Travel

Secure your smartphone for overseas travel - a Citro guide

Go go gadget - download this Citro guide to take off overseas with your phone

Travelling overseas can be a smartphone security nightmare unless you prep and secure your device before you get on the plane. Get these 10 cyber-savvy moves to protect your smartphone by Rosalyn Page.

Don’t be one of the 257,392 Aussies scammed in 2023. Hack-proof your mobile phone, especially if you travel overseas.

  • Step 1: Set up a secure passcode
  • Step 2: Prevent global roaming charges
  • Step 3: How to make cheap calls from overseas
  • Step 4: Set up emergency alerts
  • Step 5: Use a digital wallet
  • Step 6: WhatsApp issues
  • Step 7: Don’t be victim on public Wi-Fi
  • Step 8: Backup and track your phone
  • Step 9: Protect your passwords
  • Step 10: Don’t lose access to your money - avoid the 2-factor authentication trap

This guide covers the most common smartphones — Apple’s iPhone that runs the iOS operating system, Google Pixel’s phone and others that run the Google Android operating system. 

While there can be some small differences in the exact steps described in this guide for different versions of the operating system, it should be close enough to follow.

If you need more technical support, your Australian mobile provider should be able to help you.

There’s a wealth of helpful guides online if you search ‘how to [insert your particular smartphone security query]’.

About our smartphone guide - letter from the editor

Online tools and technology have changed the way we think about everything from banking to investing and, inevitably, our retirement and superannuation. Each of us is only one Google search away from finding an online tool that seems to magically calculate everything retirement in one magical push of the button. Some calculators sell themselves as wealth calculators or income planners. Others are life expectancy calculators or longevity calculators.  

Yet each calculator hides a labyrinth of assumptions - as well as disclaimers like ‘for illustrative purposes only’ - that  keep the topic of retirement income planning more complex and confusing than it needs to be. Citro asked financial educator Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon to dive into 5 popular online calculators to explain the good, the bad and what could be better. We wanted to keep this guide simple, so we excluded calculators from superannuation funds or banks.

This wasn’t because super funds don’t have good calculators - many do - but Citro was trying to keep to the basics. As always, we know we can do better, so I’d love to hear your thoughts on this guide and how we can improve the next edition.  I welcome your emails at alex@joincitro.com.au or connect with me on LinkedIn. We’re always striving to make Citro the best destination it can be to support every Australian to make their best years better.

Warmest,

Step 1: Set up a secure passcode

If your phone leaves your hands, how will you know where to find it? 

First up, have a passcode set to guard against prying eyes.

You’ll also want to turn on the Find My Phone setting and you may also want to turn on the setting to remotely wipe lost devices. This may sound extreme, but you really don’t want strangers potentially being able to access everything on your phone  if it falls into the wrong hands. 

On an iPhone

Settings > Your Name > Find My to turn on/off

On a Pixel/Android phone

Settings > Security > Find My Device

Be sure to check the fine print of your travel insurance to ensure it covers your devices and increase the allowance if necessary.

You might also want to consider installing anti-virus or security software on the phone to protect against viruses, malicious apps and unsafe Wi-Fi networks, and flag suspicious websites. And be sure to have the operating system updated before heading away as security patches and updates are regularly released to patch the latest vulnerabilities.

Got an old or unused phone you’ve been meaning to recycle? Maybe keep the primary phone at home and use this old one loaded with just the bare minimum of apps and personal information on it. Prep this travel burner device as per the steps in this guide (and you won’t weep if it gets nicked).

Step 2: Don’t get hit with global roaming charges

To avoid using mobile data while you’re overseas which can be costly, turn off roaming, automatic or ‘push’ email downloads and automatic updates to apps. 

On an iPhone

Settings > Mobile > Mobile Data Options > Roaming off

Settings > Mail > Accounts > Fetch New Data > Manually

On a Pixel/Android phone

Gmail > Settings > Next > Email Checking Frequency

Settings > Network & Internet > SIMs (Pixel) or Internet (Android) > Roaming to ‘off’

Global roaming extortion

While you’ll need to pay more for calls, texts and MMS when using international roaming, these high costs come from using data overseas. 

When you consider how much time you spend online on your phone day-to-day, the costs can get excruciatingly high, quickly.

