Are you traveling overseas anytime soon? Here are some of our top tips when it comes to using your phone abroad without having to break the bank.
Your smartphone is perhaps as essential to your trips as your passport. And that is not an overstatement.
Think about it!
Your phone is probably your most useful travel companion. It can be a personal translator, navigator, and even a currency converter all in one. It is what you use to communicate with family and friends back home and is most likely the first thing you will reach out for should you find yourself in trouble. Chances are it is also your personal camera when you want to capture those shots that’ll make everyone jealous and your primary source of tourist information.
Sadly, if you are not careful, using your phone abroad can become an expensive affair – much more than you bargained for.
In this article, we will be highlighting five tips on how to keep expensive phone bills from putting a damper on even the most exciting and relaxing holiday.
Turn off data roaming if you are outside of the European Union
If you are on pay as you go, you will be charged the same per text, per minute and per MB of data rates as in your home nation.
If you are on a monthly plan or on contract, you can keep using your data bundle while you are abroad.
However, if you are going much further afield, using your 4G or LTE abroad is one of the main reasons for out-of-this-world phone bills. So, it is best that you turn it off before you board the plane. Downloading and streaming video are the two main things that drain data. However, you could also be consuming your mobile data inadvertently.
Why is data roaming so expensive?
When you are abroad, your connection can’t be run by the network provider. Instead, the connection has to come through a local network provider who will charge extra fees known as inter-operator charges, to cover the cost of having to handle the traffic from a foreign mobile network user. Your provider then passes on these charges, plus the markup, to you.
Most smartphones will refresh in the background, allowing you to receive social media, apps, and email notifications. What is more, your phone will always try to automatically connect to a mobile data network as soon as it is available – and that includes when you are abroad.
While data used by app refreshes is minimal, if coupled with active data usage, you could be surprised by how much it could add to your bill. Turning off data roaming ensures that you have control over how much data you are using while traveling.
Data roaming alternatives
Well, it is quite obvious that switching off mobile data more or less defeats the purpose of carrying your phone with you.
So, what do you do instead? There are three ways you could go about this:
Option #1. Buying a roaming bundle
A majority of networks have roaming bundles that you can purchase beforehand. These bundles work like a monthly plan: they keep costs down by providing a data allowance that you can use while outside the country at a flat rate.
However, it is vital that you keep an eye on usage. Roaming bundles typically have less generous allowances compared to domestic monthly plans. It is worth noting that once you’ve used up your data allocation, normal roaming rates take effect.
Most network providers will notify you that your bundle is about to run out or expire, and this should give you time to disable mobile data or to purchase a new one.
Option #2. Using local Wi-Fi where possible
Depending on the country you are traveling to, you might find free public-access Wi-Fi hotspots you can connect to or have the option to buy an allowance of local Wi-Fi. If you opt to use this option, remember to switch off your mobile data. Most smartphones will automatically switch to mobile data if available Wi-Fi connections are choppy or if they drop off.
Option #3. Buying a local SIM
Buying a local SIM is typically the cheapest way of making calls and getting access to mobile data while abroad. Sadly, though, this method will only work if you are using an unlocked phone as different SIM cards will not work in locked phones.
If you travel further afield than any of the nations mentioned above, then it may be a good idea to invest in pocket Wifi. For example, using your mobile phone in an Asian nation such as Japan can lead to very high mobile charges and this is why you should get pocket Wifi in Japan – it could make your trip a lot cheaper and a lot more convenient.
Use VoIP and SMS instead of making regular calls
It is not just mobile data that can be costly when you are traveling outside the country, text, and calls can be costlier.
Home nation network providers will charge you even when you receive a call while abroad. However, receiving texts is free of charge. Take advantage of this by requesting your friends and family to text instead of calling. However, you should also avoid getting into full-blown text conversations as they can quickly add up the cost.
Alternatively, you can connect to a Wi-Fi hotspot and make an internet, or VoIP, call. Using WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Skype or FaceTime to make video or voice calls is a great way to avoid your provider’s per-minute rates on all outgoing calls.
VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) calls can use up data quite fast, so avoid using data roaming allowances to make these calls. Instead use public-access or your hotel’s Wifi for anything that requires lots of data such as VoIP calls, downloads, or streaming. Always ensure that your mobile data is off before making any VoIP calls as you will automatically switch to the option should your Wifi connection drop.
It may come as a surprise to you, but some network providers will charge you for listening to your voicemail messages while abroad. However, the per-minute charge is capped by EU rules to a maximum of 0.05 Euros/minute over and above the normal allowance (0.19 Euros/minute overall). European Union rules also forbid network providers from charging users if someone leaves them a voicemail message.
The cost of getting a voicemail message while outside the Europe Union can be eye-watering. It is, therefore, a good idea to ask your provider to deactivate your voicemail. This is usually done free of charge.
Of course, you will also need to request your provider to reactivate the service once you are back in the country.
Keep Your Phone Secure
Losing your smartphone or it getting stolen while abroad is an inconceivable blow. Not only do you lose an expensive and prized possession, but you could also be hit with a massive phone bill racked up by a conniving individual.
A majority of network providers will apply a cap on any unauthorized usage, but only if you notify them that you lost your phone or it was stolen and report the matter to the police within 24 hours. What is more, the cap is only voluntary; so it is best to follow up with your network provider to find out if they have this policy.
Nevertheless, you could minimize the damage of a stolen or lost phone by password-protecting the device and your sim.
Locking Your Smartphone
Whether you use your fingerprint or a numeric passcode, putting a lock on your smartphone is a great idea. Doing so will make it hard for unauthorized people to unlock your phone and using it to gain access to sensitive personal information.
Locking Your SIM Card
While thieves may not be able to use your phone, they still can take out your SIM card and use it in a different handset, leaving you to foot the bill. That is why it is advisable that you also set a PIN code for unlocking your SIM.