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How to save money when using your mobile abroad

Joanna Faith
Written By:
Joanna Faith

Even on holiday we can’t give up our smartphones, tablets, dongles or laptops but making calls and using the internet outside the UK can be expensive. So before you travel take note of these tips to keep your costs down.

Set a spending cap

By default all providers must limit your bills to 50 euros when roaming in the EU to avoid “bill shock”. Some apply this outside the EU as well, but not always, so check before travel and ask for one to be set. You can also request for it to be removed, lowered or increased.

Look out for roaming freebies

Some networks offer free roaming services as part of their standard packages. EE gives 100MB free data within the EU each month, while Three ‘Feel At Home’ applies UK pricing and bundles to selected countries. These can be a big money saver, so take it into account when choosing a network if you travel often.

Use Wi-Fi hotspots

Avoid data roaming altogether by making use of Wi-Fi hotspots for your internet access. Pubs, bars, cafes and hotels around the world now offer Wi-Fi and it might even be free. This is often an added extra in resort hotels, either in public areas or rooms.

Make calls on Skype

Use Skype for your phone calls and you don’t need to pay international calling costs. Obviously this does require internet access, but combine it with the previous tip and use a Wi-Fi hotspot and this could add up to quite a saving.

Compare roaming charges

Each provider has its own pricing for each country so if you frequently visit the same location compare costs to see which might be cheapest. To make it easy for mobile broadband roaming Broadband Genie created the Roaming Costs Tool, a quick way to get an overview of data costs and coverage in almost every country.

Get a local SIM

Visit the same place frequently, or staying for a longer period of time than a typical holiday? Pick up a local network SIM and take advantage of their pricing. This is particularly good for getting cheaper internet access. Just make sure your smartphone, tablet or dongle is SIM unlocked and that it supports the frequencies used by the local network.

Share the connection

Using a mobile Wi-Fi dongle or a tablet set to Wi-Fi hotspot mode you can share a single mobile broadband connection with a small group (typically 5-10 at a time). If you all chip in for the fees that could be a much cheaper way for you to all access the internet abroad.

Get a specialist roaming provider

There are firms focused on offering cut price international calling, texts and internet. Sometimes these are SIM only plans where you purchase a bundle of minutes and data or use PAYG top-ups, while others will hire out a device that you can pick up and drop off at an airport. These can be a lot cheaper than using your home network, particularly for heavy usage.

Avoid big downloads

Using the internet abroad can be very expensive so to minimise your costs avoid data-intensive activities like music and video streaming and file downloads/uploads. You might wish to disable background activities like automatic backups and patch downloads to avoid any nasty surprises, particularly for laptops where OS updates can be quite hefty.

Purchase a roaming bundle

Rather than paying your network’s per-minute, per-text or per-MB charges for international use, look into a roaming bundle. These offer far better value for money than paying the standard rates. Note that some networks will require you to buy a bundle in order to use roaming in the first place.

Matt Powell is editor at Broadband Genie