Published on April 21st, 2013 | by Simon

Mobile Roaming Fees

Everyone has heard the horror stories. You have a great trip away but some time after you arrive home, you receive an invoice from your mobile provider that amounts to more than your airfares. Some years ago, I had to take an Australian carrier to the Telecom Ombudsman to get them to review and then reverse $800 of fees for data that simply could not technically have been possible on the phone I had at the time – they simply wouldn’t listen to reason. Roaming charges can be outrageous and you have little way of knowing what you are building up while you are away, so some preparatory precautions are seriously advised.

Firstly you need to decide for yourself how much staying in contact with family, friends, and work is truly vital. We are all now used to being connected 24/7, but a few years ago this wasn’t the norm and people didn’t lose friends or their job! How much connectivity you need will dictate how much it may cost you.

Secondly, your phone may be a limiting factor. If you are on contract, the phone may be ‘locked’ to your phone provider. And if you are from North America, you may have a phone that has no removable SIM card. In these cases, there are workarounds, but they aren’t quite as simple as if you have a phone that is unlocked and will work with most SIMs.

And finally, different countries use different bands to transmit to your phone, so it may not work where you are going, even if you choose to roam with your own carrier. If you have a ‘quad band’ phone, you will probably be ok almost everywhere but if you want to research before you leave, the standard bands country by country are here.

Here are some suggestions, in increasing order of savings, but also of effort and complexity:

  • In your phone’s settings change automatic updating of apps to run only if your phone is connected to wifi.
  • Change settings for connecting to the internet to run only if you are connected to wifi.
  • Make sure you book only hotels that advertise wifi available in your room with no fee.
  • Sign up for a Skype account. Basic accounts are free. If you can install a Skype app on your phone, you may be able to talk to friends totally free when on wifi.
  • Add money to your Skype account. This will allow you to make calls via Skype at rates that are normally much lower than roaming. In Europe and North America, you can apply for a Skype To Go number for each of your friends which will be a local number that will connect to your friends directly via Skype. So you pay only local call charges to get connected.
  • Get a Skype Number (previously called Skype In which is a better description). The cost is flat at about $25 for three months minimum. You can choose a local number in your home country, so anyone at home can call that number for the normal call to landline charge and you will receive the call on Skype. If you want to avoid all calls to your normal mobile number, just divert it to the Skype In number while you are away. An added benefit is that Skype will take a voicemail if you do not pick up. Checking voicemails via Skype is free when you are online, which is way better than paying roaming connection fees to check voicemails left on your home mobile.
  • Get a local SIM card. This is the one thing that will save you most of all. A new SIM for your phone will cost from nothing to $10 in almost all locations. Most mobile shops will test your phone’s ability to run with a new SIM and to connect to the local network. The store will normally do this by using a test SIM or even one from their own phone. They know what they are doing and they know what you want, so let them try whatever solution they suggest. If it works, there will be some paperwork including sometimes copying your passport name page.
  • If a local SIM works, add some extra money to the new SIM account (usually $10 will be more than enough) and have the store configure your phone. Make sure they do the activation process both for normal calls and for the internet for which settings can be complex. Then you can do all the online things with your phone that you normally do at home. And remember to check your Skype settings so that if you don’t answer inbound calls via Skype online, they divert the call to your new local number.
  • The ultimate saving solution – don’t take your phone. Or take it and remove the SIM. You can still use it when on wifi in your hotel or an increasing number of cafes, restaurants, and shopping malls.


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