How To Beat Mobile Phone Bill Shock When Travelling Overseas

Summary: Using your smartphone overseas is in the top three causes of mobile plan bill shock. We’ve put together a quick guide to avoiding overseas bill shock in just a few simple steps.

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Planning on heading overseas? Lucky you. Planning on taking your smartphone?

If you can’t bear to be parted from your favourite gadget, you should be concerned about being hit with a massive bill on your return. Using your smartphone overseas is in the top three causes of mobile plan bill shock, with many travellers having no idea how much data costs overseas.

The real culprit behind overseas bill shock is the cost of data usage

The cost of overseas data use is ridiculous: looking at a single standard webpage usually costs around three dollars (not including connection fees); upload a photo to Facebook and you’ll be charged around four dollars. Multiply these costs by the amount of browsing, social networking and downloading you might do in an average day and it’s not hard to see how you can get yourself into trouble.

International roaming is when your phone automatically connects to a local mobile phone network while your overseas. Although it sounds convenient, it isn’t cheap – and you’ll generally pay for the calls you receive as well as make. Receiving SMS/MMS is free, but it will usually cost more to send them, so check with your provider.

So what can you do about it?

1. Keep Data Roaming Switched Off

Turn data roaming, cellular data and 3G off and leave them off. How you do this will vary slightly depending on your handset model and carrier, but as a general guide:

  • iPhone: Go to Settings → General → Network → slide Data Roaming, Cellular Data and Enable 3G to ‘off’.
  • Android: Go to Settings → Wireless Controls → Mobile Network Settings → uncheck Data Roaming.

Click to enlarge

Find the Wi-Fi

You can still use your smartphone at WiFi hotspots – you’ll find most hotels and many restaurants provide complimentary WiFi to their customers, so restrict your web browsing and app use to when you can do it for free.

Another benefit of using WiFi is that there are many applications such as Skype and Viber which offer free or low-rate phone and video calls and texting with other users – definitely something to look into if you want to stay in touch with home.

2. Switch Off Location Services and Push Notifications

Another phone setting that is frequently overlooked is turning off Location Services and any automatic updates and push notifications you’ve enabled for apps. While Locations Services relies on GPS to pinpoint your location, and this is free to use, it also uses mobile data for increased accuracy.

As with disabling data roaming, you can do this yourself through accessing ‘Settings’ for iPhones and Android-operated phones, and ‘Options’ for Blackberry – look for the Location Services and Notifications tabs, and switch everything off.

  • iPhone: Go to Settings → Privacy → Location Services → Toggle Location Service On / Off.
  • Android: Go to Settings → Location → Toggle Location Services On / Off.

Choose Vodafone’s $5 Per Day Roaming

Consider switching your current phone plan over to a Vodafone RED plan and taking advantage of the telco’s $5 per day Roaming costs. For this flat daily fee, Vodafone customers use their phones overseas exactly as they would at home. You get unlimited calls, SMS and your standard data allowance to use when travelling in any of the 47 included destinations.

If you do decide to take this route, keep in mind that Vodafone will charge you $5 for every day that you use your phone while overseas. Apps like Facebook which automatically update will trigger the $5 fee. For the cheapest trip, follow the steps above and only turn Data On when you use it.

3. Buy Data Before You Go

If you absolutely can’t survive without internet, buy an international data roaming pack from your Aussie carrier before you go. Most of the major carriers offer monthly packs with a set amount of data.

  • Telstra offer 4 international data packs, starting from $29 for 100MB.
  • Optus offer only two data packs, for either $45 or $85 with minimal data inclusions.

If you use this option, steer clear of YouTube and streaming music and video, and try to stick to basic email and internet browsing. As we’ve said, take advantage of free WiFi hotspots in hotels, restaurants and major attractions.

Update: Telstra, Optus and Vodafone all have updated roaming offers. Each now has flat rate plan options available in select overseas regions.

4. Buy a Local Prepaid SIM When You Arrive

A cheaper option is to swap your Australian SIM card for a local prepaid SIM upon arrival. Internet access will work out about 90% cheaper (depending on where you land) and you can make low-rate calls to local numbers.

You’ll need to make sure that your handset can be unlocked from your network, and is compatible with the local networks. SIM cards can usually be purchased at airports; and though it may cost you more, airport retailers are accustomed to dealing with travellers and you can be confident it will be good to go from the minute you leave the terminal.

The one major drawback to this method is that you won’t be reachable on your regular number, so make sure you’ve left alternative contact details such as an email address with everyone back home.

5. Leave Your Phone at Home

Finally, if you really want to avoid the temptation of data usage and just need a way to make and receive calls and texts, buy a cheap, prepaid, old-school handset when you reach your destination, and keep the smartphone switched off and stored away. Save your email and Twittering for Internet cafes and hotel laptops, and save yourself the worry of a potentially nasty shock when you open next month’s phone bill.

Suitcase image via Shutterstock


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