Top 10 Ways To Avoid Global Roaming Rorts

Top 10 Ways To Avoid Global Roaming Rorts

Proposed new rules will eventually force mobile phone companies to tell you how extortionate global roaming charges are, but they won’t do anything to actually make those charges lower. Follow these tactics to ensure taking your mobile phone on holiday doesn’t cost more than the holiday itself.

As we noted earlier today, new rules are proposed which would require mobile companies to inform customers more clearly of global roaming charges when they take their phones overseas. A likely mechanism is a text sent to your phone when you land in an overseas market. However, it will be at least 12 months before those rules come in, and being told the charges won’t reduce them.

Rather than facing a bill of thousands of dollars, follow these guidelines to minimise your spend while keeping your smartphone by your side.

Doing Without

For most people, the simplest way to avoid roaming is not to use it in the first place. Once you’ve boarded the plane, remove your SIM from your phone and don’t put it back in until you land. (The small plastic cases uses to store camera SD cards are a good place to store phone SIMs if you’re worried about losing it en route.)

That doesn’t mean you can’t use your phone. Most smart phones will work perfectly well for browsing when connected to Wi-Fi; it’s only incoming calls and texts that you’ll miss. (See point 2 for more on this.) Picture by Nicholas Nova

1. Switch off roaming before you go

An alternative approach, and a wise precaution even if you do remove your SIM, is to disable overseas roaming before you leave the country. The method for doing this varies; typically you’ll need to either contact your provider by phone or change settings in your online account. Don’t leave this until just before you leave, as the setting may not always be applied instantly.

2. Use your non-phone channels

In the smartphone era, it’s worth remembering that not being accessible via a single phone number is not the restriction you might think. With Wi-Fi, you can still access email, Twitter, Facebook, and free messaging apps like Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp and Viber. That gives you plenty of ways to talk to others, and for others to get in touch with you in emergencies.

3. Book hotels that offer free Wi-Fi

If your hotel offers free (or cheap) Wi-Fi, you can still research and plan your day without paying roaming charges. Perversely, the more expensive the hotel, the higher the likelihood that you’ll be asked to pay for Wi-Fi. But even a flat $20 a day is better than an unknown bill.

4. Locate free Wi-Fi while travelling

During the day, free Wi-Fi from cafes and other locations is your best friend. Check our detailed guide to finding free Wi-Fi for specific suggestions.

5. Update your voicemail

An obvious point, but one many people forget: update your voicemail message to explain to people that you’re travelling and not regularly checking messages. That will save on deleting lots of out-of-date messages when you return. (If you’re paranoid about saying you’re away, simply ask people to send you an email.)

If You Must Roam

If work requirements mean you have to roam with your phone, there are precautions you can take.

6. Set up a data bundle

Most Australian telcos offer discount bundles for travel, meaning that data will only cost a prince’s ransom rather than a king’s ransom. If you know you’ll need data options, these can be worth checking out. Telstra cut the price on its packs earlier this year, but they’re still ruinously expensive. Optus has some good deals in Asia.

7. Don’t use non-essential apps or sites

If you are roaming, resist using your phone casually. Bookmark the mobile versions of sites you use regularly to cut bandwidth. Consider using a separate browser; Opera shrinks data before sending it, which can majorly reduce your usage.

Using A Prepaid Overseas SIM

Another popular strategy is to use a prepaid SIM, either one you purchase in advance through a company like TravelSIM or GoSIM or one purchased where you land. This can be very effective, and your spending is capped (since all the value is prepaid). Just watch for these two common traps.

8. Make sure your phone isn’t network-locked

If you purchased your phone on contract, it’s likely to be locked to your provider network, and won’t work with SIMs from other providers. Check before travelling. It can be worth buying a more basic phone for travel, which has the added advantage you’ll be less concerned if you lose it.

9. Make sure you have the right frequencies

Especially with older phone models, make sure they support the mobile frequencies used in the countries you are visiting. If they don’t, you won’t be able to use a local SIM or roam with your own SIM.

