Data Roaming: Bundles for Using Your Smartphone Abroad, Avoid Huge Charges

September 2nd, 2011

If you’re taking your smartphone abroad, you should either disable data roaming on your smartphone or opt in for a data roaming bundle to avoid huge charges.

If you’re a smartphone owner, you’ll need to take extra care when you go abroad: your smartphone could rack up a huge phone bill. The costs of using your phone abroad (or roaming) can sometimes be extortionate if you don’t have a bundle: up to £1.50/minute for phone calls, 50p per text message and £6/MB for data if you’re travelling outside the EU. This can be particularly dangerous if you own a smartphone as smartphones often use data in the background.

In this guide, we outline the main options for smartphone owners travelling overseas. We compare the different bundles you can opt in to and discuss how you can disable data roaming on your smartphone if you don’t have a roaming bundle.

How can I avoid huge bills for using my smartphone abroad?

Huge bills are incurred when you use a smartphone abroad without a suitable bundle. There are three ways to avoid “bill shock”:

  • Buy a local SIM card in the country you’re visiting.
  • Buy a data roaming bundle.
  • Disable data roaming on your smartphone.

We’ll take these 3 options in turn.

How much will it cost to use data roaming on my smartphone abroad?

Outside of the EU, you could expect to pay £1.50/minute for outgoing calls, £1/minute for incoming calls, 50p per text message sent and about £6/MB for data. Within the EU, roaming prices for calling and texting are much lower as they’re regulated. You can expect to pay no more than 36p/minute for outgoing calls, 12p/minute to receive a call and 10p to send a text message. Data costs as charged to consumers aren’t regulated within the EU so can still be fairly high.

Prices vary by network operator and where you’re visiting so check before you leave:

What’s the cheapest way to use my smartphone abroad?

In general, the best thing is to avoid data roaming altogether by buying a local SIM card in the country you’re visiting. This’ll give the same prices that the locals get on their mobile phone tariff.

In order to use a local SIM card in the country you’re visiting, you’ll need to have an unlocked mobile phone. Once you’ve purchased one, simply slot the local SIM card into your phone. You’ll have a local phone number in the country you’re visiting too which should also cut the cost of making enquiries and booking taxis on your trip. We recommend choosing a Pay As You Go SIM card with an inclusive data allowance. In the UK, you’d typically expect to pay around £5 for a 30 day data allowance but costs can be higher in some other countries.

In some countries, it may be difficult for visitors to obtain a local SIM card. Regulations may vary country-to-country but you may need to present some form of identification (such as a passport). You’ll also struggle to take out a Pay Monthly deal without a credit history in that country – better to stick with Pay As You Go. It may also be difficult to find an English-speaking phone store to purchase a SIM card from! It’s worth spending a few moments before leaving the UK just to find out how feasible it is to obtain a local SIM card and the costs associated with doing so.

I’m travelling within the EU. What roaming data packages are available?

Buying a local SIM card is the most cost-effective option but it may not always be practical.

  • Three do not have any data bundles available for Europe. You’ll pay a flat rate of £1.28/MB in most EU countries.
  • Orange have a £3/day “Euro Bundle” available which allows you to download up to 30MB in a 24-hour period. You’ll be charged £3.07/MB if you exceed your 30MB daily limit.
  • O2 have a £1.50/day “Web Daily Europe” bundle available which allows you to download up to 15MB/day. O2 claim that you won’t automatically be charged if you exceed the limit but they may contact you about your usage.
  • T-Mobile have a £1/day “Euro Internet Booster” bundle available which allows you to download up to 3MB/day. You could also pay £5 for a 20MB allowance that lasts a week or £10 for a 50MB allowance that lasts a month. You’ll need to buy a new booster if you exceed your limit.
  • Vodafone have a £2/day “Data Traveller” bundle available which allows you to download up to 25MB/day. You’ll be charged £1/MB once you’ve exceeded your download limit.

If you’re a BlackBerry owner and a frequent traveller, it’s worth looking at T-Mobile’s offer of unlimited internet internationally for £15.32/month. Unfortunately it’ll only work on a BlackBerry device: iPhones, Androids and Windows Phones are unable to use this package.

I’m travelling outside the EU. What roaming data packages are available?

  • Three do not have any data bundles available for the rest of the world. You’ll pay £6/MB in most countries and up to £10/MB in some countries whilst using data abroad.
  • Orange have a choice of three bundles: 4MB for £8.17/month, 10MB for £15.32/month or 50MB for £61.27/month. All bundles last for 30 days.
  • O2 do not have any roaming data bundles available. You’ll pay a standard rate of £6/MB for roaming data.
  • T-Mobile do not have any roaming data bundles available unless you have a BlackBerry. BlackBerry owners can use the “BlackBerry World Email Booster” which provides unlimited data overseas for £15.32/month. For non-Blackberry owners, you’ll pay £7.50/MB to use data abroad.
  • Vodafone have a £5/day “Data Traveller” bundle available which allows you to download up to 25MB/day. You’ll be charged £3/MB once you’ve exceeded your download limit.

I don’t want to use data abroad. How do I disable data roaming on my smartphone?

In order to disable data roaming on your phone, follow the instructions for your smartphone:

  • iPhone: Go to Settings > General > Network > Data Roaming and select Off. For an extra precaution, you can disable all internet connectivity in iOS4.
  • Android: Go to Settings > Wireless & networks > Mobile networks and uncheck ‘Data roaming’. Android also offers the option to disable internet connectivity altogether.
  • BlackBerry: Go to Device Options > Mobile Network > Data Services and change the setting to ‘Off whilst roaming’. You can also disable internet connectivity fully here as an extra precaution. Press the menu button and select “Save”.
  • Windows Phone: Go to the Applications list and select Settings > Mobile > Data roaming options and change the setting to ‘Don’t roam’.

Be warned that turning off data roaming doesn’t turn off voice and text roaming at the same time – you’ll still be liable for the roaming charges incurred whilst making calls and sending texts. You’ll still be able to use wi-fi abroad for free after changing this setting.

How much is a megabyte? What does it actually correspond to in terms of webpages and e-mails?

See our detailed guide to download limits and what they actually correspond to in reality.

Do I need to pay to access wi-fi networks abroad?

Your mobile operator will not charge you for accessing wi-fi networks from your smartphone whilst abroad. This is because data transferred over a wi-fi network bypasses your mobile operator altogether. Some wi-fi networks may charge you before you are able to access them. Please be aware that data transferred over open wi-fi networks, including e-mails and passwords, can be intercepted by others if the data isn’t encrypted. You should use a VPN connection or secure HTTP/e-mail connections whenever possible.

Are there any other cost-efficient ways of accessing the internet whilst abroad?

Yes. The 3G version of the Amazon Kindle provides free 3G connectivity worldwide. It includes an experimental and very basic web browser. Whilst it’s no match for a smartphone, it does mean you can access basic information worldwide such as e-mail, weather forecasts and the news for a one-off payment of £151. See our detailed guide to the Kindle’s free worldwide 3G browsing.

Where can I find out more about using my phone overseas?

We’ve got a comprehensive guide to using your phone overseas. This includes details on how to find out if your phone works overseas and several money saving tips.

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About Ken

Ken Lo

My passion is helping people to get the most out of their mobile phone. I've been blogging at Ken's Tech Tips since 2005.

Aside from writing about mobile technology, my interests are in software development, digital marketing and physics. Outside of the blog, I work with numerous technology companies helping them to explain their product and helping them to market it to consumers. Please get in touch for more information.

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