Summer’s finally here and millions of people are heading off to sunnier climes – but some of them will return to find a shockingly high mobile phone bill waiting for them on their return.
The latest incident to make the headlines is the case of 14-year-old Casey Snook who reportedly racked up a £3,800 mobile phone bill during a trip to New York. She was posting updates on Facebook and uploading photos, and – her family claim – was unaware she was running up a huge data roaming bill.
Her network, Orange, said it sent a text to Casey warning her she had gone over her internet data limit and barred her from sending any more texts and making calls. But it did not block her data roaming and claimed Casey clicked a “yes” button when asked if she wanted to keep the facility switched on.
The good news for millions of other holidaymakers is that a new cap on roaming charges within the EU came into force on 1 July 2013, just in time for this summer’s big getaway.
What is data roaming?
This is when you use another mobile network to access the internet on your phone while still being billed by your normal provider. It can be pricey, so some experts advise people to turn data roaming off before they leave the UK. There have been reports in the past of “phantom roaming ” charges, but the phone companies say that if data roaming is turned off there should be no reason for data charges to be incurred.
What if I need to access the web?
Use free Wi-Fi in places such as hotels, cafes and restaurants whenever you can. If you do have to go online when a free service is not available, make sure you switch off data roaming again as soon as you have finished.
How do I turn it off?
If you can’t find the option under Settings on your phone, search online to find instructions.
On the iPhone the option comes under Settings; click on that, then on General, then on Network and you will see the button to switch off data roaming.
What are the EU price caps?
The cost of downloading 1MB of data is capped at €0.45 (38p), and no user can be charged more than €50 (£43) in one billing period for data usage. These price caps exclude VAT.
What about outside the EU?
“Data roaming charges for all countries outside the EU remain hefty,” said Ernest Doku, telecoms expert at uSwitch.com.
The charges vary hugely. For example, O2 charges £6 a MB outside the EU;
Vodafone charges £3 a MB for up to 5MB then £15 for every 5MB after that;
while 3 splits charges into bands depending on which country you’re visiting – for example, it costs £3 per MB in a list of countries including Australia, Israel and South Africa, but £6 in scores of others including Canada and Morocco.
Orange can be very pricey – it charges £8 per MB of data outside the EU.
As looking at a map can swallow up 1MB, in some cases you could spend more on checking where the cafe is than on what you have when you get there.
On the Samsung Galaxy S3 and S4 go to Settings, then More settings, then Mobile networks.
On a Blackberry go to Options, Mobile network, Data services.
Is there a cap on usage?
All networks except T-Mobile enforce an automatic cap on data usage, wherever you are in the world.
Orange caps bills at around £49, 3 has a £40 price cap, and the other providers cap prices at similar levels.
When you are approaching the cap – typically when you have hit 80% of the data limit – you will get a warning text from your provider. When you reach the cap you will get another text asking you if you want to continue roaming. If you opt in you can continue to download data, otherwise this service will be blocked.
T-Mobile users have to buy a booster before they can get online, helping them to keep track of their spend.
So what’s the best advice?
Talk to your network – many offer add-on deals and bundles that can make it much cheaper to use the web abroad.
For example, O2 offers O2 Travel whereby pay monthly and pay as you go customers can use the internet on their phone in Europe for £1.99 a day. It’s available on every O2 phone. Meanwhile, EuroTraveller from Vodafone allows people to take their price plan with them, within Europe, for £3 a day, while those travelling outside Europe can opt in to Vodafone Data Traveller and pay £5 for 25MB for every day they go online.
Any others tips?
Think about buying a local pay-as-you-go sim card in the country that you visit, so you pay local prices. Regular travellers may want to consider buying an international sim card from a specialist provider, which may offer lower prices abroad.
A company called Dataroam offers a range of global and country-specific sim cards, and says people can “save up to 90%” on international roaming charges.
There are plenty of small local independent mobile phone stores and online unlocking specialists who can unlock your phone for you.