Mobiles abroad:Top tips to keep costs down

Most of us know roughly what our mobile phone bills will be each month, but if you’re planning on taking your phone abroad this summer, you could be in for a nasty shock when you get home.

Woman on a mobile phone
Most of us know roughly what our mobile phone bills will be each month, but if you’re planning on taking your phone abroad this summer, you could be in for a nasty shock when you get home.

Call and data roaming charges soar when you head overseas, and, while costs for using your phone in Europe have been capped since July last year, if you are travelling outside the EU, it can cost as much as £2 a minute to call the UK. That means just one 20 minute call could set you back £40.

Using the internet on your phone can be even more expensive, especially if you regularly download TV clips or music, and many people have returned home to find bills running into hundreds or even thousands of pounds.

Fortunately, there are ways to ensure you don’t ring up massive charges while you are on holiday. Here are our top tips for keeping mobile costs abroad down…

Find out what you’ll be paying

Before you leave British shores, make sure you find out exactly how much keeping in touch is going to cost you once you’re abroad.

Mike Wilson, mobiles and broadband manager at moneysupermarket.com said: "My advice is to speak to your network provider before you jet off to ensure you are aware of how much calls, texts and internet use will set you back.

Your provider should be able to give you a better understanding of how your tariff differs when away.

I would also advise checking whether there is a cheaper international tariff available if you want to use your phone without returning to a hefty bill on the doorstep."

Sign up to a roaming package

The big network providers offer roaming packages which can cut the cost of using your phone abroad. Mr Wilson added: “For travellers looking for a specific tariff to use when overseas one of the best deals is Vodafone Passport; it is free for all customers and after a 75p connection charge allows you to make calls charged at the normal network rate or using your inclusive minutes.

Customers can also receive calls of up to sixty minutes for free in Europe and Australia, with a 75p connection charge.
“T-Mobile and Three offer good traveller rates with other providers also offering value for customers with flat rates for calls, texts and internet, for a small monthly fee.”

For example, Orange has Europe Traveller for its contract customers, which costs £5.10 for 30 days and gives 200 minutes of calls at 28.6p a minute compared with the usual 38.8p a minute, plus you can receive 200 minutes of calls for free.

O2's My Europe Extra costs £10.21 and you get 10p off calls, plus receiving calls is free. It's available as one-off, or a one-month rolling contract.

Turn off data roaming

If you don’t want to get hit with steep charges for using mobile internet abroad on Smartphones such as iPhones and BlackBerrys, you should make sure you turn off data functions before setting off.

Mr Wilson said: “In addition, unless you really need the internet access, keep downloading to a minimum to avoid high costs.

Charges for mobile internet can be as low as £1.28 per MB from Three and Vodafone offers  a ‘24 hour travel pass' rate of £2 for 25MB should you need a day access of mobile internet.”

Don’t open attachments

If you need to access the internet from your phone while you’re abroad, avoid downloading any attachments as this will substantially bump up the cost of your bills.

Checking your e-mails shouldn’t set you back much, but don’t open attachments until you get home.

Never use your phone to download films or TV. There are plenty of horror stories about people who have downloaded TV or films on their phone while they’ve been away, only to come home to four figure bills, so avoid this at all costs.

Make free calls

If you have a Smartphone, you can make calls for free using a VoIP service such as Skype, which you can download before you go. As long as the person you are calling also has Skype, all you’ll need to do is find a free wi-fi spot and you’ll be able to contact them for free.

Consider a local SIM card

If you know you are going to need to use your phone a lot while you are abroad, it might be worth investing in a pay-as-you-go local SIM card for your stay.

That will mean you'll be contactable in case of emergency but you won't be charged for receiving calls. It will also help you keep track of how much you're spending on your phone.

Switch your voicemail off if you’re an O2 user

You can no longer be charged when someone leaves you a voicemail when you are in the EU, and all networks apart from O2 don’t now charge you wherever you are in the work.

If you are an O2 customer, therefore, you should turn your voicemail off when you travel, otherwise you will be hit with charges for receiving a voicemail, and for listening to it.

Text rather than call

Texts are much cheaper than calls, so can help you to keep costs down. For example, making a one-minute call from the USA back to the UK would set you back 140p with network provider 3, but it costs 35p to send a text. It’s free to receive texts too. Don’t, however, keep texting back and forth or your bills will quickly mount up.

Leave your phone at home

The best way to avoid racking up steep mobile bills while you’re away is to leave your phone at home. Give the contact details of where you are staying to friends and family so that they can contact you in case of emergency and if you need to get in touch with them use a phone box and local phone card.

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