computers and technology

by DARRYL BUDGE

Avoid massive mobile bills while overseas

The best way to avoid sky-high international roaming bills is to buy a pre-paid voice and data SIM at your destination and SMS your new number to your friends back home.

Before taking a phone overseas, check it is:

  • ‘Unlocked’ from your Australian carrier (so that a different SIM will work).
  • Compatible with the foreign operator’s network frequencies. You can check coverage and GSM frequencies at <maps.mobileworldlive.com>. Phones that are labelled quad-band will cover GSM frequencies used in most parts of the world.

Or leave your expensive phone at home. Buy a cheap unlocked phone and prepaid SIM at your destination. Then you have fewer worries regarding compatibility, potential damage and phone insurance.

If you are buying another SIM, change your home voicemail message to say that you are overseas and can be contacted via email.

Get the Right Local SIM

Travelgear.com.au and mobipassport.com.au are two of many online stores that sell local voice/data or data-only SIM cards for overseas countries. Both of these websites list the call costs for each SIM. Alternatively, ask the hotel you are staying in to recommend the best one.

A global or region-wide SIM is more convenient when frequently hopping countries, but a local SIM is better value if staying for a while. Note that all local SIMs have free inbound calls in their country of origin, while a global SIM will receive calls for free in selected countries only.

Some global SIM providers, like Travelsim, offer a toll-free 1800 number for Australians (plus other toll-free numbers overseas) to call their SIM numbers anywhere in the world. The cost of the call is charged to the global SIM account at a low rate.

Beware When Enabling Roaming on Your Existing Number

You are charged for answering or diverting (including to voicemail) any phone call, so turn voicemail off via your mobile carrier’s online settings or call your phone network before you leave.

Don’t answer the phone unless you absolutely have to. Remember that receiving an SMS is always free and sending SMS’s is the best way to keep your costs down.

Save on call costs by finding a wireless hotspot. Using Wi-Fi, you can email or call on an internet phone like Skype or Viper, or FaceTime if you’re calling between Apple devices (note that Facetime sends a text message to initiate).

Avoid Hidden Data Costs

1  
  Switch off data roaming, cellular data, and 3G.
Australian networks charge up to $20 per megabyte while roaming overseas, so a single webpage can cost around $3, and one Facebook photo is around $4.
  iPhone: Go to Settings ? General ? Network ? slide ‘Data Roaming’, ‘Cellular Data’ and ‘Enable 3G’ to ‘off’.
  Android: Go to Settings ? Wireless Controls ? Mobile Network Settings ? uncheck Data Roaming, Data Enable/Use Packet data and 3G Data options.
  Blackberry: Go to Options ? Mobile Network ? Data Services ? select ‘Off When Roaming’.
  Windows Phone: Go to Settings ? Mobile Network ? Data Roaming ? and select ‘Don’t Roam’.
2  
  Disable Auto-sync and auto app updates, location services and push updates.
Just in case you desperately need to use data, turn off ‘Push New Data’ or ‘Auto-sync’ in Account settings, and disable automatic app updates in iTunes or in the Play Store on Android. Also, turn off notifications for any apps that have their own individual tabs in Settings/Options.
3  
  Purchase an international data roaming pack.
Most Australian carriers offer a one-month pack that is enough for basic email and internet browsing, but not streaming video.
4  
  Create your own Wi-Fi hotspot and keep your phone number.
Consider buying or renting a mobile 3G/Wi-Fi modem (a.ka. MiFi device) and insert a prepaid data SIM from your destination country. You can still receive phone calls on your existing phone number, but make sure that data roaming is switched off on your phone (see points 1 and 2). Some companies that rent SIM-included portable 3G/Wi-Fi modems are UK-based GlobalGig (covering US, UK and Australia at prices similar to local rates) and Droam, who cover most of Europe.
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