Many apps use background data consistently and throughout a holiday, this data charge can add up.

If you’re not using a travel SIM that includes mobile data, then an easy way to minimise surprise data charges is to turn off anything that might contribute like:

  • location services
  • push notifications 
  • Auto-updates.
Check apps enabled for mobile data

It’s also worth reviewing which apps are enabled to use mobile data. In case you turn mobile data on, it will prevent every app being able to use data, avoiding global roaming or, if using a travel SIM, preserving the data allowance.

iPhone

Settings > Mobile scroll down to ‘Mobile Data’ and review apps.

Android

Settings app > Network & internet > Internet > [carrier name] > Settings > Mobile data on or off

Pixel

Settings app > Network & internet > SIMs > Mobile data on or off.

Step 3. Ring-ring: how to make calls while travelling

Staying in touch with home requires some thinking and planning in advance.To make calls or send text messages overseas, there are a few different options. 

Activating global roaming through your Australian phone provider will allow you to make local and international calls and SMS, but this can be costly. 

In this case, to dial or message local numbers, just use the number; for another country or Australia, press ‘+’, the country code and then the number.

A cheaper option, or if you’re with a smaller mobile provider that doesn’t offer roaming, is a travel SIM, either bought in Australia before you leave or on arrival at your destination. 

In this case, you need to swap out your Australian SIM and insert the temporary travel SIM. Depending on your needs, you can opt for a data-only SIM or one that includes call, SMS and data.

Using Wi-Fi or a data-only SIM, you can make calls through FaceTime, WhatsApp, Skype or Zoom.

One of the newest options is an international eSIM. 

Instead of swapping out the SIM card, it uses a digital SIM to connect to the internet, so there’s no need to swap cards. Newer model phones have this capability to add by scanning a QR code for the network connection information.

On an iPhone

Settings > Mobile and look for the ‘Add eSIM’ option and follow the steps to scan a QR code.

On an Android phone

Settings > Connections > SIM card manager and follow the steps to add a mobile plan.

On a Pixel phone

Settings > Network & Internet > Mobile Network and follow the steps to add a carrier.

Buying a prepaid SIM 

Pre-paid roaming SIMs offer cheaper call and SMS rates and you recharge your credit when it runs out. 

These can be good if you travel to lots of countries across different regions. Here is a checklist for buying a pre-paid roaming SIM before leaving Australia:

  • Check with your Australian provider first: See if you need to unlock your handset to use the travel SIM.
  • Research plans: Look at the different pre-paid plans available to choose the one that best suits your needs. Also ensure you are buying a SIM that will work in your destination.  
  • Allow enough time to order online: If you need to order a travel SIM online then you should allow enough time for it to be delivered to you before you leave.
  • Activate before you leave: Ensure that the travel SIM is activated and ready to use before you leave.

When you reach your destination replace your regular SIM with the travel SIM and you’re ready to go.

Step 4. Digital first aid in emergencies

No-one wants natural disasters or medical emergencies to disrupt travel, so take these steps.  

 If you want the option to send an emergency alert, in case you find yourself in trouble away from home, there are some useful settings that allow you to contact emergency services and alert your emergency contacts.

On an iPhone

Press and hold side button and a volume button

Settings > Emergency SOS to check or change the settings

Settings > Health > Create Medical ID to add emergency contacts.

For Pixel/Android phone

Safety app > Emergency Sharing > Emergency SOS to set up calling help, location sharing and even video recording

Emergency alerts in overseas countries

Some countries use emergency alerts over SMS to warn people about severe threats like floods, earthquakes or fires.

Sometimes these emergency alerts will appear on your device's home screen and you must acknowledge it to keep using your other phone’s features. 

Sometimes a loud, siren-like sound and vibration will accompany the message to raise awareness of the hazard or threat.

New Zealand, United Kingdom, South Korea and many European countries operate these types of systems.

If your phone is in Flight Mode or you use a VPN to access the internet, these emergency alert systems may not work.

Step 5. Digital wallet is your ticket to fly

Get your digital wallet app sorted to make payments overseas seamless. It will make storing tickets way easier!

 There is an Apple Wallet and Google Wallet app. 

