Smartphones, tablets and laptops are now firmly established as standard issue holiday equipment, just as likely to be found in our luggage as sun cream and swimming costumes. But network providers all over the world capitalise on our desire to stay in touch by upping the cost of making and receiving calls, sending texts and accessing the internet while roaming on other networks.
The situation has improved for us in Europe over the last few years as the EU put its foot down and told all networks to lower their costs. In June the prices were capped at 20p per minute to make a call, 7p for a text and 38p per MB for internet access, and they’re due to come down again in 2014.
That makes it relatively affordable to make short calls and send a few texts within Europe, but it’s still not that hard to quickly rack up a hefty addition to your usual monthly bill, and outside Europe prices skyrocket once more, with internet access in particular being very expensive (at £10 per MB we’ll wait until we get home to check the email inbox).
What’s a traveller to do? Here are our top tips for keeping roaming costs down when you’re abroad.
Buy a local SIM
Purchasing a local SIM to take advantage of their rates is a great option if you regularly visit the same country, or you’re staying in one place for a long time.
The only thing to check is that the SIM will work in your phone, tablet or mobile broadband dongle. You’ll first need to ensure it’s network unlocked (this can be done for a fee through third-party unlockers or your network) and that the device supports the right frequencies and standards, though with multi-band hardware this is not often an issue now.
Use a specialist roaming service
There are companies which offer mobile phones or mobile internet devices especially for international use (can even rent a satellite phone if you’re going somewhere really remote).
These are again better suited for long term use as the cost of buying or hire would dwarf a modest amount of roaming charges.
But regular travellers who need to make a lot of calls or spend a significant amount of time online may find huge savings here, particularly when it comes to mobile internet.
Services like Globalgig provide inexpensive PAYG or contract access with support for multiple countries and no risk of facing a huge roaming bill on your return. Globalgig also works in the UK so you can continue to use it at home. Your choice on whether to go with PAYG or contract is likely going to depend on how you want to use this service. You can find a few of the pros and cons of PAYG vs contract in our guide over at Broadband Genie.
If you’d prefer not to buy it is possible to rent a mobile broadband dongle or mobile phone. It can be a little pricier, but on the upside you’re not signing up for more contracts. Also, these are often available for pickup and drop-off at airports, which is convenient.
Take advantage of Wi-Fi hotspots
It’s rare to find a hotel, coffee shop or restaurant that doesn’t offer Wi-Fi these days, and travellers can take full advantage of this to save on roaming costs.
Obviously it’s great for internet access, but you can also dodge the cost of calls by using Skype or another VOIP application to make phone calls from a laptop, tablet or smartphone.
These hotspots are very often free as well. Depending on your hotel (and how much you spent on the booking) it might even be in your room, but it’s likely to at least be free to use in the lobby and other common areas. Even if you do have to pay there’s a good chance this will still be cheaper than paying roaming charges, particularly outside Europe.
Sign up for an international add-on
Many phone networks provide roaming add-ons which cut the cost of international calls, texts and internet access. This is the simplest option for reducing charges, particularly if you’re only off on holiday for a week or two, as it can simply be cancelled once you return.
They can offer some big savings, particularly when it comes to mobile internet, with roaming data bundles that are far cheaper than paying the network’s standard per-MB rate.
If you know you’ll want to use this it’s worth comparing the network’s packages before signing up for a new phone or mobile broadband contract, as prices can vary wildly and some networks may not offer any discounted bundles.
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