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How to Save Money on Cell Phone Bills While Traveling Abroad

How to Save Money on Cell Phone Bills While Traveling Abroad

A lot of people run the risk of receiving a huge bill if they use their phones on roaming. However, there are some ways in which people can keep their cell phone bills in check, even while using their phone in foreign countries. This article on Buzzle will take a look at some of these money-saving tips.
Rahul Pandita
Take that for a phone bill!
Celina Aarons, a South Florida resident, got a bill of $201,000 from her service provider in 2011. Her two brothers, who are deaf and mute, used texting and data services on roaming while they were on a vacation in Canada. Although the bill was disputed by Celina, she still ended up paying $2,500 to her service provider.
You might have heard or read about a similar story about people who came home from a foreign trip, only to know that they had racked up a phone bill bigger than their mortgage payment. Yes, over the past few years, especially since smartphones have become an indispensable part of our existence, these stories are everywhere to be found. Despite knowing that roaming charges are on the higher side, many people still end up paying considerably higher phone bills, even when they are away for just a couple of days.

One of the main reasons why people pile up thousands of dollars in phone bills while traveling is the exorbitant data charges on roaming. Other factors such as high calling rates, charges for receiving a call, and costly text messages, also add up to the bill. While some may advise you to switch off your phone as soon as you set foot on foreign territory, doing this will completely cut you off from your friends, colleagues, and relatives. If you don't want to go that far in order to save some bucks, the following tips can prove to be useful.

(Disclaimer: The mention of companies/products/services in this article is not intended for promotion or sponsorship. Rate plans have been listed solely for illustration purposes.)

Buy a Local SIM Card

Buying a local SIM card can considerably diminish the risk of running up a huge phone bill. You can buy a local SIM card from an outlet at an international airport, or from the local market of the country you are visiting. There are certain caveats in doing this though. First and foremost, you should have a phone that is compatible with a new SIM card. If you have a GSM phone (usually AT&T and T-Mobile), and it is unlocked (you are not in a contract), you can go ahead and use a local SIM. For people with a CDMA phone, (usually Verizon and Sprint), the phone will still work in some countries (around 35), but it may not work in Europe, and in some countries of Asia.

Both GSM and CDMA telecom providers do offer a global phone to their subscribers who are traveling abroad, for a small fee, and the phone needs to be returned to them after a stipulated period of time. Buying a new SIM card will mean that you will have a new number, so do remember to share it with people back home. Also, browsing the Internet, and making local calls will be cheap, but international calling rates will be on the higher side, both for you and the people who are calling you. However, the money spent on using a local SIM card will definitely be lower than using your phone on roaming.

Buy an International SIM Card

Buying a local SIM card is an effective way of cutting down on your phone bill if your travel is restricted to only one country. However, if you are globe-trotting, buying a new SIM in each country can be a tedious exercise. An alternate to this is to buy an international SIM or a global SIM. These SIM cards are offered by several providers in US. One of the biggest advantage of these global SIM cards is that they come in different rate plans and offer affordable services to international travelers.

For example, with a Explorerâ„¢ SIM card for $59 from Telestial, users can receive free calls in over 75 countries, and make calls at 39c/min. There are other service providers who offer global SIM cards at competitive rates to people traveling abroad. In case you have forgotten to buy one in US, you can check with the dealers in the country you are in.

Buy an International Plan from your Service Provider

Well, to be honest, there is some sort of hassle in buying a new local or international SIM card, and most importantly, with these, you end up getting a number. If you don't have time on your hands to wait until you get a GSM phone, or you aren't sure about the ease of getting a new SIM card in a country where not everyone can understand English, you might be better off making a call to your service provider to add an international roaming package to your existing plan.

All the major service providers in US offer international packages to their consumers. You will be able to save some money while making calls and browsing the Internet with the help of these international packages. For example, Verizon offers an international Internet pack for $25 with which you get 100MB data, whereas standard data charges on roaming are to the tune of $20 for 1MB. With the help of these international roaming plans, you can save around 30%-40% on a phone bill.

Look at Alternatives for Using Mobile Data

Although many service providers offer data bundles for overseas use, it is highly advisable to look at other alternatives of using data. As mentioned previously, global data plans offered by mobile companies are on the higher side ($25 for 100MB), and when you are on a vacation, you would definitely want to use more data than you normally do. Therefore, looking at other alternatives of using data can be a good idea. First and foremost, you should try to use data services on your phone while you are at a free Wi-Fi hotspot. Several reputed hotels and cafes offer complimentary Wi-Fi services to their customers. Else, you can rent a MiFi, commonly known as personal hotspot, which allows Internet access on up to five devices at a time.

For example, XCom Global's MiFi offers a flat rate of around $14.95/day (excluding shipping and handling charges). So, if you are in, say, England for a couple of days with four other family members, all of who want to use Internet on their smartphones, you will be able to keep the charges below $100. However, you also need to remember that MiFi providers charge heavily for shipping and handling (XCom Global - $60) and they often restrict Internet usage by implementing the Fair Usage Policy (400MB for 3 days for them) It is still a lot of money considering the low cost that you pay for using unlimited Internet in US, but it will certainly ensure that your phone bill stays in check, and you are aware about what you are spending.

If you feel that using data while you are traveling is not a good idea because of the high charges, you can restrict your usage with the help of the following tips.
  • Uncheck the data roaming tab on your phone. On those rare occasions when you desperately need to check that email from work, you can turn on the data roaming feature for some time, but remember to turn it off again. Also, you should never download an attachment, upload a picture, or for that matter, open a webpage while you are using Internet on roaming. Going by the current rates, if you upload a picture on Facebook, you would have already added $100 to your bill.
  • While you were used to unlimited data in your home country, you might have never given a thought on how quickly apps eat a massive amount of data, especially if you have turned on the 'Automatic Update' option. Well, if you are using data services on roaming, and one of the apps decides to update itself in the background, you can only pray to God that your bill doesn't cost you more than your return ticket. Therefore, do remember to turn off the automatic updates before you set foot on foreign shores.
These were some ways in which you can save some money on your phone bill while you are traveling abroad. It is extremely important to keep these things in mind before you leave for your trip, as otherwise, you run the risk of joining the ranks of countless people who have had a nightmarish experience with their exorbitant phone bills. Bon Voyage!