Using the web overseas: a field guide

I have spent the last few years of my life overseas. Being a geek, I’ve always been fascinated by the technology that makes life abroad that bit more bearable. So I thought I’d share some of experiences of how I use technology overseas. This post focuses on using the web.

A secure connection: Obvious – I know. But it’s worth stating the obvious. The internet has literally transformed how we communicate and entertain ourselves over recent years. But sadly, the tradition of the open web is changing fast. Services including media streaming and news sites are often limited by geographic location (BBC iPlayer is a good example). In addition to this, countries around the world have differing perspectives on internet freedom. Many countries increasingly choose to intercept citizens web-browsing and sites are often blocked. Much will depend on where you are. For example, if you’re on a public hotspot or on hotel wifi it’s probably not a good idea to download email, use social media sites or do online banking. My approach around this has always been to maintain a VPN account with a UK provider that I trust (or at least trust more than unfettered open internet access). These VPN accounts can cost as little as £5 per month and can be configured on all modern hardware from smartphones through to laptops. As I’m living permanently overseas I’ve gone one step further and actually invested in the ASUS N66U DSL router which includes VPN support. It’s a couple of years old now, so ASUS probably have improved models by now. In effect, all my devices that sit under the router sit on a virtual UK network. This approach enables me to use UK geo-fenced apps on the devices which don’t support VPNs directly, such as my Apple TV and my LG TV.

Mobile connectivity: One of the most frequent questions people ask me is around ‘roaming’. You’ll be surprised, how many people get stung on failing to:  1. turn data roaming off on their mobile phone and 2. underestimating the cost of making and receiving calls outside of the EU.

My advice is simple. If you’re outside of the EU – do not make and receive calls on your UK phone. The first thing to do is pick up a local SIM and pay for a data/SMS/call bundle.  It will almost always be cheaper than using your UK sim. To do this you will obviously need a carrier unlocked phone first – so come prepared.

TuGo: My approach, which I highly recommend is to have an O2 account. O2 launched a few years ago a game changing service called ‘TuGo’. It’s incredible. Basically you can make and receive UK calls/SMS via their TuGo app on your smartphone or tablet. Essentially, all you need is some form of internet connection (fixed line/wifi or cellular).  I use it daily and the service is exceptional.

Worth also flagging that if you’re a Three member then you can also benefit from their ‘Feel at Home’ deal.  It’s limited to 18 or so countries at the moment (mainly Europe and other developed nations). In a nutshell you can use data and make/receive calls/SMS without incurring roaming charges.

Combine the local data service with your VPN service and you’re good to go.

Two factor authentication: People under-estimate the importance of a good password. Many sites, such as Google, Evernote, Twitter and Facebook all support two-factor or two-step authentication. Essentially, this requires you to: 1. correctly input your site password when logging on for the first time on a new device and 2. enter a unique random code generated by a two factor authentication app such as (Authy). My advice, where possible use two step authentication. At the very least, if your site password is compromised, you can take assurance that they physically need access to your phone to generate the second authentication code.