How The New Rules To Curb Global Roaming Charges Will Work

How The New Rules To Curb Global Roaming Charges Will Work
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The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is introducing new rules to make it less likely Australian travellers will suffer a horrendous case of bill shock when they return from an overseas holiday and discover a massive global roaming bill. Here’s how the new system will work (and why anyone using a carrier other than the big three won’t notice changes for a long time).

Holiday picture from Shutterstock

The new rules represent an extension to the existing Telecommunications Consumer Protection (TCP) Code, designed to make the pricing of phone and data services more apparent. Like that code, implementation is going to take a while; the won’t kick in until 27 September 2013, and not all the changes will happen immediately.

There are four main elements to the scheme:

You must be sent an SMS warning you of high roaming charges when you land in a foreign country. Many telcos send an SMS saying ‘Welcome to country X’ and highlighting basic call charges, but data cost warnings are less common. These warnings must appear within 10 minutes of you switching on a phone in a foreign country. (Note this won’t happen if roaming isn’t enabled at all, since there’s no risk of you spending excess money in that case.)

Details of prices that apply in that country. SMS messages should also be sent indicating the cost of calls and other services in the relevant destination. (One intractable problem: you’ll presumably pay to receive those messages at the relevant rates.)

You must be able to disable roaming easily, even when overseas. Switching off roaming often requires making a call — an expensive task from overseas, and one which can be even harder if the number provided to do so doesn’t work outside Australia. The ideal approach would be a simple online change from an account management portal or the ability to send a simple text message to disable and enable the service. The rules cover most of that; if you need to make a phone call to disable the service, the maximum you can be charged is $1.00, and if you need to access a site, you can’t be charged for that.

Better spend management tools. A popular way to deal with roaming charges is to purchase an add-on roaming bundle. The new code requires that regular usage warnings be provided to consumers, including every time they consume $100 worth of roaming data. (That can happen very quickly; on Telstra’s roaming rates, that amounts to around 7MB of data.) The scheme also requires warning when 50, 85 and 100 per cent of plan value has been used, a requirement which also applies to domestic services from 1 September this year.

As with the main TCP code, what’s annoying about this is how long it will take. The first three requirements have to be introduced from 27 September this year for Telstra, Optus and Vodafone; smaller providers have until 23 May 2016 to do so. While many smaller MVNOs actively discourage use overseas and we appreciate that their ability to provide these details depends on gaining access to appropriate data from their providers, waiting two-and-a-half years seems excessive.

The usage warnings are going to be tricky too; even in a domestic context, these can be up to 48 hours old. Roaming spending can ramp up enormously in a 48-hour period. Carriers have to warn customers about the potential delay, but aren’t obliged to provide real-time information. The standard bleat from providers is that this information isn’t available in real time, an argument I’ve never found convincing since prepaid seems to manage this very easily.

At any rate, while those changes are welcome, they still won’t stop you running up a bill. Check out our top 10 ways to avoid global roaming rorts for more advice.

Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman lives for free Wi-Fi overseas. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.


  • mobile phone companies (big three) in Australia (and i imagine the world around), are amongst one of the slowest changing industries. They dont change unless they there is a threat to the business model or increased competition. Excessive global roaming charges and/or bill shock have been around as long as i can remember. There has been no incentive for them to resolve this issue as this is a massive cash cow. All it takes is some of the key players in the market to get together and come up with a solution, but they dont,. Before Skype and VoIP, international calling rates was through the roof. Now with increased competition, they have to play ball.

    I appreciate the ACMA trying to do something about it, but seriously, its not a solution. Just the other day i tried to ask my carrier how much the rates to use the my phone in a country will be. They couldnt answer the question. I saw three different calls made within a small space of time, charged at 3 different rates.

  • Will be interesting to see if the Telcos can get their act together by September. Most of the delays getting usage are down to the time taken for overseas providers sending the information back to your telco here. I really can’t see all those dependencies being solved and new agreements put in place in just a few months…

  • Still doesn’t change the fact we pay a hell of a lot more than our US counter parts…

    • Still doesn’t change the fact we pay a hell of a lot more than our US counter parts..

      We pay more for what? We don’t pay more on everything.

    • AT&T Galaxy S4, 2 year contract, $199 upfront plus $69.99 per month plus 3GB data add $30 per month, total over 24 months $2598.76 plus sales tax.
      Telstra unlimited + 3GB data, $130 per month, $3120 over 24 months including device with no up-front cost.
      Vodafone AU unlimited + 2GB data, $80 per month, $1920 over 24 months incl device ($2400 for 5GB).
      Boost mobile AU, $40 + 3 GB per 30 days unlimited calls & text. Have to buy device outright $739 from mobileciti. $1712.33 over 24 months.

      I think the real answer is that Telstra post-paid is expensive, not that Australian mobile plans are expensive. You can do better than these numbers in both markets. Unfortunately because every plan has different terms and conditions it’s hard to compare like-for-like.

    • But at least we don’t pay to receive mobile calls (as well as make them) as one does in the US. I refused to get a mobile while in the US for that reason. I objected on principle to the idea that I might have to pay for calls that I hadn’t solicited. (This was in the days before smartphones, however. I’d probably cave if I were to return to the US now.)

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