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The last thing anyone wants when they return from holiday is a large bill from their phone provider. And yet, many people are still being caught out by the high costs of calling home or using social media while they’re abroad. To help people avoid bill shock – the horror of receiving a bill much higher than you expected – here are some tips on keeping costs low whilst travelling overseas.
Make Use of Free Roaming In the EU
Rules introduced in 2017 allow citizens travelling within the EU to use their allowance of minutes, text and data as they would at home. This means you no longer pay more for usual phone activity whilst on holiday in a number of European countries. Do check with your provider to find out exactly which countries are covered, as assuming one is could lead to that large bill on your arrival home.
If you exceed your allowance of minutes, texts and data, you will, of course, be charged as you would in the UK. It can be very expensive to exceed your data allowance, so be sure to sign in to secure Wi-Fi hotspots where you can.
There are a number of European countries where the new rules don’t apply, such as Vatican City, Albania, Andorra, Monaco and more. Again, be sure to double check the countries covered by your plan before travelling.
Free roaming isn’t always free – and some people could be charged for using their full data allowance even if they haven’t exceeded it. This is a fair use policy usually applied to cheaper packages, so be sure to always read the small print.
Use Free Wi-Fi Where You Can
Whether in countries covered by ‘free’ EU roaming or further afield, using free Wi-Fi where you can makes sound financial sense. Many hotels, Airbnb properties, restaurants, bars and cafes offer free Wi-Fi and you should use this for anything data-heavy such as downloading movies, uploading photos to social media and making calls over the internet. This way you don’t risk burning through your data allowance or racking up huge bills.
If you really need to connect to the internet and you can’t access Wi-Fi, avoid streaming music or engaging in other data-heavy activities whilst using data.
Pick Up a Second SIM card
If you’re not covered by EU roaming but you want to be able to use your phone whilst abroad, a second SIM card may be a good option. You’ll need an unlocked phone and one of two types of SIM.
A SIM card bought from local providers at your destination offers a very cheap source of calls, texts and data. You can usually buy one in the airport (though these won’t be the cheapest) or from supermarkets and phone shops. You can expect to pay around £30 for a local SIM card with 2GB of data; enough to check social media and send some WhatsApp messages home while you’re away.
The other option is a Three pay as you go SIM card loaded with one of their Feel at Home offers. You don’t have to be an existing Three customer to enjoy this bundle, simply order a free SIM card online and pop it into your unlocked handset. Top up your SIM card and use the credit to buy a Three Feel at Home add-on ranging in price from £5 to £35. Currently, the offer covers 71 destinations worldwide including the USA, so be sure to check yours is covered before you buy.
Buy Roaming Bundles from Your Network
If you’d rather not pick up a second SIM card, you can see if your own network offers overseas data bundles. These bundles are for monthly contract customers, and they can provide an allowance of data for the duration of your trip. They’re not particularly cheap, so unless you desperately need one, you’ll be far better off relying on free Wi-Fi.
Make Your Data Go Further
If you do intend to use data whilst abroad, make sure you stick to your allowance. To do this, download a data compression app. They work by reducing the amount of data web pages and emails use, stretching your precious data allowance up to five times further. There are a number of data compression apps for both Android and iPhone so choose the one with features that suit you. These apps can’t reduce data streamed from Spotify, Netflix or Skype so be sure to avoid these altogether while connected to mobile data.
Download Maps and Google Translate to Use Offline
Did you know that you can download Google maps of your destination and use them while offline? You don’t get all the fancy features in offline maps, but you will be able to use them as you would a traditional paper map and navigate to landmarks and sites.
To download a map and use it for free: open Google Maps, search for your destination, tap on the name of the location and then hit the download option. Make sure you do this whilst connected to Wi-Fi as it can be quite a data-heavy process.
Want to be even more prepared? Download the local language in Google Translate to also use offline. Google Translate is a really helpful tool for translating menus and signs, but if used online it can use up a lot of data. Downloading it to use offline is a great free alternative.