How to Avoid Shock Roaming Charges When You’re Abroad
If you’ve seen the media lately, you’ll have likely heard the nightmare stories of customers caught off-guard by costly bills and charges after taking a break abroad with their smartphone.
For many, these costs have gone up into the hundreds and sometimes the thousands, with the victim often being none the wiser until returning home from their whirlwind trip.
Nobody could blame you for not wanting this to happen to you, so if you’re planning on travelling this summer, it’d be wise to take action. Even buying a bundle doesn’t always make you immune to painful data charges that can crop up when you least expect them, so it’s important to look into the small print of any tariff you’re on and consider alternative solutions that aren’t going to dent your post-holiday glow.
What is Data Roaming?
Data roaming is the the usage of another country’s mobile network to access the internet, whilst still being charged by your own provider back home.
As well as mobile internet, higher rates can also apply to making calls and sending and receiving text messages. Remember that the use of instant messaging apps (such as WhatsApp) also use an internet connection, so will count as part of your data consumption.
How Much Does Data Roaming Cost?
Roaming charges in the EU have recently been slashed as of July 1 2014. The maximum amount a user can be charged for 1 MB of data is now 19p (or 20 cents), down from 43p previously (45 cents). Calls and texts will be cheaper too, though the costs of these depend on your own network provider.
Its worth noting however that not all European countries, like Turkey, Switzerland and Tunisia, are part of the EU. For these, non-EU rates would apply.
And what exactly are the rates for roaming outside of the EU?
Standard rates for somewhere like the United States or South Africa, for example, can vary between £3 (Vodafone) and £8 (Tesco Mobile) for just 1MB of data. Whilst 1MB will usually let you send about 20 emails (without attachments) according to MoneySavingExpert’s Martin Lewis, it won’t get you so far when streaming or viewing visual media.
For example, watching a 60 minute movie could cost between £400 and £1800, says Ofcom, with a usage rate of between 50MB and 225MB. With these eye-watering figures in mind, its easy to see why its better to give the mobile internet a rest during your trip and find other ways of getting your online fix.
Know Your Safety Limit
Thanks to the cap imposed by telecom regulator Ofcom, your network provider is prevented from charging you for more than £40-£50 worth of mobile data during a single trip (check your network’s terms and conditions for the exact limit). When roaming abroad, your provider is legally obliged to send you a text alert when you’ve reached 80% of your limit, then another when you’ve reached 100%.
After this point, it must prevent you from using extra data UNLESS you manually choose to continue using the service after being notified that you’ve reached your limit. If you don’t receive any indication that you’ve reached your limit and are hit with a large bill upon returning home, you’ll be eligible to file a complaint and get the bill revoked.
Bear in mind however that purchasing a bundle or data add-on package before you go away can potentially invalidate the standard data limit. Always check with your provider before travel so you know where you stand.
Pay Less – Get More Data
If you usually consume a lot of data when you’re at home and can’t bear the thought of going without internet for a week, then its worth checking what bundles or add-ons are available from your provider.
Many of these bundles allow you to consume up to a certain amount of data per day or make unlimited phone calls, each for a low daily fee. When you don’t use your phone, you don’t pay a thing, and you can always renew your daily bundle if you need more data.
Mobile network Three offers free roaming in 16 countries, whilst Orange, EE and T-Mobile all offer the joint option of an EU data bundle, which includes 50MB of data for just £3 a day. O2 Travel, meanwhile, offers unlimited data for £1.99 a day, and Vodafone’s Euro Traveller allows you to stick to your usual UK price plan for the extra cost of £2 a day. All of these networks offer bundles for travelling outside the EU, too.
What to watch out for
If you plan on using a bundle, be sure to check the following before you travel:
- The countries that are included in your bundle
- Whether the bundle can be activated when you’re abroad, or must be activated before you leave
- Whether your daily data allowance can be renewed and how many times
- Whether buying a bundle will opt you out of the standard data cap of £40-50. If it does, you won’t receive any notifications to tell you when you’ve exceeded your data limit.
There are plenty of ways to keep costs of your mobile usage down when travelling, none of which involve foregoing online antics altogether.
Turn off data roaming
To avoid any nasty shocks, its a good idea to turn off data roaming on your handset completely. Even when not being actively used, your phone may have apps that continuously leak data, or perform automated web updates without you knowing it.
To do this, go to your phone’s main wireless and network settings in its control panel, and untick the ‘Data Roaming’ box.
Make use of free wi-fi
Many public spaces such as hotels, cafes and coffee shops offer a free wi-fi service that you can use to check your social media whenever you stop for a breather. Simply ask a member of staff for the network name and password or let your phone connect automatically.
Beware of copycat networks that are set up by fraudsters to intercept data that may be personal to you. If you are not sure, always check with a member of staff.
Buy a local or international SIM card
If you frequently visit the same country or stay for long periods of time in one place, a PAYG local SIM card may be the ideal answer. This way you’ll only be charged the local network rate in that country and you can buy it on arrival. Whilst it requires an unlocked handset and an initial fee, it is said to make huge savings on mobile data if there is no access to free wi-fi.
If you’re a regular globetrotter however and like to visit multiple countries within a single trip, then a prepaid global SIM card will be more for you. These types of SIM cards need to be bought and set up before you leave, and again will require an unlocked device. Popular options include Dataroam, Simplyroam, GoSim, GeoSim and 0044.
Download before you go
Always remember to download everything you think might need before you go – apps, eBooks, music and movies. This way, you’ll be less tempted to browse online for entertainment, and can avoid the hefty fees for doing so.
Remember, downloading and streaming is one of the fastest ways to torch through your data allowance. As long as you vow to use your allowance sensibly – for emails and the odd social media post – there’s no reason your browsing should have to cost as much as your holiday.