Staying connected while travelling has never been easier thanks to widespread mobile network access and the abundance of Wi-Fi hotspots and internet cafes. But if you’re planning on relying upon internet connectivity as you roam the world, it pays to do some research into the costs and options for getting online abroad.
Mobile roaming costs
Using a smartphone or mobile broadband device in another country is an easy way to stay connected without purchasing new hardware or a specialist service. However, it’s crucial to check the cost of roaming on international networks beforehand.
For Europeans its pretty easy to use roaming in Europe as you could use your data within the EU. Outside the EU it’s a little more complicated. Aside from the special deals offered by some networks in specific countries (see below) there is no universal pricing standard for the rest of the world. Unfortunately, this means it varies wildly and can be very costly – sometimes as much as several Euro’s or Dollars per MB. This is why you should always check the cost of roaming before setting off.
Alternatives to mobile roaming
While it can be convenient to use your own device and SIM for accessing the internet abroad, it’s not always the best solution. It could be very expensive, the local network (or your own provider/package) may not support roaming, and there may not be any signal at all.
Wi-Fi hotspots or public internet terminals are found all over the world in hotels, bars, restaurants and many other locations, and they’re often free. This can save a lot of money, and public internet points are common enough that it shouldn’t be inconvenient unless you really need access at all times. However, don’t neglect your security. Never use public computers to access private services such as email and online banking, and always use a VPN when connected to public Wi-Fi hotspots.
If a local mobile network is available but roaming is not an option, consider picking up a SIM from a local provider to take advantage of their pricing. This is ideal for frequent travel or long term visits, as well as anyone who might need to use a lot of data on more demanding tasks like large file transfers. Another option for heavy users are the specialist roaming providers such as WorldSIM and Tep Wireless which provide international access at a reduced cost.
5 tips for saving money on internet access abroad
However you choose to access the internet when travelling, here are some tips that can help save money and make the most of a limited data bundle.
1. Monitor your usage
Keep a close eye on the amount of data being transferred so you don’t inadvertently rack up a large bill or burn through your data allowance on the first day. Ideally, you’ll be able to view data stats on the mobile network account page. This is the most accurate record and the one that a provider will go by when billing you.
Alternatively, smartphones and tablets usually have a built in data traffic log, while for laptops you can download numerous third party tools to monitor usage. But mobile networks will generally not accept third party software as proof if you use more data than expected, so treat this as a rough guide only.
2. Look out for roaming deals
Many mobile networks have deals for roaming which can add up to a significant saving over the regular price. This may be a bundle of data for international use, or a network feature like Three Mobile’s “Feel At Home” which applies domestic pricing in selected destinations. Frequent travellers should pay special attention to extras like this when shopping for a new mobile deal.
3. Put a cap on it
Capping mobile charges before travelling can save you from bill shock later on. Within the EU mobile bills are capped at €50 by default, but the network will also be able to apply the cap to other regions and adjust the limit on request.
4. Disable data roaming
Check that mobile devices are set to disable data access when abroad to avoid accidentally connecting when you don’t need internet.
5. Cancel updates
Software updates are important, but hold off downloading those big patches until you get home (or are connected to the free hotel Wi-Fi…). Be especially careful if you’re using a laptop, as you may not discover that a huge download started in the background until you’ve run out of data.