How to avoid expensive data roaming charges and stay connected?

We’ve probably all heard horrifying stories about people who accidentally made a several thousand euro phone bill during a short trip abroad. Those stories have caused me to check that my data roaming is switched off long before I hit the country border. Better safe than sorry, right? But why is it so darn expensive to use Internet when away, and what exactly is data roaming?

Data roaming applies when you are receiving data, for example when accessing the Internet over cellular network that is not provided by your mobile operator. So basically, every time you leave your country without turning off the service before crossing borders, you’re roaming. So the question is, what does it cost to roam?

Let’s say you’d travel to U.S.. Being there you’d want to check your emails from your smartphone and maybe download a PowerPoint presentation attached (3 MB). Then you’d play ten minutes of music from Spotify (8 MB) while uploading a status update with a picture to your Facebook profile (500 kB). Checking your profile you’d notice an interesting looking 3-minute YouTube video that your friend shared and decide to see it through (30 MB). The data transmissions from all this amount to 41,5 MB. This means that your operator would surprise you with a 415€ bill! If your destination was somewhere in Europe you’d end up paying, the EU regulated price considered, some 29€ excluding tax. Cheap compared to the first vision, but still quite an amount for a 15-minute data usage.

Some have tackled the price tag problem by saying no to Internet when travelling, but there are options to complete data abstinence. Many have found happiness in using free Wi-Fi hotspots, paid WLAN connections, Internet cafes or local prepaid SIM cards. Those are all good alternatives but they all require some effort to make of use. To be able to compare your options, you should also know how, when and how much data you need.

If you’ve decided that abstinence is not your thing, read my next post about things to consider when looking for Internet access abroad, where I tell you what you need to know to get online when travelling.

-Hanne @Uros