This is a handy place for storing boarding passes, entry tickets and payment cards so they’re easily accessible and a backup for all the tickets in emails. 

To add, when you receive an e-ticket or e-receipt, click the ‘Add to Wallet’ icon on the bottom of the email receipt and then tap ‘Add’ in the wallet app.

Beware phone thieves preying on travellers

As your indispensable travel companion, you’ll be reaching for your phone, a lot. 

But taking photos, looking up maps, searching for tickets and so on can make you an easy target for having your phone lifted from your hands by thieves while distracted.

Why not ‘wear’ your phone in a case with a sturdy cross-body strap, letting you keep it in your pocket in easy reach, but secured from quick-fingered thieves. 

It will also protect against drops and even losing it overboard!

Picture-perfect travels  

Give some thought to storing travel photos. 

If you backup your phone before leaving to travel, consider clearing all the old photos so you have enough storage space and a clean slate for trip photos.

Sync the photos from phone to laptop if you can every few days while travelling and bring a high-capacity USB storage key or external drive to make a backup of the photos. 

If you don’t have this, consider saving to DropBox, Google Drive or iCloud as an alternative backup. 

Some people also load photos onto Facebook as a way of easily saving them. 

Back at home, you can organise them all and turn into a photo book. 

Step 6. What’s up with What’sApp?

Here’s how to sort WhatsApp when you use a different SIM. WhatsApp, Messenger and FaceTime are easy ways to stay in touch from overseas.

You can continue to use WhatsApp and Messenger for messaging and calls while you’re overseas using mobile data or local Wi-Fi. 

If you swap to a local or travel SIM card, WhatsApp will recognise it’s a different SIM card and ask if you want to change the number associated with your account but you can just skip this and continue using the app with your Australian number. 

Phone home on full power

Your phone is your lifeline on the road, which means you need battery power at all times. 

But you don’t necessarily want to go plugging your device into any old charging station. 

It may sound a bit far fetched, but it is possible for malware and viruses to be transferred onto your phone from public charging stations. It’s called “juice-jacking” and you don’t want to fall victim to it.

Instead, carry your own power bank and opt for one with a high capacity rating, at least 10,000 mAh, with enough wattage (at least 10 watts, ideally 20) for fast charging and recharging. 

Opt for one that’s lightweight to carry in a bag and one that has several ports if you’re likely to need to charge more than one device at a time.

If you don’t want to carry extra cables, choose a power bank with built-in charging cables and USB recharging if you don’t want to worry about needing an international converter to recharge via a powerpoint. 

On the topic of cables, make sure each device has its own charging cable and consider packing a powerboard with USB so you can charge everything with only one power plug converter.

Charge safe

When overseas, charge your phone using the wall outlets or the type of charging stations built into furniture at a hotel or airport. It’s always best to bring your own powerboard to charge everything using your own power plug converter.

Step 7. Can I trust free the Wi-Fi?

Cybercriminals use technical nouse to sneak into unsecured public Wi-Fi networks and steal sensitive information like bank and identity details - here’s how to protect yourself.  

You need to be cautious about connecting to free public Wi-Fi networks in every cafe, shopping centre, airport and hotel while abroad. 

Public Wi-Fi  can be unsecured, and vulnerable to hackers who can steal personal information and even install malicious software on your device. 

As a rule, it’s safer to always have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth turned off by default. 

Try to use mobile data as much as possible, but if you do need to use free Wi-Fi, be very selective about which networks you use and never do banking or other activities where you need to access sensitive, important information.    

Utilising a virtual private network (VPN) is best practice to protect yourself when using networks other than your home one as it will encrypt all your data. 

Go to a comparison site such as Canstar, CHOICE or Finder to choose a VPN, but always look for one with ‘Stealth’ mode because some public networks can detect and block devices using VPN connections without this feature.

Huh! What is a VPN?

A VPN, or virtual private network, is a secure tunnel between your device and the internet. VPNs protect you from online snooping, interference, and censorship.

Using a VPN to access the internet changes your IP address, the unique number that identifies you and your location in the world. 

This new IP address will make you appear to be in the location you select when you connect: the UK, Germany, Canada, Japan, or virtually any country, if the VPN service has servers there.

Step 8. Help, my phone was stolen!

