Mobile technology

6 tips to avoid international roaming charges when you travel

Jack McLoughlin

28 Apr 2021

When it comes to international roaming, the messaging used by your network can be complicated, or even worse, they might not even mention these additional charges when you setup your account.

This might cause you to spend excessively on data usage while abroad, or you might try to give up using your phone altogether to avoid the extra costs.

The truth is, we all probably want to use our phones while overseas, whether it's for business or just to stay in touch with loved ones.

To make things a little easier, we've put together some top tips to help you avoid those nasty international roaming charges while abroad.

But first, how does international roaming work?

Any time you use your mobile to call, text, or use data while outside of your domestic coverage area, you are using 'international roaming'. The chart below breaks down the process step by step:

The extra step that your mobile network needs to make, to connect the call with a local operator, is an expensive process for your mobile network as they need to maintain these agreements in every country. This is why international roaming charges are so high.

Our 6 tips to avoid international roaming charges

Don't let the above put you off using your phone while abroad, because there are some things you can do to avoid these charges altogether. We all know the obvious things like using wi-fi when you can and to restrict your phone use, but in reality this isn't always possible. Have a scroll through to see what works for you.

1. Know your current plan before you roam

Contact your network before you set off and ask them about roaming costs at your destination.

If roaming is expensive at your destination, they may be able to offer you an overseas add-on, which will be a daily allowance for short trips, or a monthly allowance for longer stays.

If you have been a longtime customer with your carrier, it's worth contacting their customer service to see if they can offer a temporary upgrade to your data allowance to cover the extra roaming you'll be doing.

2. Switch to a local SIM with unlimited data

If you're trip is longer than a few days, or your destination's roaming costs are extremely high, then switching to a local SIM is probably the easiest way to avoid excessive roaming costs.

By switching to a local SIM you will only need to pay local prepaid rates. You'll most likely need to pay a small fee for the SIM card and your phone must be unlocked to any network for this to work, but once setup, you can take advantage of the many unlimited data plans out there.

Often you will find mobile network stalls at airports, so you can buy a local SIM as soon as you land.

At some point you will probably run out of data and need to top-up your local SIM, and this can be a difficult process while in a foreign country. With Ding, you can buy prepaid top-up for over 150 countries in just a few taps. Simply login to your account and purchase a mobile top-up for your local number.

3. Use your phone in airplane/ flight mode

If you are unable to upgrade your allowance, or purchasing a local SIM isn't possible, have no fear, there are a few ways to help reduce your international roaming charges. It just takes a little planning and know-how of your device.

Using your phone in airplane mode is a must-do if you are in this situation. When you enable flight mode, you're effectively blocking all incoming and outgoing forms of cellular data, which includes calls, text messages and data (internet) roaming.

Although this limits your phone use, you can still connect to the wi-fi when available, you can hotspot from a friend or relative who has local data, and you can still use your phones offline functions like the camera.

For iPhone:

Settings > General > Cellular > Data Roaming > enable/disable

For Android:

Settings > Mobile Networks > Data Roaming > enable/disable

4. Download MAPS.ME

As far as free apps go, this one is up there. MAPS.ME is an offline maps app, that works just as good (if not better) than the standard map apps which come with your phone.

It's super easy to use, just download the map of the city you are in (wi-fi of course) and when you're out and about you can use it's driving, walking and cycle navigation. There's some other cool functions like offline travel guides and booking help too.

Extremely hands, regardless of whether you're using a local SIM or international roaming. You can download it here.

5. Turn off automatic downloads

Turning off automatic downloads will ensure that you're not downloading unnecessary things while on the move. We suggest you change your download settings and manually download updates once you're on a stable wi-fi connection.

It's worth doing this even if you're using your phone in flight mode most of the time, because if you need to disable flight mode even for a minute and you have this left on, all your updates will start downloading straight away.

For iPhone:

Settings > App Store > Automatic Downloads > disable all >

Settings > Mail > Accounts > Fetch New Data > Push > disable

For Android:

Google Play> Hamburger icon top-left > Settings > Auto-update Apps > Do not auto-update

6. Download music and movies in advance

Streaming platforms like Netflix, Spotify and Hulu have offline streaming available, where you can download playlists, movies or tv shows in advance before your journey.

Doing this ensures the content is saved on your device and won't use up any data to access it.

It's possible to avoid roaming charges while abroad, but this usually means limiting phone use. Switching to a local SIM is an easy and often cheap alternative, and with Ding you can always keep your new number topped up.

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6 tips to avoid international roaming charges when you travel