Using Your Mobile Phone Abroad – Data Roaming

Having a mobile phone is almost as common place as taking your keys and wallet with you when you head out of the house. However, travelling abroad can be a costly experience if you don’t take the necessary precautions. Find out the dos and don’ts of using your phone while on holiday.


What is Data Roaming?

Mobile roaming is the term given to using your mobile phone while overseas. Your mobile phone provider uses overseas networks to route your calls and data to provide you with coverage but at much higher costs than in the UK. Find below some useful tips and advice to avoid a big bill when you return home from your holiday. Doing a little research before you go on holiday could save you £££’s when you get home.

Text Messaging Abroad

Receiving a text message is Free worldwide! Since 2009 the European Commission has regulated the price of sending text messages, all mobile service providers now charge a fixed price of 11p per text sent. Sending a reply from the UK can vary in cost from 8-10p per message and maybe included Free as part of a monthly contract. However, you might not be aware that text messages can cost as much as 60p per message when sent outside the EU. If you do send text message then make sure you don’t go back and forth as this will soon mount up.

Data Roaming – Using Mobile Internet

Using your mobile phone to access the internet can soon stack up some hefty bills. Surprisingly, you can mount up bills that can be more than the cost of the holiday!

WARNING: Under no circumstances download and watch a movie or TV using your mobile phone or tablet as this can literally cost 100s or even 1000s of pounds. Data roaming in EU countries is capped and can cost as much as 70p per MB, while the rest of the world costs up to £10 per MB! Typically, browsing 10 web pages from your mobile which are optimised to load faster will use roughly 1MB and the same usage for viewing a YouTube clip of 30 seconds, both could potentially stack up to a large bill before you know it!

The best course of action to avoid a big bill is to keep your phone switched off or at least turn data roaming off, but if like most people its essential for keeping in touch then consider the following (before you go on holiday):

Minimising Data Roaming While on Holiday

  • iPhone – International data roaming is by default switched off. To change this setting go to Settings > General > Cellular and tap On/Off for Data Roaming.
  • Switch off 3G or 4G and use the WiFi in the villa or use a Free WiFi spot provided by a nearby coffee shop or restaurant, lots of shops and eateries now offer this service as standard.
  • Turn off automatic app updates on the iPhone 5 by going to Settings > iTunes & App Stores > Automatic Downloads and turn off Music, Apps and Books. Android phones – go to Settings > Accounts and Sync > untick Background Data.
  • iPhone users – make sure your software is up to date before you go on holiday. O2 had a fault with older iPhone software which led to incorrect charges.
  • iPhone Fetch New Data – Go to Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendars and turn Fetch New Data off and this will stop the data being automatically pushed to your phone.
  • Opting into the EU cut off – providers under the current EU regulations have to warn you when you are close to reaching 50 euros, approximately £43 of data roaming charges in a month when overseas. You simply get cut off until your next billing month begins. You can opt out of this EU regulation or set your limit higher but doing this could put your wallet at risk. Buying data bundles before going overseas can automatically see you opted out of this cap, if in doubt ask your network provider to check you’re covered.
  • Tourist guides – If you’ve download a tourist app or guide make sure this works offline, viewing maps and reviews could seriously increase your data usage and your bill.
  • Tracking your data usage on an iPhone – this can be easily done before you go on holiday. If you go to Settings > General > Usage > Cellular Usage > Reset. This will then allow you to see what data usage you’ve used during your stay. Most phone providers also have Free apps that let you easily see this.
  • Check your phone settings and make sure images are not automatically downloaded on emails. On the iPhone you can check this in Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendars > Load Remote Images and make sure this is set as Off.

Voicemail Charges

Voicemails are not charged when someone rings and leaves a message, whether you’re in or outside the EU. However, as soon as you access your voicemail the charge for a UK call is capped at approximately 21p per minute plus VAT. Please check with your service provider before you go on holiday. You could instruct people on your voicemail that you’re on holiday and if its an urgent matter to send an email which you will check daily. These messages could be picked up using the WiFi from the villa or when visiting a handy cafe or restaurant offering this free service.

Call for Free Using WiFi

Any smart phone, tablet or laptop has the ability to download software that coverts internet to phone. If you have access to WiFi on holiday then all you need to do is to install a programme like Skype. Once installed you can call other friends on Skype over WiFi, and best of all its free! Should you wish to and if the connect speed is good enough you can even video call. An excellent way to keep in touch with family and friends without the heavy burden on your wallet.

If the person you want to call isn’t on Skype then don’t fret as you can easily top up your Skype account and call a landline or a mobile phone, which is dramatically cheap than using your phone or even a landline phone while on holiday. You can also manage your budget easily as it keeps track of call costs, its worthy noting that your Skype credit will become inactive if you don’t use it for 180 days. Before this happens you will get 2 notifications via email and even then you can re-active your credit if your account has become deactivated.

Switching Sim Cards for Heavy Callers

If you make lots of calls the best way to slash your charges is to switch your sim cards. You can opt for a one Sim which will work in many countries or purchase a sim specific to the country you are in, both will save massively compared to your UK provider.

Network Bundles

Before you go on holiday check what your mobile service provider can offer in regards minutes and data roaming bundles. The will vary depending if you’re in or outside the EU. Purchasing bundles of data and minutes will save large amounts and is highly recommended before you travel abroad for peace of mind. All service provides offers these bundles including Orange, O2, Vodafone and T-Mobile.

Contact Your Service Provider

Be prepared before you go on holiday and spend some time making sure you don’t pay over the odds when using your phone abroad. As a starting point ring your service provider and ask what the texts, calls and data roaming charges are for the country you are going to. Also, ask for advice about your phone and if there is anything they can advise you on when taking your phone abroad. Make sure you ask about any limits set on the data roaming and if this will cut off should you exceed them.

Lastly, relax and enjoy your holiday knowing you’re not going to arrive home to a nasty surprise waiting on the doorstep, in the form of a huge mobile phone bill.

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