10. Challenge a large bill

If you do get caught with a large roaming bill, don’t take it lying down. Ring your provider and complain. You may not be able to avoid the whole bill, but you can often get a reduction. Ask the provider for a specific breakdown of why charges are incurred — if they can’t provide that data, how can they justify the charges?

Got any other tactics to avoid roaming shock? Share them in the comments.


  • I can’t understand the “bill shock” phenomenon. Surely anyone that has the intelligence to operate a mobile phone should realise that when they go to another country they will not be using the infrastructure of their phone company and therefore it will cost more to use the phone with their regular sim card/number?

    Sure, the charges are unreasonably high – but there’s no excuse for not being aware of them.

  • When I travel OS, I always buy a sim where I land. It’s much cheaper, particularly in Asia.
    Bill shock is no surprise, it’s a ploy by telcos. Why charge the fee? Because those that always go under their cap in Aus don’t think they’ll breach their cap. I have never received a bill shock – but to assume it can’t happen to intelligent people is narrow minded and arrogant.

    • I do the same, have done this for as long as I can remember. Had the same UK number for 12years now.

      My bill doesn’t change from when I am normally at home.

      • I note buying a sim card when one arrives in country – going to UK and cont – what is the best card you can buy and how do I get it before I leave.

  • A new report came out this week: that said even savvy mobile/information workers are getting hit with bill shock at least 1.4 times per year at an average cost of A$1,043 each bill shock month. Roaming can be expensive and 85 percent of mobile workers want their companies to offer either global or domestic Wi-Fi plans for out of the office.

  • This is one of our customer’s biggest complaint. We unofficially recommend network-unlocking the phone (if needed) and using a pre-paid SIM in the host country. We also recommend turning off all 3G data services on the phone to force all required data usage through WiFi.

    • There are also a couple of websites (e.g. where you can purchase local SIM cards online before you depart. They are typically more expensive than getting the SIM over there, but you avoid all the hastle of worrying about it when you get there (also you will have your local number before you depart).

  • How come you haven’t mentioned the price-friendly roaming agreements that Vodafone and Optus have with certain overseas countries? If I recall correctly, Optus can roam to Singapore at local rates, and Vodafone can roam to NZ, UK and a couple of other countries under some kind of discounted scheme….

  • Don’t people read their contracts? Roaming detatils have been on every contract I’ve ever signed so I fail to see the ignorance. But alas, yes high roaming charges are far too high I think in this day and age. I carry a cheap galaxy note knock off I picked up in Singapore and whack in a local pre paid sim card if I want email, data, maps etc. I hate hunting for wifi but use it if available. Also carry the regular Aussie mobile with data switched off so people can still call in. Only a mild blight to carry but I usually carry a bag everywhere I go when traveling. Using android with everything synced through google makes it almost seamless.

  • Good article. I’ve found the prepaid international SIM to be the best, particularly if you’re visiting different countries. Instead of having to purchase a local SIM at each location and go through various registration hassles, the SIM just works wherever you are. The rates vary a bit (and they vary quite a lot for data) but they’re still by and large significantly cheaper than my domestic SIM. It also gives me a US and UK number, which makes receiving calls a lot cheaper too.

      • Woolworths Global Roaming SIM. I purchased one for my current travel. Main complaints:

        1. Complicated to set up.
        2. When you make a call it calls you back and then calls the callee. Strange and took some getting used to. Not sure when charges start – when I answer or when the callee answers.
        3. I got through the $10 initial data payment in about 4 days – fair enough I had been sending a few SMSs but virtually no internet surfing and only one brief phone call to Australia. Then when I came to recharge the minimum prepay top-up available was $30.
        4. Many SMSs never arrived – some I know were sent to me and some I sent to other people. Some of the ones that did arrive were very slow – around 12 hours in one case. This was a real hassle as some of the SMSs that didn’t arrive were to allow activation of accounts on wireless networks.

