Bill shock. Two small words that can mean a very big headache if you’re unlucky enough to come home from an overseas trip to find your mobile phone bill has gained a few extra digits. Global roaming costs can quickly add up to hundreds – even thousands – of dollars if you use your phone several times a day to make calls and access the net while you’re abroad.
There are two types of global roaming costs - phone calls and data (internet) usage.
Global-roaming calls are charged by time, and you may also pay a connection fee. You’ll also pay to receive phone calls and for voicemail messages. The cost to send SMS and MMS messages while overseas is also higher. Check with your phone provider about the costs of calls from the countries you’re visiting so you know upfront how much a 10-minute phone call to Australia costs, for example.
Internet access is calculated by the amount of data used to email, use apps and access websites. You can use an online calculator to work out the amount of data needed for internet-enabled services you’re likely to use. It’s charged by the kilobyte or megabyte (depending on the provider).
New Australian standard underway
The UN’s telco agency, the International Telecommunication Union, believes governments and regulators have a duty to protect consumers and lower global roaming costs. Meanwhile, in Australia, ACMA is working on a standard that compels telcos to notify customers when they’re overseas of the cost of a call, text message and internet access, and provide them with an opt-out option.
The proposed standard would require telecommunications companies to warn consumers they are roaming; and provide country specific information the costs of calls and data use when they switch on their mobile telephone overseas. The draft Standard also proposes that telcos be required to give their customers: a low cost way to decline the use of mobile services while overseas and tools to monitor and manage usage while overseas.
Tips to curb bill shock
- Use free internet in Wi-Fi hot spots in cafes, hotels, airports or shopping centres as often as possible.
- Research the locations before you leave home so you can plan to make internet (VoIP ) phone calls or send emails each day when it’s convenient.
- If you must send documents or attachments while travelling, limit this to times when you’re using free internet. Turn off. Don’t make calls, send text messages or access the internet unless it’s an emergency.
- Turn off voicemail for the duration so you don’t pay for phone messages.
- Turn off data roaming using your phone’s settings – see right for how to do this.
- Use Skype or a similar internet-based phone service via Wi-Fi to make free or very cheap phone calls.
- Use travel mode on your phone.
- Turn off all updates, notifications and location services, such as mapping, for the duration of your travels.
- Buy a global-roaming data pack. Your phone provider should sell these for both prepaid and post-paid plans.
- Set usage alerts so you don’t go over your limit.
- Buy a prepaid global-roaming SIM card. You can buy one in Australia before you leave, or in the countr y in which you’re travelling, and they can be used in unlocked phones.