Vacations are time to relax and enjoy time off, not for worrying about bill shock when you get home. Unfortunately, roaming charges for using your phone abroad can make your post-getaway mobile bill much higher than you expect.

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We interviewed four frequent travelers about their roaming charge horror stories, and examined what had happened. Even the most seasoned travelers can be caught unawares by data roaming drama!

Joe and Brandon: roaming in a country that their data packages did not cover

Joe from JTPR in the UK roamed in Turkey and thought that his mobile data usage would be covered under the European Union’s lower prices for data roaming. However, it was not because Turkey is not a member of the EU. Also, Brandon, a Digital Analyst at TekBoost in the US, thought that the mobile data he used in Mexico could be part of his USD 85 plan for unlimited texts, calls and data. But it wasn’t because operators almost always charge separately for roaming, outside a customer’s regular mobile package – even if it’s an “unlimited” one. This roaming data usage ended up costing Brandon $341.09.

Elizabeth: “data roaming” accidentally switched on

Elizabeth from SoloTrekker4U said, “Make sure that international roaming is not switched on inadvertently when you make a phone call, or even when snapping a photo with your phone.” She was the one who got a “have a nice trip” SMS message from Santo Domingo after snapping a photo with her phone. It is always good to make sure your data roaming is off whenever your phone connects to the local operator and starts roaming.

Melanie: background data usage from push notifications, email and web browsing

Melanie from Rare Finds Travel Design, turned on data roaming when she was waiting for her flight home. All she did was empty her inbox and check how many emails she had. She got an SMS warning of the data charges, and the message kept popping up. She scrambled back to the settings button but not before more than $200 worth of data has been gobbled up by hungry apps and incoming mail. Like most people, she had no idea how much data she used. Those hungry apps that use data in the background had started syncing and updating as soon as she had turned on roaming.

From one traveller to another: Tips for keeping your data-roaming costs in check
Link to get Opera Max data saving app in Google Play

So how do you get around the high fees? Most travellers interviewed prefer getting a country-specific SIM card or accessing free Wi-Fi networks to avoid data roaming charges. However, there are risks in connecting through free public Wi-Fi networks. Russell Hannon from Break the Travel Barrier suggests protecting your online activity from unauthorized viewing with applications like VPNs. Melanie mentions that Opera Max can track your data usage and make your Wi-Fi connection safer.

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If you have to roam, make sure your data roaming package covers the regions that you are traveling to. Russell says, “The best way to get the most for your dollar from your international roaming plan is to go with a data-only plan, then use Skype or FaceTime with audio only, or use email or social media in lieu of SMS. Also, beware of video. Video is becoming much more commonplace online, especially Facebook. Try to restrict video watching to when you are connected to Wi-Fi.”

Brandon shared a trick if you’re being charged by the minute for service, like when you’re on a cruise ship – the copy-and-paste method. It’s particularly useful when sending an important email. He composes the entire email in his Notepad with Airplane Mode turned on. Then, when he is ready to send the email, he will turn Airplane Mode off, open up his email, quickly paste the message, send it, and turn Airplane Mode back on.

Hope you find these tips helpful. We have prepared some apps to help you roam without fear. Don’t forget to pack them into your smartphone before the trip! For more information about saving money while traveling, check out our article on finding the best travel deals online.

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