Why Roaming Bites: A $570,000 Phone Bill

Why Roaming Bites: A $570,000 Phone Bill

This makes the Adelaide Mayor’s $20,000 roaming bill and Malcolm Turnbull’s $13,000 look like amateur hour. One Australian had to battle his carrier over a $570,000 phone bill after his phone was stolen while overseas.

Money picture from Shutterstock

The latest issue of the newsletter from the Telecommunication Industry Ombudsman (TIO) details the case of David, who organised a mobile phone for his son to use while travelling in Europe. (First mistake right there: taking a phone overseas for a trip rarely makes sense.)

The phone was stolen, and David’s son reported the theft to both the phone company and to police. When the bill came in, it topped $570,000, and included calls to Somalia. Despite the theft of the phone being reported, the provider disputed the claims, arguing at various times that the calls had been made from Australia and that the bill still had to be paid. Eventually, after the TIO intervened, the carrier waived the charges, but the process took more than a month.

As ever, the lesson is not to use roaming if you can possibly avoid it; keep your phone secure by making sure it has a password; let your carrier know immediately if a phone is lost or stolen; and stand firm when your carrier makes ludicrous claims about what you owe. Check out our guide to the most common roaming mistakes and how to avoid them for more tips.


  • For the life of me, I will never, ever understand why (non business-related) travellers use roaming. Just grab a local prepaid sim. It may not be as convenient but it sure as hell is a lot safer.

    • And it sure if fun to set up when you don’t speak the language. When I was in Thailand setting up my sim after a few drinks i was almost dieing with laughter as we just could not communicate with each other. Next day took all the fun out of it when I had a English speaking person on the other end.

    • I couldn’t agree more! Whenever I go to Singapore I take a cheap phone I bought ($50) specifically to go overseas with and buy a local sim card.

    • I’ve been in places where I went to multiple places that sold sim cards and could not get one.

      I’ve also used those travel sims you can buy in post offices ect. Where they are low quality VOIP routed through eastern europe and so horrible quality. They also often don’t work.

      So sometimes your only option is to use your sim card from home.

      • Or don’t take your SIM card. My wife and I travel a bit and never ever user our SIMS. Haven’t had to buy local either.

        • Yeah, for me it’s for other peoples benefit. So they knew I was still alive as I disappeared into africa for a few months where internet wasn’t readily available.

  • (First mistake right there: taking a phone overseas for a trip rarely makes sense.)

    What do you suggest then people use to keep in contact while overseas and be able to make bookings etc?

    • Back in the old days, people used to call their family say once a week using a phone card which are mostly quite cheap to use.
      It’s also usually quite easy to get internet access at tourist places such as hotels and hostels, where you can make bookings and update your facebook to say everything’s ok.

        • I’ll throw down my when I was a traveller….
          Prior to mobiles or even before email was common we communicated using something called post restante, I’ll let you google that, always looked forward to getting to a new city
          In those days I used to phone home regularly once a month for about 3 mins.
          If we got separated we arranged to meet at the place we were staying or if that didn’t work out our next departure point – a railway station or airport – somehow it all worked out without being permanently connected.

        • I often ask the question, before I plan any trip, ask what if? Until 5 years ago my parents only carried a mobile in their car glove box for brake downs yet somehow they survived. Traveling with people, make a planned meeting point at the end of each day. Hotels, embassy’s, landmarks and carry the phone number of the meeting point, and wear a watch. A cheapy will do. Most hotel receptions are generous enough if you find yourself in such a situation and will allow you to use a phone to call your designated local meeting point. Leave messages. Heck even some of my friends have a 2 day meeting point. ie if we part in 2 days time meet here or at the very least make contact with that point. There are plenty of places people travel on earth where there is either no or very patchy mobile let alone fixed phone services and the sky doesn’t fall in.

          Sometimes I feel we rely to much on technology. I’m guilty of using it to my advantage when I travel but I always have a back up plan. You never know when a battery is going to die, your phone will take a swim or there is no coverage. Yep some parts of the world have language barriers when your lost but try to keep your cool and chuckle a little. It’ll give you a better story on your return.

      • Back in the even older days, we used to send postcards, which even then used to arrive after we’d returned home! Bookings were planned ahead of the trip, or made on the spot.

  • Apart from the culpability of the customer, which has been covered already, I am interested to know just how a company can get away with allowing a mobile phone bill to reach the cost of a decent suburban house, without any checks or balances.. for instance a credit approval process that any financial institution would have to go through to grant a credit card, let alone a decent sized mortgage.

    Tales like this where the customer ends up not having to pay due to intervention also speaks volumes as to the true cost to a telephone company for overseas roaming charges. I can guarantee that if they were potentially going to be on the line for half a million dollars when the TIO inevitably got involved, they would have had a system in place to stop this kind of charge being racked up in the first place.

    • I’m pretty sure a big part of if is the foreign telco’s passing on the bill to the one at home. I guess the local one has to eat the money a lot of the time. Although I am sure they do add a good bit onto it as well.

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