How to avoid racking up a massive phone bill when travelling overseas

Jun 14, 2019
Here's how you can avoid racking up hefty charges overseas. Source: Getty (models posed for picture)

Ever been stung by those annoying overseas data roaming charges?

It’s safe to say that no one wants to return from a relaxing holiday to be faced with a massive phone bill, so Angus Kidman, tech expert at Finder, has shared his top tips with Travel at 60 on how to avoid racking up hefty charges overseas. 

With these handy tips, you’ll be able to avoid any bill surprises when you return and still be able to use your phone while you travel.

Buy pre-paid roaming

If you’re heading overseas and want to use your mobile phone, Kidman says you can purchase a pre-paid roaming pack from your current provider.

“Before you head off overseas, check your telco’s roaming policy,” he says. “The big three providers have roaming packs you can pre-purchase. They’re not super-cheap, but they’re a much better deal than paying casual roaming rates.”

For example, if you’re with Vodafone you can use your plan in 80 countries for just $5 extra per day. Elsewhere, Telstra offers four international data packs, all with unlimited voice calls and text messages, starting from $30 for 225 megabytes.

Buy a global SIM before leaving home

If you’re travelling to multiples countries, Kidman says it might be worth considering a global SIM. These SIMs are handy for those who don’t want to purchase a fresh SIM card every time they travel to a new destination.

“A global SIM is a great option,” he adds. “You can organise it before you go to make sure you’re not wasting any holiday time looking for a way to contact people.”

Buy a local SIM at your destination

Buying a local SIM at your destination is often the cheapest way to use your phone while you travel.

“The cheapest way to stay connected is by picking up a local SIM once you land,” Kidman explains. “Do some research ahead of time – the options on sale at the airport likely won’t be the cheapest.”

But before you jet off overseas, it’s important to make sure your handset is unlocked from your network, as some carriers will lock it so you can’t use another SIM card.

Switch off data roaming

One of the sure-fire ways to ensure you don’t end up with a massive phone bill at the end of your trip is to disable your data usage completely.

“The first thing you have to do when you touch down is make sure your data roaming is switched off,” Kidman says. “Even if you can resist the urge to check Facebook, some apps automatically refresh in the background.”

Here’s how to do it:

  • iPhone: Go to settings → Mobile → slide Mobile Data off. Then select Mobile Data Options → slide Data Roaming to off → select Enable 4G → switch to off.
  • Android: Go to Settings → Wireless Controls → Mobile Network Settings → slide Data Roaming off.

Use wi-fi

Free wi-fi is one of the easiest ways to stay connected for free while you travel. A handful of apps let you keep in touch with home, such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Viber and Skype. There’s also a wi-fi finder app, which can help you locate wi-fi even when you’re not connected to the internet.

“Free wi-fi isn’t that hard to find in most destinations. If you don’t mind only being connected while at your hotel or a cafe this is by far the best way to avoid racking up an expensive phone bill,” Kidman says. 

However, he warns not to do any online shopping or banking on public wi-fi. 

If you’re using public wi-fi then there is a chance that other people can view what you’re looking at. For that reason, you want to make sure you’re not looking at any sensitive information that you wouldn’t want to fall into the wrong hands.

Switch off completely

If you’re still worried about data usage overseas, it might be better to switch off completely.

“You’re on holiday so you may as well make the most of your time off!” Kidman adds. 

Have you ever racked up a huge phone bill while travelling?

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