Using data on your phone while travelling

Last Updated: 26th Feb 2014

The term “Bill shock” is a phrase that has become popular in recent times as “the negative reaction a subscriber can experience if their mobile phone bill has unexpected charges”. It can happen at home if you over use your phone – but will commonly occur when travelling and not understanding the involved roaming charges.

When you take your smartphone overseas, you’ll no longer be using the cellular data network belonging to your wireless carrier. In this case, your phone will be in data roaming mode—which means you’re not using your data plan and will have to pay for each megabyte of data your phone sends or receives. Paying in that way can be very expensive; you can easily rack up a bill of hundreds or thousands of dollars on your monthly bill.

There are some simple steps you can take:

Turn Off Data Roaming
One way to avoid the risk of running up a data roaming charge is to turn off your cellular network connection completely. Check your phone’s user manual to determine how to do this for your phone.
With data roaming turned off, your phone won’t be able to connect to any 3G data networks and thus won’t run up any bills.
You can also put your phone into flight/airplane mode. Airplane Mode turns off the cellular and data radio, but on most devices you can leave Wi-Fi on. So, in places with wireless Internet access (e.g., in some hotels), you can still go online and avoid the data roaming charges. NB you can’t make or receive calls while your phone is in flight/airplane mode.

Use Wi-Fi
When you’re overseas, you may want or need to get online. To avoid major data roaming costs, use the phone’s Wi-Fi connection. For anything you need to do online—from email to web, text messages to apps—if you use Wi-Fi, you’ll save yourself from extra charges.

Use an International Data Package
Many cell phone companies offer international data plans. By signing up for one of these plans before you leave your home country, you can budget for Internet access on the trip and avoid exorbitant bills. This is a great option if you want to get online regularly during your trip and don’t want to be subject to finding an open Wi-Fi network.
If you choose this option, contact your cell phone company before leaving on your trip to discuss your international data plan options. Sign up for a plan and be sure to ask for specific instructions on using the plan and avoiding additional charges whiletravelling. With this information, there shouldn’t be any surprises when your bill arrives at the end of the month.