How to save on roaming charges when traveling – guest blogger: Danny Starr

Today, I have a special guest blogger, Danny Starr of Roam Mobility. Danny is sharing his expertise: “How to save on roaming charges when travelling.”  Thanks, Danny.  (Please contact Danny for solutions to your roaming charges when traveling! His contact details are at the end of the post.)


There have been lots of stories in the news recently about travelers returning home to enormous mobile phone bills that are the direct result of using a mobile phone while abroad.  The reason for this is that mobile phone companies usually charge their customers higher rates for usage outside of the country in which the customer signed up for the service.  These fees are commonly known as roaming charges.  Unfortunately, most travelers don’t know until it is too late that there are lots of options available to help them save on roaming charges.

Here are some helpful tips to help you save on roaming charges and keep you connected while you’re away.

Understand What Your Roaming Rates Are

Most travelers have no idea what their current mobile provider is going to be charging them for roaming service because they don’t spend the time to check with their provider before they travel.  Visit your mobile provider’s website and call their customer service reps to find out what you are going to pay for text, voice and data services while you are away as these rates will most likely be different than your current rates.  Calling the customer service department is recommended because websites often contain errors or inaccurate information.  Be sure to ask about both incoming and outgoing text messages and voice calls because the rates may vary for each of them.  Compare these rates to your domestic rates so that you can understand how much extra you are being charged.  Ask if your plan includes international roaming or not as some plans may include international text, voice and data.

Understanding what you are going to be charged for using your mobile phone while you are away is an important first step in being able to make informed decisions about which option for savings is best for you.  Rates can be confusing so be sure to spend the time that you need to ensure that you know what they are.

Purchase an international roaming package

The majority of mobile carriers will have international roaming packages designed specifically for travelers so you should ask your mobile service provider if there is a plan that you can purchase in advance of leaving for your trip.  Be sure to ask your provider if the plan includes both incoming and outgoing calls in your destination country and if it only applies to one specific country.  Typical plans involve a set price for a specific number of roaming minutes.  The advantage of these plans is that they allow you to use your existing mobile phone and so you don’t have to give your contacts a different number before you travel.

Be advised that you should do the necessary calculations to determine how the package’s rates compare to your current rates and the international rates without the package so that you can assess how good of a “deal” you are getting.  Ask what the rates are if you go over and above what you have purchased in case you use your phone more often than you expected.  You should also inquire if the terms of the plan have any type of expiry date and what happens to any unused minutes as many of these plans will often have a limited time frame associated with them and minutes will often expire if they are not used.

Purchase/rent a phone or SIM card for the destination country

In advance of your travel or when you arrive, you have the option of purchasing a mobile phone with a SIM card in your destination country.  SIM stands for Subscribe Identify Module and SIM cards can be thought of as a driver’s license for mobile phones.  It tells the network who you are and enables you to send and receive voice, text messages and data.  In order to use a different SIM card in your current mobile phone, your phone needs to be unlocked.  Unlocked phones are not overly common in North America as most of the mobile companies sell phones at a discount and lock the user into their network by locking the phone.

Purchasing a mobile phone and/or SIM card can be expensive but could be worthwhile depending on the length of your stay.  It is worth mentioning at this point that if you take the phone you purchase outside of the country where you purchased it, you will incur roaming charges so this option is best for those people who need a phone for only one country.

If you have an unlocked phone with your domestic carrier, you could purchase a SIM card for your destination country and use it in your own mobile phone.  In this case, you will have many of the same benefits and issues as if you had purchased a mobile phone in your destination country however you will have saved the purchase price of a mobile phone.  It is important to remember that you will not be able to use your old phone number because you have replaced the SIM card and in some countries it is impossible to purchase a SIM card unless you are a resident.

Regardless of which route you take, one issue with this option is that won’t have the phone number that people can contact you at in your destination country until you have activated the SIM card, which can be an inconvenience.

 Use Voice Over IP (VOIP) services such as SKYPE

If you have a computer and broadband internet access, you can save considerably on calls with voice-over-IP (VOIP) services.  SKYPE is one of the most popular and well known VOIP services available and can be downloaded for free.  VOIP calls can be inexpensive or free but you should be sure to check in advance if you need to add credit to your account and exactly which types of calls are free.  For example, calls on SKYPE to other SKYPE accounts are free yet there is a charge for calls to landlines or mobile phones.  One potential issue with VOIP services is that they usually require a broadband internet connection which may be an issue in some countries.  Some smartphones will allow you to use a VOIP application with a WIFI connection to make outgoing calls however you still need to ensure that you have a broadband internet connection if it is required.  VOIP calls on smartphone applications using data connections tend to be expensive because of the amount of data required and call quality can be issue given current network speeds.

Purchase an unlocked phone and global roaming SIM card

A newer development in North America is the rising popularity global roaming SIM cards.  If your existing phone is unlocked you will only need the SIM card however most companies that sell global roaming SIM cards will also offer unlocked phones.   Be sure to shop around and make sure that you are purchasing a SIM card that matches your travel patterns as some companies sell SIM cards for specific countries or regions while other companies will sell a single card that can be used almost anywhere in the world.  Even though roaming rates are often much less expensive with a global roaming SIM card, it is important that you spend time reviewing what those rates are because they can vary from provider to provider.  It is also important that you find out if calls are subject to a connection charge, as connection charges can add to the cost of each call that you make and this can add up over time.  Also be sure to understand if calling credits have any sort of expiry or restriction on them and if you can easily add credits to your account.

Global roaming SIM cards can be purchased and activated in advance of your trip.  This means that you will get a phone number (or more than one phone number) for that SIM card, so you can share your contact information before you leave on your trip.   It is important for you to know what the country is that your phone number is from because your contacts will have to pay to reach that number.

About the Author:  Although he’s now on to other technological adventures, Danny Starr has served as the Vice President of East Coast Sales and Marketing for Roam Mobility.  Connect with him on Twitter @dannystarr