How to protect your cellphone, data when you travel

A woman looks at her cellphone as she stands in front of a currency exchange board in Buenos Aires\' financial district in Argentina September 5, 2018. REUTERS

So what do you do if your phone gets lost, stolen or breaks when you’re abroad? How can you prevent it from happening in the first place? Brandon Bogle, a cellphone expert for Asurion, a company that provides insurance for consumer electronics, has plenty of advice on the subject and shares his tips below.

Turn on Find My Phone

Before you travel, Bogle said, be sure to turn on your device’s Find My Phone feature or similar service.

“Many people assume this is automatically activated with every phone,” he said. “But it needs to be manually turned on.” If you have an iPhone, go to Settings, tap on your name at the top of the Settings list, then tap iCloud, and look for Find My iPhone to confirm it’s on. Also, turn on Send Last Location. This will automatically send the phone’s location to iCloud any time that the iPhone’s battery is critically low. If you have a device running Google’s Android mobile operating system, enable Find My Device in the device Settings under Security & Location. You can check that it’s working by visiting the Find Your Phone page in your Google Account.

Check with your carrier before you go

If your phone is lost or stolen, it goes without saying that you should contact your carrier immediately. They will temporarily suspend your service, which will prevent anyone else from using it and racking up data charges you may be responsible for. But it’s also worth talking to your carrier before you leave for your trip.

If you pay for phone insurance — which can run between $7 and $13 per month and is usually purchased when you get your new phone — some carriers will ship an expedited replacement phone to many destinations globally or will reimburse you for a repair that you get done while you’re travelling. Even if your carrier doesn’t provide replacements while travelling, your insured device is still covered. “So if you break your phone or it gets lost or stolen while travelling, you’ll get a replacement when you file a claim,” Bogle said.

Protect your device and data

A high-quality screen protector and case may cost more than the standard option, but they’re well worth the investment, Bogle said. “You can prevent a lot of cracks and external damage that will make your phone inoperable by having a sturdy case and cover,” he said. Our colleagues at Wirecutter, the New York Times company that reviews products, has suggestions for the best screen protectors and the best cases. Keep in mind that they can only do so much.

That’s why you should also always back up your phone regularly so that you save those vacation pictures as well as your latest contacts and music. We have some tips to get you started here. Finally, make sure to visit the Find My Phone page we mentioned earlier — in many cases, you can report your phone stolen there, lock it, and remotely erase it so no one can get access to your data.

Display Emergency Contact Information on the lock screen

If possible, set your lock screen photo to your alternate phone number or email address. “If you lose your phone, the person who finds it will know how to get in touch with you,” Bogle said.

In fact, recent Asurion research found that you’re three times more likely to get your phone back if you do this in the case of a lost phone. One way to display your information is by taking picture of your contact information written on a piece of paper and setting the photo as your lock screen wallpaper. Many devices even allow you to set this emergency contact information in the device settings to be displayed on your lock screen or emergency call screen at all times.

Similarly, you could lock the phone remotely using the Find My Phone or Find My Device feature, which also lets you provide a message and phone number on the lock screen, allowing the device to make outbound calls only to that number.

  • cellphone
  • data protection regime