What You Need to Know About Mobile Roaming

by Brandon Ackroyd - , Last Updated on October 6, 2014, Saving Money

Thinking about travelling abroad with your mobile in hand? Then you’re going to need to know all about mobile roaming, which is why we’re here to help. We’ve got everything you ever wanted to know about roaming, and a selection of great roaming solutions so you don’t face a huge bill when you get home from your holiday.

What is Roaming?

We’ll start with the basics. Mobile roaming is essentially just using your phone outside of the country. Because you will be using the mobile network of another country you’ll be paying higher prices (think of it like a rental fee for using someone else’s internet connection, say). You’ll pay more for sending an SMS, and for using mobile data (often a lot more for data), and you’ll not only pay more for making phone calls, but for receiving them too.

If you were to head off abroad and just use your phone as normal, chances are that you’d have a hefty bill when you got home. Fortunately, there are options that can make mobile roaming cheaper, as long as you know what you’re doing.

Roaming In and Out of the EU

Depending on which country you’re going to, prices will be different. In general, countries that are closer to the UK have cheaper rates, though countries like the US and Australia which are often visited by Brits generally have fairly cheap prices too. Far flung destinations will obviously be more expensive.

Inside the EU mobile roaming prices are regulated. That doesn’t mean that you won’t pay a lot, but it does mean that there’s a cap on how much foreign operators and your home operator can charge you. The EU is currently in the process of doing away with roaming fees altogether, but that’s not going to happen for a couple of years yet.

So, if you’re taking your phone abroad, you’re going to pay more to use it. But what are your options for minimising those extra expenses? Let’s take a look.

Option 1: Use Your Phone as Normal

Okay, okay, so we said that this would be expensive, but it is still an option, and it might be a good one. If you’re going away to say, France, just for the weekend, and you only plan on sending a couple of SMSs a day, then just use your regular phone plan. Yes, you’ll pay a little more, but it just won’t be worth buying a special roaming plan for a two day trip during which you’ll send maybe five text messages.

If you’re going to do this, there are a couple of things that you need to know. First, you should call your operator and make sure that your phone will work. Many UK operators switch off roaming by default (meaning your phone won’t work outside of the UK) to avoid customers running up big bills, so you may need to activate roaming before you go.

Secondly, switch off your 3G/4G as soon as you leave the country. Roaming data is exceptionally expensive, and even if you’re not using the internet some of your apps may be sneakily using your data connection in the background without you even realising it. Do these two things, and you should be fine.

Option 2: Get a Mobile Roaming Plan

Your next option is to get a special mobile roaming plan from your operator. All UK operators have these, and in general they are “add on” plans, which means you add the roaming feature for either a set time (usually a month) or until a set amount of money has been spent. If you’re going abroad for longer than a couple of days and want to use your phone, then these roaming packages will be your best bet.

You’ll need to call your operator and arrange to add the package to the current month’s bill, and to have roaming switched on on your phone. Again, you might want to avoid using data, since those costs add up fast. In general though, a roaming package will give you cheaper prices than simply using your regular phone plan.

Option 3: Get a Local SIM

If you’re going to be gone for more than a couple of weeks, or if you frequently visit the same country, then it might be worth your while to get a local SIM card. Get a cheap pay as you go SIM from a local operator and put it into your UK phone, and you’ll be paying local mobile costs rather than roaming charges.

You’ll need to make sure that your UK phone isn’t SIM locked (your operator should be able to tell you this, and also to unlock it if necessary), and that your phone will work in the country you’re visiting (generally only a problem with older models or in Asian countries). The downside of this is that you will have a different phone number while you’re using your local SIM, and you could miss calls, texts or emails on your UK number since that SIM won’t be in your phone.

Option 4: Go Dual SIM

Which brings us to the final option. If you’re a frequent traveller then you might want to invest in a dual SIM phone. These are mobiles that will run two SIM cards simultaneously, letting you use your UK SIM and a local SIM at the same time. This way you won’t miss any important calls on either number, but you can profit from the cheaper prices of your local SIM.

The only downside here is that dual SIM phone models can be pricey, but if you travel a lot then you’ll probably end up saving money in the long run since you won’t be paying mobile roaming charges.

Using your phone outside of the UK is easy, though it can be expensive. Before taking your phone on holiday, you might want to consider the above options. Of course, you could always leave your phone at home and have a completely relaxing vacation!

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