        Would I use it again – NO!

        • To add to this – yesterday I tried to call from Germany to the UK using this SIM. A call to a mobile phone worked. One to a landline was not able to connect at all despite repeated attempts. I was able to call the landline using someone else’s phone. Do not buy!

  • On point 2, why not use voip services over wifi, especially if your home connection offers a bundle of voip calls free with your plan. I was in Thailand in 2011 and made about 8 hours of phone calls ba k to Australia during my stay and it only cost me 43 cents extra on my internode bill.

    On point 5, NO just NO- do not update your voice mail or else you could come home to find your house robbed. Police are always telling people never to do this.

    • I did this, house was not robbed, maybe no one left voicemails. But, I left a message saying I can’t listen to voice mails at the moment. For urgent contact, please email me, or call this number (which will email me the message). Doesn’t mention when I will be back, or why. However, supprisinly, people still can’t follow those instructions and still leave a voicemail.

  • I left the mobile at home (with a message saying i was out of the country and could be contacted by email)and took the laptop with me. I stayed in hotels that gave me free internet access and Telstra bigpond let’s me access my emails remotely anywhere in the world that has internet access without charging me any extra.

    Apple have free Wifi in every store which can be handy for downloading messages and sending saved messages.

  • I just travelled europe for three months, and this is basically what I did – a great list.

    In europe, France, and Germany, I couldn’t buy a sim card – they won’t give you one because you are not a resident.

    I could only get one in Italy because I knew someone. 40 hours of Internet per month for 10 euro’s + 15 or so for the sim card that had 5 euro credit for everything else. That suited me quite fine.

    I do have to point out, there is plenty of free wifi in Germany, the only thing is, you need a phone number to receive the password to log in – even for Macca’s

    Have a read of this for more of my experiences

    • I just got a pre-paid sim in the UK and used that to roam the rest of Europe. Vodafone seemed to be the best and they have vodafone in a lot of European countries so topping up was easy as. Roaming with an Aussie sim is expensive but dirt cheap (for roaming) with Euro sims. Calls as very reasonably priced and data is pretty good too. Really handy if you are on contiki like I was on only a few days in each country. Also I had no issues purchasing a sim, didn’t ask any questions.

  • For voice calls around Europe there are a number of good providers listed at For US travelers I think the SIMSmart Prepaid one is best It has rates as low as $0.13 per minute back to the US and $20 gets $20 of credit. It can also do data.

    For taking an iPad or smartphone hungry for data around Europe then the cheapest option I’ve seen is to rent a Mifi hotspot device with a 1GB European data SIM. You can get one at Cellhire (

  • AussieSim?? Based on my recent experience, I wouldn’t advise anyone to use try to use it. I purchased it in Australia to use in Indonesia and followed AussieSim’s instructions (from their web site, “support” desk by email and phone) to the letter but could not get a connection to either of their two networks they suggested…one network (Axis)wasn’t even listed (when searching networks manually) as being available, the other (telkomsel) just showed as being “forbidden network”. Their “support” via email and phone was hopeless, even though they said my issue had been raised with management. I’m now waiting for a full refund and, if I don’t receive any satisfaction, I’ll be giving Fair Trading/Consumer Affairs a full account. They seem very unprofessional. I read somewhere recently AussieSim’s parent is Ziptel (renamed from “Skywards” ) and about to list on the ASX. Buyer beware!

  • Having just travelled to the United States, Costa Rica and Panama, I found the Woolworths Global Roaming Sim didn’t work for most of the time in the US and occasionally worked in Costa Rica and Panama. I needed to be able to make phone calls for business – the time I wasted trying to get it to work was excessive and the backup from WGRS was very poor. On top of that, if I did manage to get through to them on the phone, I paid substantive charges to them. Fortunately most of the hotels we stayed at had free wifi – I always travel with my laptop, so I could send complaining emails.

    My advice is find a different service provider.

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