Don’t blow your holiday budget on your mobile bill.
Thanks to last year’s new roaming rules, you can use your inclusive data, calls and texts when in Europe. Great! But that doesn’t mean you won’t ever get charged more for using your phone abroad.
First not every European country is included (hello Switzerland). And the roaming charge ban doesn’t apply if you going elsewhere in the world. So let’s face it, that’s most places. There might also be a cap on how much data you can use, especially if you have an unlimited plan.
This all means if you’re not careful it’s still easy to add hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds to your bill. So how do you avoid a nasty bill when you get home? Just follow my tricks below to help you cut back but stay connected.
1. Find out what’s included where you are travelling
The basic offering is for all 28 EU countries, though many networks add a couple more popular nearby countries, so go to your network’s website to find out if yours is included.
If you go outside of Europe a lot then I really think it’s worth thinking about switching to Three.
2. Switch your mobile network to Three
Before we went to New England for our honeymoon a few years ago I switched my mobile to Three to take advantage of their “Feel at home” offer, where my inclusive minutes and texts to the UK and data could all be used. It was one of the best decisions we made, helping us navigate with Google Maps and search blogs and Tripadvisor for places to eat. Oh and check the weather!
Though not the very cheapest mobile network, Three still has some very good SIM only deals. You can get 12, 24 or one-month rolling contracts. I switched away to BT Mobile for a while, but I’ve actually gone back to Three because of this extra. I went to America again on holiday last year and I’m off to a conference later this year so the savings I’ll get on these trips far outweigh the extra couple of quid I could be saving with a slightly cheaper SIM-only deal.
It’s only the Advanced plans which offer global roaming, but you can get a cheaper plan and ask to move up when it’s time to travel (this is what I’m currently planning on doing).
If you don’t fancy a full switch you can get the Feel At Home extra as a top up on Pay As You Go sims. Though doing this does mean you’ll have a different number while you’re away.
3. Cap your charges or get a bolt-on
If you don’t want to switch, you should find out what your network will charge where you are going. It’s worth seeing if your network has a cap on overseas charges, particularly for data. This’ll stop your bill getting out of control but you often have to ask for this to put implemented.
Most networks also let you buy add-on packages which give a pre-agreed amount of minutes, texts or data to use. Vodafone for example charges £6 a day for you to use your contract outside Europe, while O2 gives you unlimited data and 120 local calls for £4.99 a day.
These still work out expensive, but nowhere near as much as just using local rates. Make sure you keep an eye on how much you use, as you might not be cut off automatically.
4. Turn off your data and use wi-fi instead
You need to do this before you get on the plane, train or boat. Go to your settings and turn off data roaming or mobile data – and keep it off until you’re back in the UK.
This also means the apps on your phone won’t automatically access data behind the scenes. It also protects against accidentally opening your email – you’d get charged, even if it was for just a few seconds.
If you’re in a destination where roaming is included check there isn’t a reduction in how much of your allowance you can use.
With data turned off, the only way to connect to the web will be via wi-fi. You might get lucky and get it for free at your hotel. If not, look for coffee shops and public spaces that don’t charge. You can research in advance too, using the wi-fi finder app.
But be careful of unsecured wi-fi when using banking apps or online shopping. Don’t enter log-in or password details.
5. Be careful when making local calls
Unless you’ve got a specific add-on which allows it, any calls you make to numbers at your destination or texts messages to local mobiles aren’t included in roaming. You might be better off getting a local SIM or calling card if you’re going to make a lot of these calls.
6. Don’t answer calls and turn off voicemail
Outside inclusive roaming counties you’ll be charged to answer a call, so don’t answer unless you need to. You won’t be charged to get a text message though, so tell mates back home that’s the best way to communicate with you while you’re away.
Some networks – with EE the worst – will also charge you for receiving a voicemail when abroad, even if you don’t access it. I always used to call my provider and turn voicemail off before I left to avoid any unnecessary charges.
7. Use apps to make calls and send messages
When you’re connected via wi-fi, you’ll also be able to use apps to make free calls to others people using the same app. iPhone users have Facetime, while WhatsApp, Viber and Skype are good too. I’ve not made a call through Facebook Messenger, but that would be free over wi-fi too.
If you need to call landlines or mobiles back home, EE, O2, Three and BT have apps that let you use inclusive minutes.
These will cut out the costs to make and receive calls overseas. Be warned though that if the wi-fi signal is weak, it can be a very frustrating phone call!