFi
- Google Translate: Translates spoken, written, and typed words of more than 70 languages. Can use offline
- DuoLingo: Learn basic phrases in host language
- Mango languages: Learn basic phrases in host language Library.uncc.edu - search Mango Languages
- XE Currency: Live rates of world currencies. Stores top 10 currencies while offline
- GeoBlue: Look up local doctors. Look up medicines. Schedule appointments. Location-specific Health & Safety alerts
- U.S. Department of State: Smart Traveler app (Once enrolled in S.T.E.P.). Location-specific travel warnings and alerts
Mail and Packaging
Mailing or receiving packages abroad can be very complicated. Postal services from country to country will vary. If you do plan on sending packages, please do so with caution. Some students may want to ship excess things home, but international shipping costs can also be fairly expensive.
UNC Charlotte does not sponsor or endorse any of the applications or products listed. All information is subject to change.