How To Beat Mobile Phone Bill Shock When Travelling Overseas

06 July 2016

Planning on heading overseas? Lucky you. Planning on taking your smartphone? You might want to keep reading.

International roaming is when your phone automatically connects to a local mobile phone network while you're overseas. Although it sounds convenient, it isn’t cheap. The cost of the calls you make can be exorbitant and you might be charged for calls you receive as well. Receiving SMS/MMS is usually free, but it will usually cost more to send them back.

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

The cost of overseas data use is ridiculous: PAYG data charges while travelling can be around $3 per MB, meaning that you could be charged this for looking at a single standard web page. Upload a photo to Facebook and you’ll be charged around four dollars at the same rate. If you imagine how much you use your phone each day, it is easy to see how you could get yourself into trouble.

So what can you do about it?

1. Keep Data Roaming Switched Off

Turn data roaming off and leave it 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

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.

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.

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 offers a Travel Pass for between 3 and 30 days overseas, starting from $15.
  • Optus offers a Travel Pack for $10 per day if you travel within Zone 1.

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.

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 Red Plan 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 over 50 eligible destinations.

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 when they update in the background. For the cheapest trip, follow the steps above and only turn data on when you intend to use it.

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


Compare phones and plans from the following carriers...



Featured Deals

Samsung Galaxy S8 - compare plans & prices

Compare plans & prices for the new Samsung Galaxy S8 here including any special promotions being offered...

Bonus LG Smart TV!

Fancy a new TV with your new phone? Buy the LG G6 on selected Telstra Mobile plans you can claim a bonus 43" LG Smart TV. Hurry Offer ends 9th May...

Unlimited International calling

Need to call overseas regularly? amaysim's UNLIMITED plans all include unlimited international calls from Australia to 10 countries...

15GB data for $50/month!

The $50 12-month SIM plan from Virgin Mobile includes 15GB data + $300 standard international calls & text. Min total cost over 12 months is $600.

Sites that use our comparison technology

Our comparison technology is used by many publishers to evaluate products and services. You can find our technology and service on:

About this Service

WhistleOut maintains a broad list of service providers and we endeavour to include at least the top ten service providers in every category so that you can make a transparent choice. When you see a 'promoted product' or a product with a 'go to site' button it means that WhistleOut is earning a transaction click fee for the referral. We audit the prices in our database regularly and we don't alter the ranking of products in our organic search based on any commercial relationship. Find out more here