Control Roaming Charges While Traveling Abroad - Page 2

By Joe Moran
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T-Mobile Global Roaming Plans

T-Mobile's Simple Choice (postpaid) plan provides unlimited data (albeit with a high-speed cap) to customers within the U.S., and offers a plan for people traveling overseas that's almost as alluring. Specifically, T-Mobile's Simple Global automatically provides Simple Choice customers with unlimited data and texting, plus voice calls billed at a relatively modest .20 per minute in more than 140 countries across six continents (click here for the complete list).

[Read about these: Productivity Tools for Small Business Travel]

There is, naturally, a catch; T-Mobile limits the data connection to 2G speeds (about 128K per second), which is sufficient only for basic tasks like Web browsing and email. If you need to stream audio/video or use other high-bandwidth applications, you can purchase a high-speed data pass:

  • $15 for a daily 100 MB pass
  • $25 for a 7-day, 200 MB pass
  • $50 for a 14-day, 500 MB pass

On the plus side, unlike with Verizon or AT&T, if you hit the data maximum there aren't any overages, you just revert back to 2G speeds.

If your international travel needs apply only to Canada or Mexico, the parameters of your Simple Choice domestic plan automatically apply in those countries, too. In most cases this will mean unlimited talk, text, and data, including 4G LTE where available.

If you travel to one of the 50-odd countries that aren't on the Simple Global list (or you're on a domestic plan other than Simple Choice), the cost of using your phone overseas can be quite dear; international data costs $15 per MB ($10 per MB for Canada), voice calls run anywhere from .60 to $6 per minute, sent texts cost .50 each, and received texts cost 20 cents each—or they're counted against your domestic text allotment depending on your plan. Be warned; use a lot of data at $10 or $15 per MB, and your mobile bill may easily exceed your rent or mortgage payment.

To get specific T-Mobile plan information, coverage and pricing options for your destination country, visit this link and scroll down to the Check Rates & Coverage button. After entering your country, you can also check whether your specific phone will work there.

Sprint Global Roaming Plans

Sprint's Global Roaming bears some similarities to T-Mobile's offering, but carries important differences too. Sprint offers .20 per minute voice calls as well as unlimited texting and data to more than 120 countries (126 as of this writing). Like T-Mobile, Sprint caps its unlimited data to 2G speeds, and it offers data passes if you need 3G or higher speeds. The prices and data allotments are identical to T-Mobile: $15/100 MB daily, $25/200 MB for 7days, and $50/500MB for 14-days, with no overage charges.

Now here's the big caveat. Opt for a high-speed data pass, because Sprint's standard 2G speed is a mere 64 K/sec, which is barely faster than an old dial-up modem. While that that glacial speed beats not having a connection, be prepared to wait for even for the most basic Web browsing.

If you want to use a Sprint phone overseas, it must support GSM in addition to the CDMA it uses domestically. If you bought your Sprint smartphone within the last couple of years—say, an iPhone 5, Samsung Galaxy S5—or newer—it probably supports both CDMA and GSM. However, the only way you can know for sure is to check in advance.

You can enter your travel destination here, and then specify your phone model to see if it's global-capable. (Note that Sprint requires you to enter a city, not just the country.) This link also gives you other coverage and pricing information relevant to your destination.

If your travels keep you in the Western Hemisphere, Sprint has another free global plan called Open World. It provides unlimited talk and text along with 1 GB of high speed data (plus a relatively reasonable $30 for each additional GB) to most of North and South America. This site offers additional information and the list of countries included. Be aware, however, that Sprint only allows one international plan on your line at a time.

Mobile Tips for Affordable Global Calling

Now that we have all the carrier plan specifics out of the way, take a look at these additional tips to keep overseas roaming charges in check when using your mobile phone abroad.

Wi-Fi Calling

Even at the relatively low rate of .20 per minute, voice calls cost a pricey $12 per hour. If your smartphone supports it, Wi-Fi calling can help minimize your voice minute usage. Most carriers still charge the per-minute rate for Wi-Fi calls within or between international destinations, but they don't charge for Wi-Fi calls back to the U.S.

Airplane Mode

Remember that smartphones remain hard at work even when you're not using them. Background tasks such as downloading email, app updates, or other information refreshes all use data to some degree, and it adds up quickly over the course of a trip. The easiest way to squelch your phone's data consumption is to keep it in Airplane Mode when you're not using it. Of course, that also disables voice calling, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi, but you can turn those latter two services back on individually as needed.

Usage Alerts

Most carriers send you automatic text alerts when you approach or pass a usage threshold that will result in additional billing. However, they don't always do so in a timely fashion. This is due, in part, to the way carriers exchange information about roaming use on each other's networks. The upshot: this kind of alert it may have been triggered hours or even up to a day before you actually receive it. In short, always assume you've used more data than the alerts indicate.

Timing is Everything

Timing matters when it comes to global roaming plans that bill monthly. Overseas trips don't always fall neatly within a carrier's monthly billing cycle, and if you're billing period ends while you're abroad, you may be assessed a new monthly charge for global roaming before you use up your allotment for the first one.

While most carriers let you add global roaming to your line via their websites, it might pay to call customer service to see if you can span the monthly charge between two billing periods, or pro rate charges for a partially-used month. Also, be sure you set the roaming plan to turn off as soon as you return stateside. Carriers generally let you specify the return date in advance so you don't have to make a second call.

Joseph Moran is a technology writer and IT consultant specializing in services for consumers and small businesses. He's written extensively for numerous print and online publications, and is the author of File Management Made Simple, Windows Edition from Apress.

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This article was originally published on August 22, 2016
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