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April 26, 2013

Wireless Companies Provide Alerts to Subscribers Reaching Plan Limits - Is it Enough?

When someone travels abroad there’s one occurrence that happens all too often—cell phone bill shock. While wireless companies must provide alerts to subscribers who are approaching plan limits on voice, data, text and international roaming, these alerts still aren’t enough. So, how can you keep cell phone costs as low as possible on your next trip abroad?

John Assiter, product and marketing manager of Telestial, an international SIM card provider, has some useful advice for overseas travelers to help avoid cell phone bill shock. Here are some of his top tips for reducing cell phone bills while abroad:

Purchase a prepaid SIM Card

Instead of purchasing a local SIM card upon arrival to your destination, consider purchasing an international SIM before you leave. An international SIM comes with a +44 global number that's free to receive calls on and a +1 U.S. number that is ideal for friends and family in the U.S. to call you on. With a prepaid SIM card, rates to make an international call are as little as 49 cents per minute; and prepaid data is available in 135 countries for as little as 49 cents per MB.

Be conscious of roaming charges from your home provider

Major cell phone carriers charge anywhere between $1.29 and $2.59 per minute for international roaming. For data, it’s even more dramatic; sometimes running between $15 and $20 per MB. Want an example of how that translates to the real world? That’s roughly $100 to upload a 5 MB photo of your favorite tourist attraction to Facebook (News - Alert) or other social media sites!

Avoid uploading photos when roaming on smartphones

Smartphones take high resolution photos—some being 5-6 MB in size. Avoid uploading these photos to social media sites until you have access to free WiFi (News - Alert). 

Research—and use—the least expensive means of communication

Find out some of the cheapest ways to communicate and make those a priority when keeping in touch with friends and family back home. For example, instead of texting, use an app like WhatsApp messenger. Be sure those you’re likely to keep in touch with the most have the same means of communication; for example, they’d also need to have WhatsApp on their phones.

Purchase an unlocked GSM phone

To use a prepaid SIM card like Telestial's Passport (see the first tip), you need an unlocked GSM phone. There are two mobile phone standards in the U.S.: Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) or Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA). Sprint and Verizon Wireless use CDMA, which is not meant for global travel; in contrast, AT&T (News - Alert) and T-Mobile use GSM. Most mobile phones sold by GSM carriers in the U.S., however, are “locked.” If you’re with a GSM carrier, and want to purchase a prepaid SIM card, you have two options: unlock your phone yourself or purchase an “unlocked” international phone.

Turn off app synching on your smartphone

As discussed, data usage is more expensive overseas, so it is recommended that travelers turn off the app synching function on their smartphones when abroad. Another tip: download a data counter app so you can keep track of how much data you’re churning through.

Use Skype (News - Alert) with caution overseas

When traveling internationally, be careful with you utilize Skype. When connected to Skype, make sure that you’re using free WiFi, and never use AT&T/T-Mobile’s (News - Alert) roamed data services. Also, some countries with state-run telecommunication and Internet-providing companies block VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) services like Skype.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi
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