Saturday Money: Roaming abroad: how to avoid bill shock: Data charges Many smartphone users dread racking up massive costs after checking emails or posting snaps on Facebook. But from Tuesday, overseas tariffs - in Europe at least - will be slashed, repor

Guardian (UK) |

For most of us, the idea of going on holiday without a smartphone or tablet would be unthinkable. But are you one of those people who worries that a hideously high bill will be waiting for them at home? Each year brings a fresh batch of horror stories about holidaymakers hit with monster mobile-phone bills after downloading a movie, or uploading photos to Facebook while overseas. However, there is good news for millions of people heading off on holiday to Europe this summer: the maximum amounts phone companies can charge for things such as browsing the net, watching videos, checking emails and updating social networks are about to be slashed. These new, much lower price caps for mobile data roaming within the EU take effect on Tuesday - just in time for the summer getaway. Phone calls and text messages will also be cheaper. It's a welcome positive news story for Europe - the European commission says the "huge drop" in costs will make a big difference to millions of us this summer. But these rules won't, of course, benefit anyone travelling to a non-EU country. Data roaming is when you use another mobile network to access the internet on your phone while still being billed by your normal provider. From Tuesday, the maximum you can be charged for one megabyte of mobile internet data while travelling within the EU will be slashed from 45 cents plus VAT (currently around 43p) to 20 cents plus VAT (around 19p). It's worth remembering that some popular tourist hotspots such as Turkey, Switzerland and Tunisia aren't in the EU, so these countries aren't protected by the caps, says Rob Kerr at price comparison site The cost of data can really be a killer if you're travelling beyond Europe. For a monthly contract customer on holiday in the United States or South Africa, for example, that same one megabyte of data will cost you pounds 3 if you're with Vodafone, pounds 6 with O2, and an eye-watering pounds 8 if you're a Tesco Mobile customer, based on their standard rates. To put that into context, regulator Ofcom says that watching a 60-minute video over 3G networks can gobble up between 50MB and 225MB of data - which at pounds 8 per megabyte would work out at between pounds 400 and pounds 1,800. USwitch claims that a holidaymaker who opts out of an automatic data limit imposed by their network, and doesn't make use of free local Wi-Fi or switch off their phone's data roaming, could easily amass a bill approaching pounds 500 a day, depending on where they are in the world. However, many mobile operators offer specific packages for using your device abroad (see right). Get a deal: Before heading off, speak to your network provider or check out their website to see its roaming charges and whether it offers special deals for using your phone abroad. Most do. Customers of EE who are on a "4GEE" or T-Mobile plan are perhaps the best-protected against so-called bill shock. That's because the internet won't work on their phone when they are abroad unless they buy an add-on or "booster". These can only be bought while you are overseas. Meanwhile, Three offers a service called "Feel at Home" to all its pay monthly and pay-as-you-go customers, which lets them use their data allowances as normal in 11 countries worldwide - and at no extra cost. The 11 countries are Italy, Ireland, the US, Australia, Austria, Denmark, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Macau, Sri Lanka and Sweden, plus, from Tuesday, France, Switzerland, Norway, Finland and Israel. Rob Kerr at says that if you're an O2 pay-monthly customer travelling to Europe, you can buy unlimited data for pounds 1.99 a day. O2 says there is no catch, though you need to have O2 Travel on your account or activate it. Vodafone offers a bundle for pounds 2 per day until 31 August, which allows you to use your monthly allowance of data, texts and minutes in its "Europe zone", as if you were in the UK. Vodafone's Europe zone includes Turkey and Switzerland. Meanwhile, Tesco claims its new international calls app - which is free to download - is helping customers tackle the cost of calling from both home and abroad. The app connects to Wi-Fi so that calls can be made back to the UK from 1p per minute. So for someone holidaying in Spain, half an hour on the phone to their mum in the UK would cost as little as 30p, it says. Dos and don'ts to prevent travellers falling victim: * There is a safety net Ofcom says all mobile operators have to cut off your data connection once you have used around pounds 40 to pounds 50 of data per month, wherever you travel in the world, unless you choose another limit. The precise figure varies from company to company. The provider must send you an alert when you reach 80\% and then 100\% of the agreed data roaming limit, and must stop the data at the 100\% point, unless you agree to continue to use data. * Turn off data roaming Other than leaving your phone/tablet at home, the best way to avoid running up an unexpected bill is to switch off data roaming before you leave the UK. That will ensure your device isn't racking up costs without you realising it (many phones and tablets are programmed to automatically seek out mobile connections and use them to update apps even when you're not actively using the device). * Free Wi-Fi If you want/need to access the web, use free Wi-Fi in places such as hotels, cafes and restaurants whenever you can - though avoid making online purchases or accessing your bank account via such services. You don't need data roaming switched on to access Wi-Fi. However, make sure you are, indeed, connecting to the correct network and not an "evil twin," which is a lookalike connection designed to trick you, says security firm Norton. * Download before you go Make sure you download what you need before you leave home, including apps, books, films or music, plus city maps, guides, etc, says Ofcom, and check downloads are fully completed before you leave. * Buy a sim card If you want to use your mobile phone abroad, but don't fancy the roaming charges, one way to potentially cut your costs is to buy a sim card - either a local one that you purchase when you get to your destination, or a global/international one that can typically be bought in advance from a specialist provider. When buying, make sure your phone is "unlocked" and that it's compatible with your destination country's radio frequency. Buying a local pay-as-you-go sim means that you'll be using a different number, but will ensure you pay local prices and can be particularly worthwhile for those who frequently visit the same country. On its website, Which? namechecks GeoSIM and 0044 as two of the main providers of global/international sim cards. GeoSIM claims it can save people "up to 85\%" when roaming; its standard sim costs pounds 14.99. Meanwhile, 0044 offers a variety of cards for different countries, including the US, Spain and Australia. "Do some due diligence before you go and check whether your phone is unlocked. If it isn't, then you won't be able to take advantage of cheap sim cards overseas," says Kerr. "Have a look around before you travel to see what offers are available on pay-as-you-go." * Beware "accidental roaming" This is where you're visiting an area close to another country and your phone picks up the network across the border. If this happens, you may be charged as though you were roaming in that other country, so take care and keep a close eye on your phone. * What else should I know? When you cross a border within the EU, your mobile operator must send a text telling you the cost of making and receiving calls, texting and going online in the country you've just entered. Captions: Holiday heaven . . . soak up the sun, check emails, send a snap to Facebook friends. To holiday hell . . . a bill from your network provider for a staggering pounds 500 a day Alamy One user ran up a pounds 2,318 bill in Istanbul

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