How not to get hung up by your mobile phone bill on holiday from sim cards to data limits


The easiest way to avoid a whopping mobile phone bill when you’re on holiday is to switch off your device and start relaxing.

But most of us will want to make calls, send texts, check emails, explore social media or use the internet to work out map directions or how to visit local attractions.

How can you do this safely without hidden charges and make the most of going online when overseas? There is a lot of jargon out there — ‘data limits’, ‘bundles’, ‘bolt-ons’, ‘pre-paid SIM cards’… among others. Here is our guide to using mobile phones abroad that cuts through all the confusing lingo.

Most of us will want to make calls, send texts, check emails, explore social media or use the internet to work out map directions or how to visit local attractions while on holiday

Is it free to use them in Europe?

Yes. Since June 2017, a European Union regulation has come into force that allows you to pay domestic prices for phone calls, texts and using the internet on the move.

The result is that being in one of the 27 other EU countries is effectively the same as being at home; Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein have also signed up.

Does this mean I have unlimited internet access?

Not in all cases. While Vodafone, O2, Sky Mobile and other operators allow this, the 2017 EU regulation stipulates that companies can introduce a ‘fair use’ limit. Both EE and Three have such a policy. 

In such instances you will be limited to how much data you can use, but will be warned by text when you have reached this limit. You will also be warned ahead of time that such a limit exists, also by text.

What about after Brexit?

Nobody is quite sure. If Britain secures a Brexit deal for its future relationship with the EU, it is almost certain current rules will remain. If not, they could go.

What about outside the EU?

This is where it gets complicated. You could quite quickly exceed your ‘data limit’ or phone call or text allowance — the amount you may use your phone agreed with your mobile operator.

Will I be told if I’ve nearly used my allowance? 

Mobile phone companies are now obliged under EU law to notify you when you are about to go over your allowance. 

You should be sent a text when you are close to exceeding this (at 80 per cent of your allowance) and when you have reached your limit.

Since June 2017, a European Union regulation has come into force that allows you to pay domestic prices for phone calls, texts and using the internet on the move

Since June 2017, a European Union regulation has come into force that allows you to pay domestic prices for phone calls, texts and using the internet on the move

Then what should I do?

Your mobile company will advise you how much per day it will cost to use the internet in your location — yet another requirement of EU law, which applies to all EU citizens. 

This is usually about £5-£6 a day or could work out less if you buy a weekly ‘bundle’ (collection of days). Simply click on the link on the text to accept the offer.

What if I think this is too much?

Turn off your ‘data roaming’ option on your phone before arriving overseas. This is usually found under the ‘mobile data’ section.

Does this mean I can no longer use the internet?

No. If you are somewhere with Wi-Fi you will be able to access the internet abroad for free and make free online phone calls through the likes of WhatsApp or Skype.

What if there’s no Wi-Fi? 

This is a problem that often crops up when trying to use internet maps such as Waze and Google Maps to get about.

The only way to gain online access without Wi-Fi is to buy the daily or weekly access as described above, or to purchase a local pre-paid SIM card.

Pre-paid sim cards are microchip cards that slot into the back of your mobile phone. They can be loaded with unlimited data in advance

Pre-paid sim cards are microchip cards that slot into the back of your mobile phone. They can be loaded with unlimited data in advance

How do sim cards work?

Pre-paid sim cards are microchip cards that slot into the back of your mobile phone. They can be loaded with unlimited data in advance, and typically cost about £25-£30 for eight days. This can work out at slightly less than mobile phone charges.

The best way to figure out which SIM to buy is to visit prepaidgsm.net, which shows mobile operators for more than 100 countries.

Are they worth it?

Complications with compatibility between phones and the SIM cards can arise. 

It may be better to wait for your ‘data limit’ text to come up and then click through to accept the charges of about £5-£6 a day.

What if I end up with a huge bill?

If you think you’ve been charged too much, then the first step is to contact your provider by e-mail.

The Which? magazine website (which.co.uk) has a template letter on their consumer rights pages which you can use.

If all else fails, then you can try the two ombudsman services that deal with mobile phone complaints.

If in doubt about how much you are being charged, turn off ‘data roaming’ on your phone— and always carefully read any texts your mobile provider sends when abroad

If in doubt about how much you are being charged, turn off ‘data roaming’ on your phone— and always carefully read any texts your mobile provider sends when abroad

Cisas covers Vodafone, TalkTalk, Virgin Mobile and Sky, while Ombudsman Services: Communications covers Three, EE and O2 (cedr.com, ombudsman-services.org).

Do bear in mind that these two ombudsman services do not deal with complaints you might have regarding third-party sellers such as Carphone Warehouse.

Top tips for travelling with your phone

One handy piece of advice is to download albums, films or TV shows before you go on holiday. That way you won’t use up precious ‘data allowances’. 

Another is to download local Google Maps or Waze for your location where there is Wi-Fi and then use it for free without requiring internet access.

Any other advice?

Yes, if in doubt, turn off ‘data roaming’ — and always carefully read any texts your mobile provider sends when abroad.

ROAMING CHARGES OUTSIDE THE EU 

EE: £4.80-£6 a day depending on your destination for a Travel Data Pass covering 500MB of data. If you are on a Max Plan then all data is included (meaning you can use your phone just as you would at home) in selected countries including the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

02: £4.99 a day for an 02 Travel Bolt On valid in 75 countries including New Zealand, the U.S. and Australia, which offers unlimited data, 120 minutes of calls and 120 texts. Pop into an O2 store or contact customer services at least 24 hours before travelling.

Three: Usually about £6 a day, but free for users signed up to Go Roam passes, which enable them to use their phones for the same charges as the UK in 71 countries, including the U.S., Australia and New Zealand.

Vodafone: £6 a day for Roam Further coverage, which allows you to use your phone exactly as you would in the UK in 104 different countries including the U.S., Australia and New Zealand.



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