How to avoid a huge phone bill when travelling overseas

Know someone who has come back from the trip of a lifetime, only to be whacked with a mobile phone bill that’s more than they thought it would be? You’re not alone!

Some unwitting travellers forget to do their research, and think that their mobile phone usage charges work the same way in India as they do in Australia. Not so. If you are heading overseas and want to use your mobile phone, you need to make some changes to avoid a hefty bill when you get home.

Why does global roaming cost so much?

Before we take a look at your options for cheap communication overseas, let’s explore why it can cost so much to make a phone call, send an MMS or post a pic to Instagram when you’re not on home turf.

If you don’t do anything to your phone when you land at your overseas destination, then it should switch to ‘international roaming’ mode. This allows you to use mobile networks in other countries. For it to work, the network provider of the country you are in must have an agreement with your carrier.

Even with an agreement in place, the charges for voice can be higher than usual.  Depending on your carrier and mobile plan,  you may also pay for calls you receive (including voicemail). Data charges are even higher. So, even if you don’t make any phone calls while overseas, you may still be racking up costs without knowing it for push notifications on apps like Facebook.

You should always check your mobile plan for details about which countries you can roam in and how much it will cost you to do so. Below I have outlined some options for saving money but still staying in touch:

1. Go SIM-less and seek out free Wi-Fi

You heard right! Take out your SIM card when you land (or ideally before you leave) and have the reassurance that you won’t be hit with international data roaming charges while you’re away. Without a SIM card, you won’t be able to make or receive phone calls, or send text messages. But you can easily find a Wi-Fi hotspot to check Facebook, send iMessages or even use Skype.

2. Turn off data roaming

Less of a hassle than pulling out your SIM (and potentially losing it, because they are so small these days!) is to simply switch off data roaming. Each phone has slightly different instructions on how to do this – check your manufacturer’s website. With data roaming off, you can still use local Wi-Fi for free.

3. Switch off location services and push notifications

If you plan to use international roaming, perhaps because you don’t have the time to organise a local SIM or you want to keep your same phone number, then you can significantly reduce the amount of data you use by turning off location services and any automatic updates or push notifications on your apps. Just beware that you’ll be hit with high voice and data costs when you use your phone.

4. Buy a local SIM

In most countries, you can easily buy a local pre-paid SIM card at the airport. Pop this in, and you’ll be able to make and receive phone calls (albeit using a new phone number). Because it’s prepaid, you know exactly what your costs are. Note: to do this, your phone needs to be unlocked.

5. Buy a prepaid Australian SIM

If you’re travelling the globe and don’t want to keep switching SIM cards to match the country you’re in, then you might want to buy a prepaid SIM card in Australia. You can top these cards up while you’re travelling, too. Again, your phone needs to be unlocked.   While Australian pre-paid SIM cards will help you manage your spend (by not going above the pre-paid limit), you will still be subject to the international roaming charges associated with your Australian pre-paid plan.

Double, triple-check your settings

It’s amazing how many people say, “I thought I had location services switched off.” Before you leave, take your phone into your network provider’s store and get them to walk you through exactly what you need to do to avoid a huge phone and data bill after your holiday.

Or, your other option is to simply leave your phone at home and enjoy a peaceful, stress-free holiday unconnected to the modern world (I know it’s hard, especially when most people these days use their phones as their primary camera!).


Shannon Clarke - Editor, The Wild Hideaway
Shannon Clarke - Editor, The Wild Hideaway

Shannon is a travel and lifestyle writer with a keen taste for global adventure – whether it be snorkeling in the waters of Fiji, or exploring the art and architecture of Barcelona. When Melbourne calls her back home, she spends most of her time exploring and planning weekend road trips. To fund all of her trips, Shannon is a freelance writer and marketer – she was named the Australian Young Marketer of the year in 2017!

Find me on: Web | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

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