Heading away this summer? Don't fall foul of mobile charges
Just as football fever has kicked off around the world, it's also a whole year since we’ve been able to roam for ‘free’ in Europe (yes, we thought it had been longer, too). And while there's bargains to be grabbed to many popular destinations, if you're not careful, your mobile bill for visiting some surprisingly common holiday hotspots could set you back more than your trip.
It's approaching holiday season, where many of us take time off and escape the usual grind. Yet, no matter what your idea of an ideal trip away, from sipping sangria by the pool to climbing Kilimanjaro, it can often tot up to be one of the biggest expenses of the year. The last thing you want, therefore, is to return home in your flip flops to a mammoth mobile bill on your doormat - serious holiday blues.
So, to maintain your holiday glow for longer, here's our top tips to keep the moaning out of roaming:
- Play it safe and turn roaming off.
The easiest way to avoid charges while abroad is simply to turn roaming off. We all tend to lead very connected lives - the very fact you're reading this means you're online in some way. And our phones will usually try to feed this habit by connecting automatically to the nearest signal - this can be particularly dangerous if you have automatic updates on, for example.
- Use Wi-Fi wherever possible - plus do you NEED to upload that Instagram photo?
The best bet is to use Wi-Fi wherever possible - which you can usually find for free in most hotels, restaurants and bars. Yet, we've all been there; you're away, it's beautiful - be it the view, food or fellow guests - and you've managed to snap the perfect picture. Your instant reaction is to share it with your friends - and your phone shows you have signal. And while you're within the EU, you should be fine. However, travel to a country not part of the bloc - such as the World cup host Russia - and you can pay through the nose.
- Get 'beach mobile ready' - download music, films & boarding passes before you go.
Although finding free Wi-Fi while away is handy for the odd browsing, you probably don't want to start downloading hefty files such as music or films. Instead, get your phone travel-ready by saving your favourite tunes, movies, must-have apps and boarding passes BEFORE you go - there's even a trick to save Google maps offline.
- Avoid charges & use free apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook to 'call home'.
Outside the EU, you can be charged just for RECEIVING calls, so - if you've Wi-Fi access - use free apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or Skype, which shouldn't use your allowance.
- If you need to connect, check how much your destination costs BEFORE you travel. i.e Watching 1 hour of Netflix in Turkey could set you back £7,200.
- Travelling within the EU? It's been exactly a year since 'Roam like at Home' began, meaning you can use your UK allowance of minutes, texts and data without paying any extra charges if you are in one of the 31 countries included, such as France, Italy and Spain. Some operators also cover countries outside this, so it's always best to check with your network for its full list to be sure - and check any terms carefully.
Vodafone, for example, covers the popular holiday destination of Turkey, whereas O2 charges a whopping £7.20/MB for data use - so an episode of Designated Survivor would cost over £7,000. Thankfully, there is a data cap in place which means you cannot be charged any more than €50 - unless you ask your network to remove it. Do so at your own risk though - no series is THAT good. It should also be noted that this cap doesn't cover calls or texts, so you could still run up a considerable bill at £2/minute.
- Going further afield? It is much easier to ramp up costs whilst outside Europe as you can be charged just for receiving calls and texts. A Sim with Three offers more chance that your destination is covered, though, as customers on its Advanced plans can use their allowance in 71 countries around the world, including Australia, the US and Singapore. Plus, there's still a trick to make this work even if you're with another network. Read more here or see our 10 USA Roaming Tips if you're headed to the States.
- Be aware of the limitations - you can be charged for calling local numbers and RECEIVING voicemail.
There are also some not-so-obvious restrictions when roaming, notably the below:
- 'Free' EU roaming is not always free. Though you can't be charged for using your UK allowance in the EU, some networks have a 'fair use' policy which means you will run out of data quicker than at home - and be charged for using more. Giffgaff customers, for example, who are used to 'Always On' unlimited data, are restricted to 9GB while away - and will be charged £6 for every GB used on top
- You can be charged for receiving Voicemail. Outside the EU, you can be charged simply for someone ELSE leaving YOU an answerphone message - even if you never hear it - and at £1.80/min, it's not cheap. See how to beat the voicemail roaming trap.
- On a cruise or 'at sea'? The same rules don't apply. Even if you're to set sail in Europe, be extra careful of using your phone while at sea as it's easy to connect inadvertently to a 'maritime' network or a neighbouring country, which is NOT covered by the EU ruling. Just last year, one MoneySaver was hit with an £8,000 bill for 40 minutes worth of data. To be safe, restrict use of your phone to days when you're off the ship and always select the network your phone connects to.
For full information, including our best buy Sims and options to cut costs on the biggest networks, see our Cheap Mobile and Data Roaming guide. Happy holidays.