It used to be that when you went overseas, the only way to keep in touch with folks back home was to send a postcard or make an expensive international call on a hotel phone. Thankfully those days are now long behind us – now we can send an expensive email, thanks to Global roaming. Global roaming is convenient, but it can also be costly. This article will provide you with a brief overview of what global roaming is and how to use it, as well as give some useful tips on how to save money when using global roaming.
What is Global Roaming?
Global roaming, or international roaming, refers to when you use your mobile phone on an overseas network while still being billed by your current Australian Service Provider. Usually, the overseas provider you connect to has some kind of commercial agreement with your Australian provider. Your provider will cover your network charges will overseas and then forward you the bill.
In most situations you will be allowed to use your existing phone and mobile number to make and receive calls, voicemail’s and texts, however you will be charged much higher than the standard rate. As an example, Telstra post paid customers visiting Canada are charged: $3/minute for roaming calls, 75c for sending text messages and $3/Mb on data usage – this usage is not included in your standard plan allowance.
Global roaming rates depend on your provider as well as the country you’re visiting. Generally speaking, unless you can talk fast, sending an SMS or MMS will be the cheapest option as they are free to receive and comparatively affordable to send.
What to know about data roaming
Data charges are where you’re most likely going to be stung. It’s hard enough to manage data usage at home some times, let alone when you’re overseas! Most providers will charge you by the Mb, meaning costs will quickly add up.
Again, the price you pay does depend on a few factors, though travellers will usually find their provider charges between $2 – $3/Mb depending on your provider – that would cost you up to $40 to watch a 5 minute YouTube video!
You might have heard the horror story back in 2009 of a man who was charged $62,000 for downloading a movie while overseas. The movie in question was Wall-E, which might be a good movie, but I’m not sure if it’s quite worth $62,000. If you feel the same way, then you need to be careful with your data usage while on your overseas holiday. One way for you to do so is to consult our article on 5 ways to minimise your data usage.
Fortunately, some plans, such as Vodafone’s award winning $5 day roaming plan cancel out the exorbitant roaming charges by allowing you to use your data as you would here for just $5 a day.
There are plenty of providers which offer special roaming deals, however if you don’t have time to organise a travel SIM, then take additional precautions to avoid coming home to staggering bill.
Continue reading to see just some of the apps you can use to contact those back home, and some potential steps you can take to save money on global roaming.
Apps to use for messaging and calling overseas
As mentioned before, calling and texting your loved ones back home can become ridiculously expensive. If you’re looking for high-quality services that allow you to make contact back home, then you might want to consider some of the following apps:
Messenger is a free-to-download extension of Facebook that allows those with a Facebook account to chat with friends both on mobile and on the main website. The main purpose of messenger is messaging, as the name suggests, but it also has a video calling feature in HD that allows for free calls regardless of location, so long as you are connected to a Wi-Fi network. With 900 million monthly active users, messenger has an average consumer rating of 3.5 stars based on reviews on the android and iTunes stores respectively. It might not be the most highly regarded app on this list, but it is the most convenient, as it is free to use and you will already have all of your Facebook friends as contacts.
Skype allows video chat and voice call services in addition to basic messaging. It has over 300 million active users each month. Skype also has extremely low international call rates, and you can see these for yourself on their website. Like the others in this list, it is recommended that you have an internet connection before making any calls, unless you want to double the cost of your holiday. Skype is sitting on a 4-star rating on both the app-store and the android store.
WhatsApp is the world’s most popular communication app, with a user base of approximately 1 billion worldwide. It is an instant-messaging client for smartphones that uses the internet to allow users to send texts and videos without SMS. Messaging internationally using WhatsApp is completely free as long as you are connected to a Wi-Fi network. It currently has a 4-star rating on the iTunes app store and a 4.5-star rating on the android store, so it is clearly a highly regarded app for messaging purposes.
Boasting the 3rd highest user base of any messaging app, WeChat is available on Android, iPhone, Blackberry and Windows phones. In early 2016, WeChat announced that users would be able to make international mobile and landline calls using the app. To get started, WeChat allows $0.99 worth of free calling credit, which can allow up to 100 minutes of international calls. Users can check the region calling costs within the app. It has a 4-star rating in the iTunes store and a 4.2-star customer rating from Android customers, making it slightly less preferred than WhatsApp in this regard.
Unlike the other entries on this list, Rebetel doesn’t require an internet connection to make international calls, making it a much more convenient choice. Instead of using Wi-Fi, Rebtel connects both users to your standard carrier’s network, and charges you at the same rate that you’d pay for a regular local phone call. This fee is in addition to the extremely low $1 per month you have to pay for their services, but this is only after the 1 year trial they offer. If you’re looking to make international calls without an internet connection, then Rebtel is the app for you. It has a 4-star consumer rating on both the android and app stores.
Tips for Saving Money on Global Roaming
Despite the ease with which global roaming can be obtained and set up, global roaming is still one of the leading causes of bill shock for Australians. So if you need help saving money on your communication and data needs, try the following tips.
Disable data roaming.
Disabling data roaming should be the first step that you take when travelling overseas, and you should only turn it on if necessary. By turning off data roaming, your phone won’t be able to access any 3G or 4G networks on its own. Turning it off may force you to consider the next option.
Hunt for free Wi-Fi.
Depending on where you’re travelling, Wi-Fi can be quite prevalent and often free – every email you send over free Wi-Fi is one less you send over roaming data. Free Wi-Fi hotspots are becoming more and more common nowadays, and the most common places you’ll find them are at popular restaurant and fast food chains such as McDonalds and Starbucks, as well as public libraries and hotels. Just try and be polite when using their Wi-Fi – you might be using a seat that could be used by a potential customer, so be mindful of where you are and maybe make a purchase or two to thank them for the Wi-Fi!
Buy a pre-paid sim for the country you’re travelling to.
This can be a very cost effective option, and the amount you spend is capped, so you can’t be charged excess fees. However, be careful if you’re travelling to multiple countries as a sim you buy in one might not work in another, even if they’re neighbours.
Challenge your bill.
Don’t be afraid to challenge any large bills you get, as it is always possible that they made have made a mistake, and there are multiple cases of phone companies trying to unfairly penalise customers who have travelled overseas. You’re unlikely to avoid paying the whole bill, but might be able to get a reduction. Ask for specific details on the charges you’ve incurred – if they can’t back them up then why should you pay them?
Arrange to receive calls while travelling.
This one can be quite tricky to organise, and may not even be necessary if you follow the previous 4 steps, but nonetheless it can save you money on your trip. Since receiving international calls doesn’t cost anything extra, you can pay no more than you would back home if you can designate call times ahead of time with the person or people you wish to speak with.