Put these steps in place to save heartache and hassle if your smartphone gets stolen. 

 Sadly, travellers are a real target for phone thieves. 

To limit the fallout, always back up your phone before leaving to ensure your precious data is saved and leave a copy at home and have another with you or in the cloud to make setting up a new phone easier if the unthinkable happens.

This will let you safely wipe your phone remotely to protect your information while knowing you’ve got a backup ready to go when you get a new handset. 

You must have the ‘Find my’ setting turned on beforehand. See ‘Go go gadget ready for take off’ above for more on this.

iPhone

Go to icloud.com/find and sign in > All Devices > select device > Erase [device name] > enter Apple ID password > answer security questions/enter the verification code > Trust > follow instructions to confirm erase.

Android/Pixel phone

Go to android.com/find and sign in > select lost device > when you get a prompt, tap ‘Enable lock & erase’ > Erase device

8 steps to take if your phone is stolen overseas 

#1: Call

  1. Call your phone to locate it - hopefully a Good Samaritan will answer.

#2: Text

  1. Send a text to your phone with instructions on how to reach you.

#3: Find

  1. Use your phone’s “Find my” security features.

#4: Erase

  1. If you have confirmed it is lost, remotely erase all data from your phone.

#5: Lock up

  1. Lock your phone and change the password.

#6:Stop service

  1. Contact your mobile phone service provider to stop service and report the theft.

#7: Police

  1. Call local police and get a written report of the theft.

#8: Claim

  1. Check your travel insurance to see if you can claim your phone loss back.

Step 9. How do I limit password panic?

Don’t get locked out of your device by forgetting passwords - prepare with these tips instead.

Travel, like virtually everything else in our lives, has gone digital and that means we need lots of passwords. 

The simplest way to keep everything secure and easily accessible is by storing all your logins in a password manager. 

You will also be able to securely store passport numbers, credit card details and other important information. 

For a free password vault option, Apple iCloud Keychain or Google Password Manager will store passwords and account numbers, while a paid program like 1Password can store passwords and more in a safe digital vault.

Is it worth paying for password vaults?

The rise of online scams makes it worth considering paying for a secure password manager - also called a password vault or password locker.

These password programs are usually sold for a small annual fee, but they store usernames and passwords for different apps securely and in an encrypted format.

Users access the vault via a single ‘master’ password, making it much easier to remember.

The vault then provides the password for each account in an encrypted way, making it virtually impossible for scammers to use a “brute force” attack to access your accounts.

These password vaults can take a little learning before you get used to seamlessly accessing your passwords, but the peace of mind might be worth the friction.

Step 10. Beware the SMS security code conundrum

Two factor authentication can easily stuff up when you’re travelling. Avoid being locked out of vital accounts by taking these steps.

If you swap your Australian SIM card for a travel SIM while you’re away, you’ll face a problem accessing accounts that require an SMS code and your password (known as two-factor authentication or 2FA). 

This is because the code can only be sent to the Australian number and banks and other businesses typically don’t allow temporary or alternative mobile numbers to be used for this security measure.

To manage this, you may want to put your Australian SIM in the phone using roaming just to receive the code and then swap back out again.

 Some businesses may allow an email to receive the code, although this isn’t the most secure option. 

If using an eSIM, this can make it easier to receive the code via the Australian number as you can swap between the travel SIM and the Australian SIM, but just watch the roaming charges when activating your home SIM.

Some banks have a security app that you use when making payments or transactions and this can be access via mobile data or Wi-Fi, doing away with the need to receive an SMS code. 

In other cases, an authenticator app like Authy can be linked to accounts require 2FA.

Try and plan ahead to try and avoid these kinds of transactions and check with your bank and other accounts beforehand about their requirements.

2-factor authentication: get used to it

Two-factor authentication - also called 2FA - is an identity and access management security method for apps and websites.

With the rise of online scams and identity theft, many banks, tech brands and online subscription services use 2FA to allow you to access their services more securely to protect against hackers.

2FA requires two forms of identification to access resources and data and gives businesses the ability to monitor and help safeguard their most vulnerable information and networks.

2FA ultimately protects users, but can be a massive frustration if you leave the country and have no ability to authenticate your identity to access online services.

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