Going abroad is part of life for millions of people, from holidays in the sun to business trips and weddings.
Unfortunately, your UK smartphone contract won’t necessarily cover calls, texts or even mobile data in other parts of the world
To a generation weaned on social media and turn-by-turn GPS directions, that may come as an unwelcome shock.
And while modern smartphones automatically connect to one of your destination country’s networks, costs can be eye-wateringly high.
For example, a Tesco Mobile customer arriving in the UAE will be quoted £1.49 per minute to make or receive phone calls.
Even this pales into insignificance compared to mobile data fees of £5 per megabyte.
When you consider how much data certain apps consume, that could add hundreds of pounds to your next SIM-only bill.
Happily, it’s possible to avoid such a scenario by following a few basic guidelines.
These are our recommendations for avoiding punitive data charges while in distant lands…
Cutting international roaming charges
Turn off data roaming. This is absolutely crucial, since the average smartphone has dozens of apps with permission to send and receive data at any time.
These apps consume vast amounts of (potentially hugely expensive) data unless they’re throttled back.
Prior to switching off Airplane Mode, deactivate data roaming from the iOS Settings > General/Network menu, or turn off Mobile Data in Android’s pull-down top menu.
Use WiFi. This is the best way to avoid international roaming charges, since everywhere from airport lounges to hotels and cafés should offer customer WiFi.
Providing you’re not accessing sensitive data (in which case insecure public WiFi networks aren’t recommended), free WiFi is great for posting breakfast selfies or catching Pokémon.
Switch to VoIP calling. Instead of making normal phone calls, establish an account with a service like Skype, ooVoo or Viber.
Friends and relatives will need to install relevant software on their own devices to receive calls, but free phone calls provide a compelling reason to do so.
WhatsApp’s voice calling services tend to be overlooked in favour of its emoji-powered messages, despite providing an easy way to keep in touch over WiFi at no cost.
Skype can even translate conversations in real time, which is handy if you want to go fully native or add a monolingual local to the call.
Communicate via text and email. Text messages tend to be much cheaper than distributing mobile data through messaging platforms like WhatsApp and Snapchat.
Longer texts don’t cost extra, and picture messages may be cheaper still, depending on the pricing policies of your destination country’s default mobile network.
A typical email may only contain twenty kilobytes of data, so even the aforementioned Tesco Mobile customer in Dubai could send a hundred attachment-free emails for a fiver.
Buy a local SIM. If your handset is able to accept dual SIM cards, or isn’t locked to a particular network, buying a SIM in the destination country may save money.
Costs to call home would still be significant, but updates and mapping would be priced at local rates rather than incurring international roaming charges.
Finally, if your current handset is locked to a specific network, a more radical option involves buying a cheap pay-as-you-go phone with data already bundled in.
On the downside, important contacts will have to use this temporary number. On the upside, mobile data will be as affordable as it is for locals – making GPS services useable once again.