After being quoted an exorbitant amount for a standard service by my mobile carrier before heading overseas, I knew I needed to seek an alternative. It seems like everyone knows someone who was hit with a gigantic bill from their travels, thanks to crazy roaming charges. And because I did not want to join their ranks, I decided it was time to seek some smarter alternatives
So what was the shocking news from my carrier? I learned that I would be charged for calls received at the applicable international roaming rate even if I did not answer the call!
For a number that frequently receives lots of wrong number calls, this could quickly add up to a huge bill without even making or accepting calls. The only way to avoid this was to never turn the phone on. Since I depend on my phone to stay connected while away, this would not do, so I decided to get strategic and heed the following tips which helped to satisfy both the budget and my data hungry smartphone:
1. Airplane Mode is Your Friend: Don't want to deal with being charged for calls that you have no intention of answering? Leave your phone in airplane mode. Of course you can toggle WiFi on while your phone is in this mode so that you can still connect to a wireless network. You can turn data roaming off if you would prefer to have your phone connected to the cell network but not want to pay for data roaming charges, but for us, to keep things simple until we sorted out another solution, we just left the phone disconnected from all networks save for wireless via airplane mode.
2. Skype it Up: With your phone connected to a wireless network you can use the power of the internet to place your calls. I primarily used Skype for this, but in a pinch have also used FaceTime and Google Voice.
3. Local Numbers and Plans are Great: Having data at low rates while traveling is a must if you're at least half as map app reliant as we are. My partner and my phones are unlocked so popping in a local SIM saves us a tonne and is pretty much the best thing ever when it comes to using data. Our two favourite carriers are GiffGaff in the UK which offer amazing prepaid data and talk rates, and Tru for everywhere else (including the UK).
For testing and review purposes we were able to get a Tru SIM to use on our last trip, and while we did encounter a few bumps in service, overall we were really impressed. The SIM came with 3 numbers, a US, UK, and Australian and the service changed hands fairly seamlessly when we entered a new country. With Tru we did not need to change sims whenever we changed countries and that saved quite a bit of time and aggravation...not to mention roaming charges if we had stuck with our American carrier.
4. Port, Port, Port: Have a new local number in the country where you're staying but don't want to inconvenience folks back home? Give them your American Google Voice number and have that number port to your new local number! This is a great way to stay in touch with people and save yourself a bundle on phone bills. The other great thing about this is with Google Voice you can check your message from your computer which is super handy for going through the messages that arrive really early or really late from colleagues back in the States.
5. Three Cheers for Alternative Text Messaging Apps: We are pretty big on alternative messaging apps even when we're home, so it's not surprising that we continue to rely pretty heavily on iMessage, HeyTell, and WhatsApp when we're abroad to send messages to friends, colleagues, and family members. Since the advent of iMessage in particular our texting bill is almost non-existent and it's been a great way to save on texts to mobiles numbers from all over the world. Of course with all of these apps you need data, so use them when connected to a Wi-Fi network or when you have your local/international sim with data plan squared away.
What are your tips for saving money on your mobile bill while traveling?
(Images: Joelle Alcaidinho)