How to Get Around Roaming Charges While Travelling the World

11/01/2019     Author: Billy Gray

Data roaming charges can wind up costing you an absolute fortune when you’re outside of your home country. This is how to ensure you’re not getting ripped off.


Some researchers recently attached beacons to migrating eagles to track their migration patterns. The experiment produced some fascinating results that gave us a unique insight into the massive routes around the world that these incredible birds of prey take each year. It also tallied up an astonishing bill for roaming charges.

It turns out that the beacons were sending texts to communicate the eagles’ position as they flew around Europe and the Middle East. The birds were expected to fly straight to Kazakhstan, where it costs around 30c to send a text. Of course, the birds had other ideas, and flew instead to Iran, where texts cost 77c a pop. That’s not even to mention all of the other countries that the eagles crossed over on their path.

The researchers were forced to take out a loan and start a crowd-funding campaign in order to pay off the debt, which was eventually settled with the help of the Iranian cellular carrier, who wrote off that part of the roaming charges.

The story is all too familiar for anyone who has unwillingly stacked up a massive data roaming bill while abroad. It should also serve as a warning to anyone about to track migrating birds with text messages. Jokes aside, being hit with a bill for roaming charges is horrible, and there are some ways that you can get around it.

How to avoid being charged for data roaming

Most phones now have roaming set to off by default – although, this never used to be the case. Regardless, when you land in a foreign country, the first thing that you should do is go on to your settings and ensure that roaming is switched off.

How to turn off roaming (for Android)

  • Open the Settings
  • Go to Cellular Networks (or Mobile Networks).
  • De-select Data Roaming (the switch should be grey when de-selected, and green when turned on).
  • That’s it!

You can now connect to local Wi-Fi networks to send messages over apps like Facebook and Whatsapp, instead. It’s best to outright avoid making calls or sending texts through the Messages app altogether, just to play it safe.

How to turn off roaming (for iOS)

Turning off data roaming on your iPhone is a similar process to turning it off on an Android phone.

  • Go to the Settings app.
  • Select General, then navigate to Cellular.
  • De-select Data Roaming (the same as Android, grey when off, green when on).

As you can see, whatever phone you have, turning off data roaming is easy. But say you still want to stay in touch with family and friends back home – how do you do that without data?

How to get data while abroad without roaming charges

The number one and easiest way to get data while abroad is to simply purchase a local SIM card for the duration of your trip. These are always readily available in airports, as well as in any phone shop you’re likely to come across.

You can usually buy a SIM card that will last for a set amount of time and give you a certain amount of data within that timeframe – for example, you could buy one that lasts for ten days and gives you 2GB of data per day for that time. These are designed for tourists and people on short business trips.

It’s worth noting that these SIM cards can be overpriced in airports (isn’t everything?) and it’s usually worth waiting until you arrive at your destination and then asking your hotel for the nearest phone shop. They might even do it for you, depending on where you’re staying.

While it might sound unnecessary to get a new SIM card for such a short amount of time, we guarantee you that it will make your life a lot easier during your trip. You’ll be able to access apps like Google Maps, or contact people wherever you are in the country. This could help you in a sticky situation, and just means that you can keep your friends and family updated with holiday photos along the way.

Make sure that you store your SIM card somewhere secure while you’re using the local one – behind your phone case is usually the best spot, although some phones now have dual-SIM support, which means that you can have both in your phone and switch between them seamlessly.

Best apps for free international texts and calls

If you don’t want to buy a new SIM card, then you can simply use the Wi-Fi in hotels, restaurants, cafes, and airports. The thing is, these are public Wi-Fi networks, which makes them less secure than the Wi-Fi you would use at home. They’re also often slow connections.

That being said, whichever method of connection you choose while abroad, you’ll want to be able to send messages and photos to loved ones to keep them updated about your trip. The best apps to use for this are:

Whatsapp: Essentially the same as your Messages app, Whatsapp is totally free and you can make calls, send messages, and share photos on it without any costs. This makes it the most ideal app to use for keeping your loved ones up-to-date about your trip.

Facebook: Who doesn’t know Facebook? You can make free international video and voice calls on Facebook Messenger, and share photos and messages as well – it’s essentially the same as Whatsapp in this regard.

Telegram: The privacy focused messenger app. If you’re using unsecure public Wi-Fi, then you might want to use Telegram instead of the conventional messaging apps. This is because Telegram encrypts your messages, meaning that they’re basically impossible for a hacker to decipher and read. Your loved ones will also need to download the Telegram app to receive messages from you through this medium.

The wrap-up

Hopefully, now you feel more confident about how to avoid charges while abroad and still keep in contact with your loved ones. As we mentioned before, the most hassle-free way to get data really is to just buy a short-stay SIM card. Enjoy your trip!

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