Using your mobile abroad can be expensive, even if you don’t make any calls! This is due to the high roaming charges applied by your network to both outgoing and incoming calls.
Cellhire’s SIMSmart solutions enable you to rent local airtime and enjoy free incoming calls and significantly reduced outgoing call rates. What’s more, with Cellhire’s latest SIMSmart Plus solutions, you can now keep your existing mobile number and make savings on all calls!
The following article was published in the Sunday Times travel section on 10 July 2005. An extract from the article appears below, if you would like to see the full article, visit Times Online.
Can’t chat — it’s £4 a minute
Using a mobile abroad can cost a packet – so save with Richard Green’s smart guide
Waiting for the morning coffee to kick in, you blearily scan your monthly mobile-phone bill. Nothing much of interest, same old, same old — then it hits you. What? I spent £25 on one phone call to mum! How on earth? Oh, yes, I was on a beach in Thailand at the time . . .
It’s a simple truth of modern, globally connected life: whenever you go overseas, your mobile-phone company has you over a barrel. Not only do the rates for phoning home skyrocket — nudging £2 a minute.for some countries — but you also pay up to £1.50 to receive a call while you are away. In fact, if you are in Australia and a caller tries to reach you five times but fails, and doesn’t even leave a message, that’s up to £12 clocked up.
These calamitous fees are known as roaming charges, and they mean that you pay two phone companies for one call — your network pockets the cost of the international call to home, then a local operator takes the cost of a local call within the country, plus high mark-ups to boot. In fact, the European Regulators Group (made up of 32 European regulatory bodies) produced a damning report at the end of May, which concluded that roaming “charges are very high, and without clear justification”.
It could take years for the findings to bite, but, in the meantime, there are ways to beat the charges. Here is our complete guide to using a mobile overseas — and when not to use one.
Will my mobile work overseas?
The answer is probably yes, as a standard dual-band handset can be used in almost 200 countries. The USA and Canada are exceptions, though, as they both require a tri-band phone, as do some 20 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean , including Peru , the Dominican Republic and Mexico . If you are likely to be visiting North America regularly, consider a tri-band handset when you next upgrade.
If you are going to the States but don’t have a tri-band mobile, Cellhire (0800 610610, www.cellhire.co.uk) can rent you one for £18 a week (plus £350 deposit and £18 delivery and collection). This option means you can use your current Sim card and thus keep your existing number.
What should I do before going away?
If you pay your bills monthly, you’ll have to enable your phone for roaming. This is free and takes a few moments to do — just call your network provider. Plan in advance, though, as it can take up to 14 days to process — and remember, you can’t do it from abroad. Pay-as-you-go (PAYG) phones are usually pre-enabled.
In some countries, you won’t be able to access your voicemail without a personal identification number (Pin), so any messages will go unheard until you arrive home. Contact your network provider to set one up.
Also, check your phone’s address book and, in the case of UK numbers, delete the first zero and then add +44 to each one. If you leave phone codes in the format of 01332, for example, the phone will not be able to dial them from the address book. Some networks have a nifty tool that can automatically add the prefixes for you — a mobile-phone shop can help.
If you are a PAYG customer, you should top up your phone before going away, or register credit or debit cards with your provider before leaving, so that you can then top up from overseas. If you forget, some networks have local top-up vouchers that can be purchased abroad — for example, Vodafone sells these in 21 countries, including Spain , France and Australia . Simply buy the voucher, then top up your account using the unique number on the voucher.
How much does it cost to make and receive calls abroad?
The exact amount varies from network to network and from country to country, but you can find tariff information on your network provider’s website or by giving them a call. For example, O2 charges £1.37 per minute to make a call from the USA , but Vodafone charges £1.49. Receive a call with Orange in Spain and you’ll pay 30p per minute; with O2 the call will cost 94p.
In general, PAYG customers will be charged more for all overseas calls than customers who pay monthly. For example, with Virgin Mobile, the per-minute PAYG call rate from Kenya is £1.70, while the pay-monthly rate is £1. Similarly for PAYG customers, receiving a call there costs 30p per minute more and sending a text costs 10p extra.
Also, a pay-monthly contract means that you can use your phone in more countries — 155 countries for Virgin Mobile pay-monthly customers, as opposed to 40 for those on PAYG.
How can I minimise roaming charges?
Don’t just turn on the phone and dial: if you want to use your mobile on holiday, do some preparation.
Check your network provider’s website for the latest prices and deals. For example, Orange is currently offering its pay-monthly customers £5 worth of free European calls (or £3 for PAYG). Vodafone has an International Call Saver plan, which costs £2.50 a month and reduces overseas call rates by up to 26p per minute. It also has a new Passport scheme, to be launched in the UK on Friday, which reduces the cost of calls when you’re in a country that has a Vodafone subsidiary network: 15 European countries, including France , Spain and Portugal , plus New Zealand and Japan . You pay a flat-rate connection fee of 75p, and then the local UK call rate after that. A one-minute call from Spain or Australia stays at 75p, but talk for 10 minutes and the fee is still 75p (providing that there are free minutes remaining in the UK tariff).
When you switch your phone on abroad, it will automatically lock on to the network with the strongest signal. However, it might be worth checking before you leave the UK which network in the country you are heading to is your network provider’s preferred local partner, as the call rate will often be cheaper with them. When you arrive, use the manual network-selection option on your phone to switch your reception to the preferred network.
If someone calls you while you are abroad and gets through to your voice-mail, you are charged to receive the call from the UK and also for the call back to your UK voicemail — even if the caller doesn’t leave a message. You can zap these costs by diverting all incoming calls straight to your voicemail before you leave, but this means that you can’t receive any incoming calls.
Is text-messaging the cheap option?
It seems reasonable to think so, but it’s not. Sending a text from abroad costs between 35p and 49p, depending on the network. Receiving them is free.
Are there other ways of keeping my call costs down?
To make a significant dent in call prices, buy a local PAYG Sim card when you arrive on holiday. You take out your current Sim card and slip in the new one, which then works as if you are a local and will allow you to make and receive calls and pay just the call rate from where you are, with no money going to your usual home network. This is a real money saver — with an Australian Sim card, for example, rates for calling the UK are as low as 12½p a minute and receiving calls is free. If you’re using a UK Sim card, by contrast, just calling a restaurant a few blocks away will cost you the full per-minute rate for calling the UK — that’s about £1 per minute, rather than just pennies using a local Australian Sim card.
You will see these Sim cards advertised at airports, railway stations and other tourist areas — you add call credits locally, just as you would do with PAYG at home, and then top up as and when you need to.
You can also buy or rent foreign Sim cards on the internet before you leave, and then tell friends and family your new temporary number. Again you try Cellhire (0800 610610, www.cellhire.co.uk).