Get mobile – but don’t get caught out

Texting, checking email and Googling- it’s an addictive business. If like most Brits, you’d be lost without your mobile phone and can’t resist keeping in touch with the folks at home even when lying by an exquisite infinity pool or on the beach, a word to the wise: failure to switch off could cost you a small fortune.

When it comes to planning your travel money budget, checking the cost of call charges overseas is as vital as knowing the pounds to euros or pounds to dollars exchange rates.

We all know that making and receiving calls on our mobiles from abroad can be an expensive affair. But the fact is that even if you prudently refrain from expensive chatting, texting and internet use while away, failing to correctly switch off data roaming or ensuring that your access is capped could mean that your smart phone makes a fool of you. This is because – depending on your settings – your clever little device will happily download data while your back is turned, potentially resulting in a staggeringly large bill[1].

So how can you avoid getting stung?

The good news is that if you’re planning trips to countries within the European Union, new laws, which first came into effect in 2007, have curbed runaway costs of making and receiving calls and SMS, using data services like MMS, mobile broadband from laptops, mobile Internet from mobile phones and mobile e-mail from PDAs within the EU. All mobile phone companies must now provide a standard ‘Eurotariff’ for call charges and standard ‘Euro-SMS’ tariff for texts. This equates to around 40p per minute to make – and 20p per minute to receive – calls.

In July 2010, further regulations forced European mobile phone operators to offer their customers a cut-off limit facility to cap data roaming charges at Euro 50 per month to avoid shock bills[2].

This means that they must offer you the assurance that the data session will be stopped when you reach an agreed limit, unless you consent for it to continue. However, don’t assume that this will automatically be the case as some providers have yet to get systems in place to offer this service.

Steps for keeping an eye on the costs[3]:

Using your voicemail to listen to messages will be charged at the same rate as making a phone call in that country. However, it is now free for someone else to leave a message on your voicemail. If you don’t want to pay for voicemail, however, it’s easier to switch it off.
To ensure that data roaming charges don’t escalate, contact your provider to ensure that they put a cap or cut-off limit on your account before you go. However, it’s safer to simply turn off the data roaming function – if you don’t know how to do this, ask your provider to explain.
If you’re a frequent traveller, it might be worth switching to a provider that offers deals or lower charges for using mobiles abroad.
For wider travels, consider buying an international SIM card or a dongle – these can offer cheaper rates, though be sure to check the prices for different countries.
If you regularly visit the same country, buying a local pay-as-you-go SIM card or a local laptop dongle will save you money, as you will be charged local prices.

It’s worth doing your research before setting off on your trip, and making sure you know exactly how much you’re being charged. With your mind at ease, you’ll be able to relax and spend your travel money guilt free.

[1] http://www.which.co.uk/mobile/advice-and-support/mobile-tariffs-advice/roaming-and-international-calls/using-mobile-phones-abroad/

[2] http://consumers.ofcom.org.uk/tell-us/telecoms/charges/roaming/cost-of-using-your-mobile-abroad-international-roaming/

[3] http://www.which.co.uk/mobile/advice-and-support/mobile-tariffs-advice/roaming-and-international-calls/top-tips-for-making-cheap-mobile-calls-abroad/

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