Internet access is important to modern travellers heading overseas. But when it comes to using your phone internationally, convenience can come at a cost. Blindly roaming can be ludicrously expensive.
But it doesn't have to be. It's easy to avoid bill shock and even access relatively cheap options with just a little bit of research. And we're here to help.
Travel Hacker is presented by the new Qantas App for your tablet, Android or iPhone. Packed with features to improve every step of your journey — from check-in to boarding to in-flight entertainment and exploring your destination.
Read Your Plan
If you plan on using your local SIM (Subscriber Identity Module — the little card that goes in your phone to let it know your details and connect to your telco), it's good to know exactly what you're working with. Will you be charged per MB used or is it per MB per session? For example, you could download a seemingly safe 3KB email and get charged 1MB.
If you find that your provider is a little too rigid with their overseas data rules, it might be worth considering another option.
Service providers such as Optus and Telstra offer travel packs that offer a set amount of data, calls and texts. Rather than charging per MB, they might cover a certain amount of time. However you will find that some will charge per MB if you use up your allotted data.
These are Telstra's current Travel Pass options for customer's on a plan:
And this is what Optus has on offer:
This may work for some people and not for others, so do your research and assess what you your needs are before committing to anything.
If you're a Vodafone customer, you can get $5 of a data per day. It's available in over 55 countries.
Even when the $5 plan is activated, customers will only be charged if they use their device (call, text or data use). When you do use these, the roaming will last for 24 hours and you'll be charged again once you use it after that 24 hour period has expired.
As an added bonus, if you're heading to New Zealand, it's a $0 service!
Turn Off Mobile Data
And make sure you do it before you leave.
It seems like a small thing, but if the mobile data on your ordinary SIM is still on when you land that initial hit of 3G connection can really cost you. This is one for anyone who plans on buying a data pack or travel SIM on the other side.
If you're on a cheap mobile phone plan, there's a good chance your monthly data allowance is woefully inadequate. This can lead to huge bills at the end of the month if you don't keep close tabs on your usage.
Instead of switching off your mobile data completely (or downgrading to a basic phone), try following these simple data-stretching tips. With plenty of discipline and a bit of know-how you can make even the flimsiest of data plans go the distance.
Watch Your Apps
Travel data is precious, you don't want to accidentally waste it on unnecessary stuff.
Go through your apps thoroughly and switch off the mobile data from anything that doesn't need it — like games and. For example, don't let your photos backup to the cloud when you can use your hotel Wi-Fi to do it.
I would also recommend downloading a bunch of stuff before you leave — including games, books, apps and music. That way you have everything you could possibly want without wasting data.
If you don't want to pay your provider roaming fees, considering getting a travel SIM at the airport once you land. Most countries have them set up specifically for travellers and they tend to have decent data limits. This is the option that I tend to go for overseas.
As an FYI you will most likely need a credit or debit card and one form of ID to purchase.
Dual SIM phones
If your phone has dual SIM capabilities, one option that can be explored is getting a travel SIM just for data use. This way you get to keep your ordinary numbers for any necessary calls and text, but don't have to worry about excess data fees or packs.
Don't Mess With Your Phone Settings
Unless you're specifically instructed to.
Roaming includes network sharing APNs and info to make the process as easy as possible. If you start searching manually for the "right" metwork you could accidentally end up on the wrong one. Always follow the instructions on your travel SIMs and data packs.
Unless you're told to.
Being a Telstra customer, and previously using Amaysim and Optus, I've had a rough time when it comes to using my smartphone outside of Australia. It's kind of a pain when you're travelling for work, especially when you're working online. During this year's Mobile World Congress, though, I actually had unlimited data while I was overseas, for the entirely reasonable sum of $11 per day.
A great option for frequent travellers who don't want to buy a new SIM card in every port. All you have to do is attach it to your regular SIM card.
KnowRoaming is a popular choice — it can be used in over 200 countries and suppotts micro, nano and mini SIM card slots. You can then switch back and forth using the KnowRoaming app and manage your data usage in real time.
For $29.99 USD and a claim to save travellers up to 85% on international data and voice services — this is definitely worth considering.
Depending were you're going, you may be able to get away with simply jumping from Wi-Fi to Wi-Fi. The USA and Japan are good examples of how it can work. The former offers Wi-Fi in a lot of public spaces and the latter doestoo, but also tends to have city-wide Wi-Fi access. You may have to buy something to get the access code, but it can certainly be worth it.
Of course, this option is a bit of a gamble. There's no guarantee that you'll be able to find public Wi-Fi and it doesn't cover you for emergencies.
And if you're someone who is particularly concerned with privacy (which I personally am), you may want to consider having your own private data option.