The Biggest Rip-Offs For Global Roaming

The Biggest Rip-Offs For Global Roaming

Roaming rates charged when you use your phone overseas are one of the easiest ways to pour money down the drain. A new report highlights just how extreme the charges can get. $51.20 a megabyte for data, anyone?

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A study commissioned by the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) and conducted by ACA Research examined roaming charges for the ten most-visited destinations for Australians. The big conclusion was one we’d endorse: if you must use roaming, then try and enable a special roaming pack rather than paying casual rates.

“Individuals will need to make a judgment based on the particular overseas trip they take and the services they want to use, and may find that high roaming charges mean they are better off changing from a plan that is otherwise good value,” ACCAN CEO Teresa Corbin said in a statement announcing the study.

What really jumped out at us from the study was the extremely high rates you can pay if you don’t shop around, especially if you use a prepaid plan overseas. The table below shows the three highest charges the report found for seven common activities. (Bear in mind the listed carriers may offer other, cheaper plans in some instances.)

Calling home

  1. Vodafone Prepaid Cap: $0.35 + $10.82/min
  2. Dodo Postpaid: $0.50 + $4.90/min
  3. iiNet & TPG Postpaid: $0.40 + $3.70/min

Calling in-country

  1. Vodafone Prepaid Cap: $0.35 + $10.82/min
  2. Vodafone Prepaid Plan: $0.35 + $2.28/min
  3. Dodo Postpaid: $0.50 + $2.07/min

Receiving a call

  1. Vodafone Prepaid Cap: $4.50/min
  2. Dodo Postpaid: $0.50 + $1.94/min
  3. Telstra Postpaid: $0.40 + $1.54/min

Checking Voicemail

  1. Vodafone Prepaid Cap: $0.35 +$10.82/min
  2. Dodo Postpaid: $0.50 + $4.90/min
  3. iiNet & TPG Postpaid: $0.40 + $3.70/min

Sending a text message home

  1. Vodafone Prepaid Cap: $3.50
  2. Dodo Postpaid: $0.99
  3. iiNet – Telstra Postpaid – Vodafone Postpaid Traveller, World & Prepaid plan – Amaysim Post & Prepaid: $0.75

Sending a text message in-country

  1. Vodafone Prepaid Cap: $3.50
  2. Dodo Postpaid: $0.99
  3. iiNet Postpaid: $0.85

Data per MB

  1. Vodafone Prepaid Cap: $51.20/MB
  2. Vodafone Prepaid Plan: $51.20/MB
  3. Dodo Postpaid: $44.60

We’ve seen some adjustments to roaming charges from the major providers in Australia in recent months, with Vodafone introducing a fixed-rate $5 per day charge to use your existing postpaid plan while roaming, Optus trimming its rates and Telstra cutting its charges from insane to merely painful.

Despite those changes, roaming remains hideously expensive, and we suggest using a travel-specific SIM or purchasing your own when you arrive at your destination. For more tips, check out our top 10 global roaming mistakes to avoid.


  • To be honest this is why i unlock my phone and just buy a local sim in the different countries and use there sim that way works out a lot cheaper

  • Per megabyte, SMS is still by far the biggest rip off. 5 cents a text is about as cheap as you can get, so let’s calculate how much it’d cost to transfer 1 megabyte over SMS. At 300 characters per SMS (assuming 1 byte per character), that would be (1024 * 1024 / 300 = 3495 text messages) * 5 cents / 100 = $174/MB.

    Now, perhaps that’s unfair because we’re not considering some of the overheads of texting, but it’s at least $100/MB. SMS should really draw from your data allowance. Phone calls are a little different, as there’s QoS and things at play (you’d hope), so it’s effectively priority traffic which you’d expect to pay a little more for, but still, voice data per megabyte would still have to be up around ~$50/MB.

    • I imagine that most telco’s use SMS to subsidise the cost of providing other services and products that would be significantly more expensive were it not for SMS, Though of course there is a solution, just use one of a zillion client/server messaging apps out there and use your data quota instead.

      but these days most providers throw in SMS for free or no longer bother counting it.

  • Hi Lifehacker,

    More telco bashing. Great. How about doing some proper journalism into the provision of international networks. I know for a fact a number of people working at Allure know have either worked at various telco’s or have contacts. Most of them in non-technical roles but that doesn’t matter. Surely you could do some investigative journalism instead of regurgitating parts of a report that doesn’t even bother to work out why these fees are so high.

    Mobile global roaming is only meant for people who want SMTP mail authentication with their provider (the ability to send mail via your providers mail servers), and to avoid having to give your contacts a new number to reach you on.

    These days with VPN clients on smart phones this is no longer as critical as it used to be.

    For business it makes sense to have global roaming. For consumer customers unless your extremely wealth there is absolutely no reason whatsoever for you to use global roaming. Buy a local SIM, use gmail and don’t be so lazy or believe your friends/relatives are so lazy they can’t program a new temporary contact number into their phone.

    On to why global roaming costs so much.

