Using your mobile abroad
It’s never nice returning from a relaxing holiday abroad – so the last thing you need is to have a sky-high mobile phone bill waiting for you at home.
Using your phone overseas can cost considerably more than it does at home, particularly if you’re using it to get online.
You can even run up a big bill without consciously using your phone.
Many smartphones or tablet computer will have applications which automatically search for online updates whenever the device is on.
So unless you turn off data roaming before you go abroad, these devices could be inadvertently downloading in the background throughout your stay.
Specific measures have already been introduced to tackle bill shock in the European Union but roaming charges in the rest of the world can be much higher.
Below you will find some information on call, text and data charges abroad, as well as advice on how to avoid running up a large mobile bill.
Call and text charges
Under EU law all mobile companies have to offer special voice and SMS tariffs called the Eurotariff and the Euro-SMS tariff.
Companies cannot charge more than a specified amount for these tariffs. They are available across most European countries but not in Switzerland, Turkey or Croatia.
All customers automatically benefit from the Eurotariff and the Euro-SMS tariff, unless they have chosen to switch to another roaming tariff offered by their operator.
Calls should cost no more than to €0.29 (24p) per minute excluding VAT, and consumers must be charged no more than €0.08 (around 7p) per minute excluding VAT to receive calls.
The price of sending a text should cost no more than €0.09 (7p) per text, and consumers cannot be charged to receive texts.
All mobile operators have to apply a cut-off limit once your mobile internet bill reaches 50 Euros – around £40 – per month, wherever you are travelling in the world.
Mobile operators must also send customers a text message or email when they reach 80% and then 100% of the agreed limit. Operators must then stop providing and charging for that mobile internet service when the limit is met unless the customer re-authorises their account.
This happens automatically, unless you opt out. Additionally, some providers may offer different cut-off limits apart from €50, for you to select. You might opt-out of the cut off limit and alerts by contacting your provider, or if, for example, you purchase a larger data roaming bundle which would take you over the €50 limit. If you are not sure, make sure you check with your provider.
When a customer enters a different European Union country, operators must send a welcome SMS/text message with basic price information on roaming services, a freephone number for more detailed price information, and the 112 emergency number.
Operators must also send a reminder of data roaming prices when the customer first connects to that service in a different European Union country.
A cap on roaming data charges in the European Union also came into force on 1 July 2012.
This cap means that phone companies can charge no more than 70 cents (58p) per megabyte of data, plus VAT.
This will then fall to 45 cents in 2013 and 20 cents in summer 2014.
Since July 2012 people travelling outside Europe also receive warning alerts once their monthly mobile internet bill approaches 50 Euros.
- If you are planning to travel outside of Europe, it is especially important to check roaming prices before you go as they can be higher.
- Some mobile operators have extended the existing EU data roaming cut-off limit worldwide so that consumers can enjoy data roaming protection wherever they travel. However, most providers do not yet offer this facility outside Europe. Make sure you check with your provider before you travel.
- Check prices for using data before you go. If you are a frequent traveller, shop around for those that offer the best roaming bundles.
- Check how much you will be charged per MB if you exceed the bundle – be wary as this can be a lot higher than the cost per MB when you purchase a bundle.
- Use local WiFi hotspots in the countries you are visiting instead of mobile internet. If you are unsure how to do this, refer to your handset manual or speak to your provider. If you have not correctly logged on to use the local WiFi, you may end up facing a large data roaming bill.
- When outside Europe you might be charged when someone else leaves a message on your voicemail (as well as when you pick the message up). Speak to your operator if you want to switch voicemail off before you leave.
- Turn off data roaming on your smartphone or tablet computer. The user manual should explain how to do this. Alternatively, speak to your provider.
- It is also possible to buy an international SIM card or dongle from a specialised provider, which may offer lower prices when travelling in a variety of different countries.
- You could consider buying a local pay-as-you-go SIM card or a local laptop dongle in the country that you visit, so that you pay local prices. This may be especially worthwhile for people who frequently visit the same country.
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