Horror stories about unreasonable roaming charges are not unusual while prepaid SIM cards can run out at the most inconvenient times, but with a little bit of preparation and foresight you should be able to use your phone abroad without any nasty surprises.
- Learn more about roaming with your home plan vs. prepaid local SIM cards vs. international SIM cards
Turn on data and voice only when you need it
When you are traveling, you probably don’t really need to use data and voice the way you would at home.
Checking restaurant reviews and calling to make a reservation at your next destination are good reasons to use data and voice on the road.
Getting minute by minute Facebook updates on what all of your friends are up to back home on the other hand is going to use up your data quickly and isn’t going to enhance your trip.
Android Tip: Go to Settings->Wireless & Networks->Mobile Networks on Android.
iPhone Tip: Go to Settings->General->Network
Use Wi-Fi whenever possible
Taking advantage of hotels and coffee shops that offer free Wi-Fi gives you a chance to do all of your data-intensive research, check your email and catch up with friends without burning through that data plan that you might need for a travel emergency.
Download your maps ahead of time
Rather than spending your data allowance on downloading maps in situ, try downloading your map for free via Wi-Fi before you leave your hotel. Android phones can pre-download a map covering a 10-mile radius, and there are lots of mapping apps available for iPhone and a wide range of platforms that provide “off-line maps”.
Your GPS will still tell you where you are situated on the map for free, and you will save the costs of downloading the map with your data service.
Forward your phone to a VoIP number
It’s now possible to create a Voice over IP (VoIP) account based in your home country, and forward all of your phones to this phone number practically for free. VoIP accounts allow you to make and receive phone calls over the internet at little or no cost, and many services will even translate your voice messages into text and email them to you.
Before you leave home set up your account and forward any numbers you would like access to while you’re away. You can retrieve your messages, and make and receive phone calls from your hotel room without anyone knowing that you’re not on your home, office, or mobile phone. You can even forward your home phone number to your local SIM for free.
Send a MMS instead of a SMS
It may sound counter-intuitive, but longer text messages can often be cheaper to send as MMS rather than as SMS text messages. Text is very “data light” in terms of file size (and therefore data consumption), and while an international SMS text may cost $1 per message, the equivalent in data consumption could cost as little as $0.25.
Onavo compresses data before sending it to your phone cutting the size down as much as 50 percent.
Onavo is currently free with both iPhone and a beta Android version available through the App Store and Marketplace.
Look for offline travel apps
Some travel apps and mapping apps let you cache the data ahead of time and access them when the phone is disconnected.
When comparing travel apps, look for apps that offer offline access.
Call them back rather than answering your phone
For people on roaming plans, it can be cheaper to call people back home than it is to receive a call from them.
When you answer your phone outside of your home coverage zone, you are charged roaming fees (use of the local network), international fees (cost of the call being routed through your home network), and the person phoning you is being charged international rates (for calling a phone number in a different country.
Rather than answer your phone, call the person back if it’s a local number. You will still be charged roaming rates, but no international rates for either of you.