Data roaming bill nightmares – any tips?

screencap of settings on iPhone for turning off data roamingJust been listening to some horror stories on ABC 702 (related SMH story), and am about to google my arse off to find out how I should configure my iPhone before heading overseas later this year to avoid huge bills. Obviously turn off push notifications (which I have off anyway because I hatesssss the intrusion) and turn off roaming* and use local wireless wherever possible: but the problem here is that essentially that’s turning off huge swathes of the iPhone’s functionality. Are there better options?

I’m lucky – mr tog is currently contracting as a Business Analyst superstar for the telco that is my carrier, so we can probably end up getting the best deal possible there, also my iPhone was bought directly from Apple so it’s not locked to my carrier, which means I should be able to buy a PAYG SIM in Europe to use for the time that I’m there**. However, I’m curious as to what advice any seasoned travellers might be able to offer regarding the basics of keeping holiday phone bills down, and any useful articles online they can point me towards?

*Turning off roaming apparently doesn’t always work for some people with some iPhone model/operating-system combinations (eek!)
** My netbook has a SIM slot – what happens if I put my Oz SIM in there and use WiFi to check my voicemail/text messages etc?

Categories: Life, technology


9 replies

  1. My understanding is that typical data roaming charges are about $5/MB, so $5000/GB. I’m not really a seasoned traveller-with-a-smartphone, but to be honest with that kind of money at risk and various stories I’ve heard about that one rogue app that will use 3G in preference to wireless (this seems more common on Android, admittedly) I’d probably be pulling my Australian SIM out of my phone for the duration, and it wouldn’t go in the laptop either.
    I don’t think you can stick a SIM in a laptop and then get it to check voicemail and SMS over wifi. Voicemail needs to go over voice, which means either using the cell network, or using VoIP if you have a direct number for your voicemail. The former you want to avoid due to roaming charges (although call roaming, at about $5/minute, won’t bankrupt you quite as fast as data), the latter you can do without the SIM in your laptop. SMS needs to come over the cell network, it can’t come over wifi at all.
    So, I guess I’d:
    1. set up divert-to-voicemail-no-matter-what
    2. find out the number you can call to check your voicemail without using your own phone, and use VoIP for that (practice before you leave AU, to make sure you are sorted with how to authenticate and so on)
    3. keep your Australian SIM out of your phone except for brief deliberate insertions to pick up SMSes
    4. use wifi or PAYG local SIM cards exclusively otherwise, in your phone and in your laptop both

  2. Haven’t travelled with a smart phone myself. But, after reading all the horror stories of ridiculous bill, I would be inclined to take the advice of Mary.
    On the other hand, I’ve just returned from two months in South America – where I didn’t take my mobile phone. Must say, it was kinda liberating to be unconnected.
    There are internet cafe’s everywhere for when you need to do something.

  3. Something to double-check re voicemail: before my trip earlier this year, I was told by my telco that any calls which went to voicemail would be charged at roaming rates – even though I’d made it clear that my oz SIM would not be in my phone most of the time, so any calls that went to voicemail would not first be ringing on my phone.
    [I still don’t get how this is possible (if the phone rings and goes to voicemail, fair enough, but if the SIM’s off, it’s off, so how would the system know whether it was in Australia or elsewhere?), but I decided that checking voicemail would be a pain anyway, and since there were other ways for people to leave messages for me, I turned off voicemail.]
    Otherwise, I’m with Mary.

  4. Jo Tamar: I am not a telco insider, but I also can’t see why you’d be charged roaming rates for voicemail deposits, if the diversion occurs before your phone even rings.
    My guess would be that:
    (1) they didn’t understand your question
    (2) they didn’t want to promise you anything in case you didn’t configure it correctly to divert without ringing, and then tried to dispute it; or
    (3) that they were trying to say that you would pay roaming call charges to retrieve the messages (assuming that you did so with your mobile handset and an Australian SIM in it, this would be true).
    All of those miscommunications sound about equally likely to me.

  5. I see you can get some plans that slightly reduce these charges but… there’s reduce and reduce.
    Taking Telstra as an example, I was actually out by an order of magnitude: it’s $15/MB or $15000/GB. You can reduce it to $29 for 10MB or $160 for 60MB per here Presumably tigtog can do better than that given the likelihood of an insider deal with whoever her telco is, but unless she can do hundreds of times better, she’s still looking at really enormous bills for anything approaching normal usage.

  6. Thanks for posting about this. I’ve been planning to get an iPhone sometime over the next few months, but reading this, I might put it off until after my trip to New Zealand in December/January, just to save the hassle.

  7. I don’t have an IPhone. Just an old Nokia. But I SMS everyone, rather then call them. Use internet cafes for email, they’re everywhere. A friend who ran her business via emails when overseas for two weeks, came back with $1000.00 bill.

    • @Fine, that’s what I’ve done previously with non-smartphones, with no huge problems – slightly higher but easily budgeted for bills.
      The iPhone especially does weird things with automatic data fetching unless you tell it not to, and that’s how it racks up the data roaming charges overseas.

  8. Beppie: an alternative might be getting your iPhone on contract now, and having/borrowing an unlocked non-smart-phone for your trip.
    Then you take the unlocked phone to NZ and either:
    (1) transfer your AU SIM into it for SMSs and call roaming in emergencies only (call roaming costs about $5/minute, far too much for at all regular usage, but perhaps OK to just make one or two quick calls in NZ)
    (2) get a PAYG SIM in NZ.
    Is there a lot of benefit to waiting for the iPhone just for that? The only downside to getting it now that I can see is if you come to rely on it, but it’s locked, so you can’t take it to NZ and use it with an NZ SIM. Otherwise, you can get it now and just plan on leaving it at home, or at least not using your AU number/SIM.

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