How to avoid bill shock with global roaming

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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. Expect phone calls to cost over $2 a minute, a simple text to cost anywhere around a dollar, and data to cost up to and over $1 per megabyte – when browsing Facebook uses over a megabyte per minute, you know you’re in for some bill shock! And don’t even think about watching that cat video!

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

Waiting at airportData 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! Many providers will charge you by the megabyte, 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.

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Global Roaming Fees & Plans

Below are some of the biggest providers in Australia, and their global roaming plans and rates. If you’re savvy and organise a global roaming plan before you travel, you may be less susceptible to bill shock!

Optus Roaming

Optus offers roaming on both prepaid and postpaid plan types, but does not specifically offer any roaming packs or deals. Data is billed in 10kb increments and call & text rates vary by what zone you are in. Popular destinations for Aussies are mostly in Zone 1. To make & receive a call in the US you will be charged $1.50 per minute, while texts are 50c each – receiving them is free. Data is $1/mb. With Optus it’s important to be wary of the rates you will be subject to, as watching videos and making lots of calls  could make your bill skyrocket!

Telstra Roaming

If you’re on a Telstra mobile plan, you can activate an ‘International Day Pass’ before you head overseas. This costs $5 a day if you’re heading to New Zealand, and $10 for a large swag of other countries, including popular destinations such as the US, UK, Canada, Indonesia, China, Hong Kong, France, Germany and more. Otherwise, rates are ‘as you go’, and the US for example costs $3 per minute for a call, 75c for a text and $3 per megabyte of data.

If you’re going to be using your phone at all overseas, it may make sense to activate the $5-$10 roaming feature. The International Day Pass is only activated if you use your phone, so you aren’t subject to an ongoing rate. Additionally, in some cases you can also get your usual unlimited Telstra Air data, using the global ‘Fon’ Wi-Fi hotspot network.

Vodafone Roaming

Vodafone is the pioneer of the ‘$5 a day’ roaming feature. For an extra $5 a day, you can use all the inclusions on your phone plan exactly as if you were still in Australia, at Australian rates. This applies to a massive 67 destinations, including New Zealand where roaming is available at no extra cost. Note that many African, Central & South American nations feature ‘as you go’ rates, which are: $1 per minute to make and receive calls, 75c a text and $1/mb data. $5 roaming may add up over a three or four week holiday, but it’s potentially much cheaper than if you don’t activate it at all!

Virgin Mobile Roaming

Virgin Mobile’s international roaming can be activated easily within the Virgin Mobile app or through the MyAccount login. Most of the time you will be subject to ‘as you go’ rates – some data roaming packs are available – and you will have to see if your destination is in Zone 1, 2 or 3. If travelling to North America you may have to watch out – the US is in Zone 1, Canada is in Zone 2 and Mexico is in Zone 3. In the US calls are $1 a minute, texts are 50c each and data is charged at 75c per megabyte, and is rated by the kilobyte. Virgin – out of these four – seems to have the most competitive ‘as you go’ data rates.

Global Roaming With Other Providers

As for SIM-only mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs), it’s best to check with them directly about what’s on offer in regards to global roaming. Here are three of the more popular providers’ rates:

  • Amaysim: Before heading overseas Amaysim states you must activate global roaming, and this can be done through the Amaysim app. You’ll need to add PAYG credit, and roaming charges will be deducted from this. A phone call in Canada, for example, costs $1 a minute. Amaysim is on the Optus network, and its rates seem to resemble that of Optus.
  • ALDI Mobile: ALDI is much the same story. Roaming charges are deducted from PAYG credit, and most phone calls seem to be either $1 or $2 a minute. ALDI Mobile operates on the Telstra network, and may share resemblance to Telstra’s roaming charges.
  • OVO Mobile allows customers to add credit specifically for roaming to the tune of either $20 or $50. Roaming rates are then deducted from this amount and the credit expires in 90 days. OVO is another Optus network MVNO and rates are similar to Optus and others using its network.

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:

Facebook Messenger

facebook messenger iconMessenger 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

skype iconSkype 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

whatsapp iconWhatsApp 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.

WeChat

wechat iconBoasting 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.

Rebtel

rebtel iconUnlike 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 Google Play 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 can still be very costly if not used mindfully. A simple phone call to your mum while on Contiki tour can cost well over $50, and simply scrolling through Facebook for a few minutes can cost $5. 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 prepaid 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. Phone plans for overseas are furthered explained here. 

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 & texts 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 could potentially save you money on your trip. Be careful, though; some providers still like to charge for even receiving a call! Receiving a text also costs nothing so if you’re waiting on an important memo from back home, don’t be afraid to open that text – just try not to reply back!

Should I roam while travelling?

Global mobile phone roaming is handy, but you do tend to pay the price for convenience. While you should absolutely roam the city streets of a foreign country, you might want to question whether your mobile phone goes along for the ride. When even a quick phone call or a few texts can cost over $5, as well as data costing over $1/mb in many cases, you have to consider whether having this service is worth it. Often you can mitigate costs by turning off roaming on your mobile phone and instead seeking out free WiFi hotspots to upload that Instagram picture.

  • In fact, providers such as ALDI Mobile and Amaysim even recommend (here and here) purchasing an overseas prepaid plan, instead of using global roaming features.

While there are packs you can buy from the big providers to somewhat offset the cost of global roaming, they may still be quite expensive compared to what you are normally used to back home. In any case, global roaming is a very convenient option when heading overseas, but be prepared to pay for that convenience.

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