There are few things more fun and rewarding than travelling to another part of the world to take in the sights, sounds and culture – and of course, you want your friends and family back home to see what you’re seeing and share in the adventure and excitement. Back in the pre-mobile days, that meant taking loads of photos – on film – and bringing back a collection of photos to show everyone. These days, everything’s immediate – digital photos shared on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and via apps like Snapchat or Whatsapp. We live in a wonderfully connected world.
But how do you connect in the first place, when your smartphone is with an Australian provider and all your calls and data usage are based on you being on their network? The answer is global roaming – essentially, connecting to another phone provider in another country for your calls and data. That provider then sends the bill for your usage back home to Australia where your local telco adds that cost to your bill. And it can be seriously expensive.
So how do you avoid what’s become known as “bill shock”? That sinking feeling when you see charges adding up to thousands of dollars on your bill can make for a nasty end to an awesome trip. The key is to plan ahead – there are some easy steps you can take to reduce the pain.
Check Your Phone Provider’s Rates
Now of course, this is going to be the most expensive option – one which you’d only want to consider if you know you’ll need to make and receive calls for the duration of your time overseas. It used to be astonishingly, punishingly expensive to do this – times have changed, but you’re still going to be spending a bit of cash.
For example, if you’re with Telstra, you can buy an “International Day Pass” to cover the countries you’re heading to. Priced at $10 per day, it gives you unlimited calls for the day – there’s no need to track your call usage. Data is a different story, with data limited to 200MB per day. The pass activates any day you send a call or text while roaming, so if you make calls or text on three days, it’ll cost you $30. The Day Pass in New Zealand is discounted to $5, by the way.
Vodafone, meanwhile, takes a similar approach – after all, they invented the concept! They offer a flat-fee for roaming of $5 per day (free for New Zealand), which is automatically activated when you take your Vodafone mobile overseas. The $5 charge is billed for every day you use your phone – for anything. If you make a single call, send a text or if any app uses even a byte of data, you’re billed. To use this on the cheap you’d want to have your phone turned on only when you need it – which of course makes it impossible to receive calls. The other caveat here is that all of your usage – calls, text and data – counts against your plan’s monthly allowance. It’s generally cheaper than Telstra even if you use it every day, but do the sums before you start relying on it.
Optus, meanwhile, offers Travel Packs for $10 a day, usable for unlimited calls and text in North America, Europe and New Zealand. Your ten bucks gets you 50MB of data per day – yep, that’s right, only 50MB. A few visits to Facebook and your allowance will vanish in the blink of an eye – 50MB is a primitively low allowance in the smartphone era. You can stack multiple packs, for example, buying 10 packs will give you 500MB to use over 10 days – but that’s still low, and as the fine print says, if you go over your limit “standard data roaming rates for the country you are in will apply.” And those rates? 50c per MB – or $500 per gigabyte. Best advice for Optus users is to disable data roaming in your smartphone, and use free Wi-Fi where available.