    1. Megapop intercarrier interconnects and international backhaul costs are significant especially when your only buying a small amount. If they were buying gbps then fair enough but with contention ratios and buying a Variable Bit Rate (VBR) Quality of Service (QoS) these costs can be significant. To underline this the different between a domestic Undefined Bit Rate (UBR) service vs a VBR in Australia is about 5-10x. Buying a 100mbps of VBR rated bandwidth can costs tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands per month. A VBR service is critical in ensuring the delivery of data packets for time sensitive applications like Voice and mail connectivity (ever tried to upload 6Mb email and seen it time out due to a slow connection and/or packet loss?).

    2, Rack space and local hands can also be costly. Imagine in a large country having to provision in multiple Points of Presences. It ain’t cheap. Then multiple this by 100 hundred countries (or consider paying commercial rates if your too lazy to put your own equipment in place).

    I can see that some telcos spread this cost by having a single rate rather then trying to have 100 different rates for a 100 different countries.

    3. Local network providers last mile – i.e. the network that your roaming on. Standard pricing at carrier/wholesale levels would charge significant per MB costs plus a fee for every tail (service) connected plus a fee for the PVC/Interconnect/local back haul.

    Remember your traffic is being given priority on this network, that doesn’t come cheap.

    4. Margin and what the market can bear are the key factors. Remember global roaming isn’t designed for poor middle class people. Its designed for affluent people who are too lazy, or require authentication with SMTP servers (or like). Its not designed for people who want to browse Facebook. So with the huge undertaking to build a global network I can understand why telco’s want to get some margin, especially when they think they’re primary customer is some general manager or CEO.

    Again if you want internet and comms at an affordable rate simply buy a local SIM and pop it in your phone. Its not the 90s where the only product out there was iPass at $49 per hour.

    • How about you pull your head in? No-one’s denying there are reasons these services cost more than domestic calls, but if the factors you list applied equally to every carrier, we wouldn’t see so much variation on pricing. Some of them are just rorting consumers. Not every article has to list every fact about the relevant market — otherwise everything here would be 16,000 words long. Our role isn’t to explain every last niche of technology every single time — it’s to provide advice. Warning people which plans to avoid falls into that category. And the advice about using a local SIM is reiterated heavily in the article — you’re not making a novel point.

      • Ripping off customers eh. I’ve have done disputes for telcos my entire career and have given tens of millions of dollars back to customers. I have been at the heart of the dispute management systems and processes of several major ISPs & Carriers and the idea that we are ripping customers off is disgusting and libelous.

        I have worked with the ACCC and the TIO and the idea that the telcos are ripping of customers despite the huge amount of regulatory oversight is so just so disgustingly wrong.

        I see reports across many different telcos on people charged excessive amounts and all of them, always, contact us. I’ve never seen a customer pay $50k usage bill because for the most part we negotiate with them based on the facts and circumstances.

        What I find almost FoxNews about your articles is on telcos and usage is how LifeHacker fail to give to give any telco or even the IIA an opportunity to reply. No balance whatsoever. Just an article with a subtext that basically says the telcos are ripping everyone off.

        Nor any of the other articles does LifeHacker ever attempt to explain in a technical context the cost or expensive of a network and why things are the way they are.

        If you look through my comment history in fact am happy to talk about where some costs are excessive and where some aren’t.

        The fact that LifeHacker doesn’t realise, and tell its readers so, that global roaming is utterly useless for the average consumer (of course that would render the beat up by the media utterly moot) is a bit disturbing. As I explain apart from SMTP authenication and maintaining your phone number there is absolutely no reason why you need global roaming. It is not aimed at consumer customers. Its aimed at business customers who need to retain their mobile and be able to send/receive email.

        Pull my head, buddy you are digging a hole so deep with your ignorance is not funny any more. Its scary that a journalist like you can get away with claiming to explain all of the relevant points would require 16,000 words.

        I put forward many, and most of the relevant ones, in 577 words.

        Considering the size of previous life hacker articles and frivolous subjects that you have wasted copy on to say that you cannot even explore this subject isn’t just an exaggeration but its a lie that your pushing to avoid having to respond to my real points.

        Regarding the difference across the market well that goes to the heart of the networks doesn’t it. Vodafone is a brand. Yes “they” have networks around the world but they are owned by different partners and only loosely by Vodafone global. Thus global roaming, international bandwidth and such are purchased general at wholesale rates not at cost rates. There is some talk VHA getting access to better rates hence their reduction in the RRP for roaming.

        Telstra, has a massive network that they’ve built and its clear that profitable countries subsidies unprofitable routes/countries. Though I don’t know for sure. how about you ask Telstra?

        Optus, outside of Asia they don’t exactly own much back haul or co-location. They’d be buying all this at wholesale rates.

        These three carriers have completely different commercial and network topography, reach and size. There is no way that they’d offer the exactly the same RRP.

        Lastly thanks for the aggression towards me. As far as I can see LifeHacker and its series of articles have been bashing my industry. Instead of calmly and fairly accepting that you guys might have gotten it wrong you’ve gone and just made things terribly worse.

        I’ve been wrong in the past, offered apologies and retracted said comments. The fact that Life Hacker can’t should make its readers think twice about trusting the narrative it publishes.

  • why not using some roaming free simcard, e.g. travelsim, while travelling?
    (as for me, local simcard is not an option, ’cause I travel a lot and it’s often more that one country in one trip)

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