|By Shelly Palmer||
|June 4, 2014 05:54 PM EDT||
Most of us want to stay in touch when we’re abroad – after all, part of the fun is sharing our adventures (or misadventures) in real time by texting, posting to Facebook, Instagram-ing sights (or meals), tweeting or even making an old-school phone call.
And our smartphones have taken the place of so many gadgets – phone, email, music player, camera, even a compass – so it’s no surprise travelers want to use their phones on the road.
While smartphones are easily one of the handiest travel tools you could bring on a trip, they can also be the most expensive. It’s not just making international phone calls that will rack up your cell phone bill, either; oftentimes, the true culprit is data roaming. Even light usage or just leaving your data on can rack up major charges, since background features and apps on your phone are constantly using data to ping the servers.
Just how high a bill can seemingly light data usage abroad incur? Consider these cautionary tales of cell phone users who were hit with monstrous mobile phone bills for their data usage overseas:
- An American doctor and medical school professor got a $2,367 cell phone bill even after taking what he thought were the proper precautions.
- A British teenager racked up a $6,000 bill while on a family trip to New York.
- A woman was charged $4,300 for downloading Neil Diamond’s Greatest Hits while overseas.
We all love bringing home souvenirs of our trips, but an outrageous cell phone bill shouldn’t be one of them.
How much data does social media and web activity use?
You might not think a quick Facebook status update or Google Map search would use much data, but the actual figures might surprise you. Here’s a sampling of various smartphone activities and how much data* they use:
These numbers may seem small, both in terms of size and action, but they can add up very quickly, especially since most people perform these actions multiple times a day.
How much does roaming really cost?
Most of us have unlimited, all-inclusive plans at home, but we don’t pay attention to how much each individual minute or megabyte of data costs. If you decide to use your smartphone abroad for calling, texting or data usage without an international plan, though, your next phone bill might shock you. Check out these per-use rates from the four major mobile service providers in the U.S.:
Without an international phone plan, each text, tweet, check-in or search from your smartphone abroad will incur high costs that quickly add up.
Fortunately, the four big carriers in the United States offer plans that include international data and voice coverage.
Options for International Plans
Each of the major U.S. carriers - AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon - have international roaming plans based on usage, as well as location. When selecting an overseas plan, consider how often you’ll be using your phone and what you’ll be using it for, as well as the length of your trip.
It’s important to note that international voice and data plans are often sold separately, so be sure you’re not signing up for a voice plan if data will be your main use.
Here’s a sampling of the four major U.S. carriers’ data and voice offerings:
How to Save Money When Using Your Phone Abroad
Besides choosing a plan, there are other steps you can take to avoid racking up huge charges. Always turn off your data, use Wi-Fi networks when available and use messaging apps like Kik or Whatsapp to keep in touch without international texting charges. For more ways to save, check out our tips on using your cell phone while traveling abroad.
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