We’ve all heard the horror stories. One of your friends goes on an overseas holiday for two weeks and comes back home with a four-figure phone bill. It’s a sure-fire way to ruin any trip. Just like we like to customise our luggage, you will have to customise the way you use your phone and data from country to country. Here’s five tips on how to manage your mobile phone usage while overseas and keep those global roaming charges under wrap.

1. Keep your data roaming switched off

This is the big one. Accidently turning on your roaming while overseas means you will get charged the daily international roaming fee set by your provider. Depending on the country you’re in, this can cost you upwards of $50.

Turning off your roaming will vary slightly depending on your phone and carrier, but as a general guide:

iPhone: Settings → General → Network → slide Cellular Data and Enable 3G to ‘off’.

Android: Settings → Wireless Controls → Mobile Network Settings → uncheck Data Roaming.

It’s also a good idea to turn off location services, push notifications and auto-updates for apps. This means that your phone won’t automatically use data without you knowing. 

2. Use free Wi-Fi

Most travellers would have become accustom to this by now. Don’t bother with cellular data at all and instead rely on free public Wi-Fi for connectivity. Free Wi-Fi can be found in many accommodations, restaurants, cafes, bars and city centers. If you’re well organized, a little bit of internet before and after you head out for a day of adventure should be all you need.  If you decide this is the way to go, you can get a $7.95/month pass for two devices on a service called Boingo.com with 700,000 worldwide hotspots. This is a particularly good idea when travelling through cities. 

3. Unlock your phone and buy a sim

Smartphones are generally locked to a specific provider. In order to use a different SIM card while you’re overseas you’ll need to get your phone unlocked. Providers will usually unlock your phone for a fee, or alternatively you can purchase an unlocked phone from a third party retailer.  For more on unlocking phones in Australia, check out this great explainer.

Once your phone’s unlocked you can then purchase a dedicated international roaming SIM, or shop around for a local prepaid SIM once you touch down overseas. Internet access will work out about 90% cheaper if you purchase a local SIM card, and you will also be able to make low-rate calls to local numbers. This way you’re only paying for hours and data you use and is a great option for people intending to spend a long period of time overseas.

4. Research your provider’s international roaming deals

It’s always a good option to enquire about any possible deals your provider may have.

Most of the major carriers offer monthly packs with a set amount of data. Sticking with your current provider means you won’t have to freeze your contract or unlock your phone.

  • Telstra offers a Travel Pass for between 3 and 30 days overseas, starting from $15.
  • Optus offers a Travel Pack for $10 per day if you travel within Zone 1.
  • Vodaphone offers $5 roaming in selected countries throughout Europe, Asia and North America.

5. Use apps rather than plans
With apps like Skype and WhatsApp, you can call or text without relying on a phone plan. These apps can be used on Wi-Fi and many can be used for free or for a significantly lower cost than an international calling plan. The app OffMap2 is an absolute must for any traveler. This app functions exactly the same as Apple maps or Google Maps yet does not require any internet connection.