How to: Reduce Your Mobile Data Costs, when Traveling Internationally (Part 2 of 3)

Mobile Internet use can be 1,000X more expensive
when traveling internationally!

Internet access is extremely useful when traveling, especially to assist in your choice of activities while on the go, but the cost is exorbitantly high … so let’s discuss simple ways to dramatically reduce your data cost, when roaming internationally.

PROBLEM: Int’l Data can be Shockingly Expensive ($1,000 per week)

Using Mobile Internet services while traveling internationally can be a large, unexpected expense–exceeding the cost of your trip–unless you plan ahead. Most international travelers report receiving a shockingly high bill (“Bill Shock”), due to the unexpectedly high charges for using mobile data when traveling. How expensive? Easily in three or even four figures for a week of travel! Why? Because Operators are currently charging very high rates for the privilege of using data internationally (Mobile Operators are probably assuming that most of those travelers are business travelers, who will corporately accept this as a cost of doing business, with few of these business travelers ever being aware of the size of their mobile bill. This pricing model is so lucrative that, at present, there is little incentive to lower costs to encourage greater use–lowering prices reduces profit, as the increased traffic does not make up for the lost revenue from lowered price.). To protect consumers, many regulatory bodies are moving to limit the maximum roaming charge to $50, unless the subscriber authorizes further charges (led by the European Union).

Q: What can you do for $40,000?
A: Download a movie when traveling internationally!

To allow you to affordably maintain in contact with friends and colleagues, take advantage of location-based services, and more, you may wish to consider the options for using data when traveling internationally. To avoid breaking your budget, let’s plan ahead and avoid unpleasant surprises.

If your needs are modest, and limited to making and receiving a few calls and text messages, then the least costly solution for international travel is using a GSM phone and purchasing PrePaid service locally. I’ve written a basic article that goes into the process and options in more detail. However, many people seek more than making phone calls when traveling, and desire to take advantage of many Internet-based resources (just as they do during a typical day).

SOLUTION: Your Options to Reduce the Cost of Data

To maintain Internet connectivity during your travel, the least expensive way to go is Wi-Fi, which allows you to make free calls and messages from your phone, as well as all the regular benefits of Internet connectivity (such as searching for nearby locations to dine/visit). You can access Wi-Fi from your smartphone, and connect regularly at free Wi-Fi locations (hotels, cafes), but a more reliable solution is to purchase a brief subscription to use Wi-Fi for your trip, allowing you access to a large network of Wi-Fi access points.

Inexpensive Data plans (in order of increasing cost):

  1. Free Wi-Fi (FREE, but can be hard to find in many markets)
    To find a hotspot that is nearby, or free, try JiWire or another global Wi-Fi finder, available as an app for your Android or iPhone smartphone, or online.
  2. Wi-Fi purchase for hour/day, where available for a fee
    ($5 for an Hour or more for a Day Pass)
  3. Wi-Fi Subscription for your trip (from mobile Operator that serves where you will be visiting, such as Orange, or from Boingo at $8/month for global smartphone use, or $59/month for up to four mobile devices, providing unlimited data use at over 500,000 hotspot locations)
  4. PrePaid data plan from local mobile Operator that serves where you will be visiting—either a single country or multiple countries—from $3/day for your smartphone, or $12/day for a high-capacity plan (with USB dongle) for your laptop. Prices are lowest for use within a single country. For your smartphone, the 3 (UK) “All in One 15” plan offers unlimited data, 300 minutes of talk and 3,000 texts for £15. For a laptop, the Vodafone (UK) 3G Internet dongle plan with 2 GB is £15. If you are traveling among multiple countries, try using a mobile operator that serves all of the countries that you will be visiting. Vodafone and Telefonica have excellent European coverage with a single, prepaid plan. For example, the Vodafone Data Traveller plan provides 25 MB per day for £2 (or 25 MB per day for a month for £10) across 38 countries in their Europe Zone. For a laptop, you can use 100 MB per day for £8 in their Europe Zone. Basically, you purchase pre-paid service in the country/countries you are visiting, at the lowest, local rates. Read my article for details.
  5. Bring a Hot Spot with you for $15/day, from XCom Global (as recommended by Tom Samiljan in “When in Roam.” and recommended in a recent review by PC Magazine). This is a great option for someone that plans to use a lot of data from laptop, smartphone, tablet or a combination of devices. A smaller USB stick for your laptop is also available. Even lower-cost solutions can be had when roaming into the U.S., from start-up services offering up to 500 MB of “free” data use from FreedomPop and NetZero Wireless, with modest charges for  increased monthly usage ($10 per GB). With these services, you carry a device that creates a personal Wi-Fi network (“MiFi”) that you and others can use (while the device connect to the Internet via a wide-area wireless network). The downside of the U.S. services (based on WiMAX) is that you can not use their service in as many locations as a mature, cellular network, that offers nearly ubiquitous service.
  6. PrePaid, Global Roaming data plan from your current mobile Operator ($2/MB, starting at $25 a month for 50MB in selected countries, otherwise default rate of up to $20/MB. You can revise these plans instantly if, for example, you wish to increase the amount of data you are purchasing at discount.  Warning: Charging based on usage can be hard to track and can result in unexpectedly high charges! This feature, alone, can reduce your roaming costs 90%, and will avoid a three- or four-figure roaming bill. With judicious use of Wi-Fi (see options 1, 2 and 3), you can trim down your data roaming charges into something reasonable.
    For low-cost e-mail, T-Mobile now has a great plan ($19.99 per month) with unlimited emails. As described here, other data services (Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc.) can be had inexpensively via Wi-Fi [as mentioned in “5 Secret Tech-Savvy Tips for Travelling Abroad“].
  7. Active International Travel discount feature, to reduce the cost of Data/SMS/Voice for your postpaid mobile data plan from your current Operator. By planning ahead, you can activate a feature (for a small charge) that will significantly reduce your cost of data when roaming. When you return from your travels, remove this feature to eliminate the monthly charge.
  8. Current data plan, from your current Operator ($20/MB, Warning: This default option can result in bills over $1,000).

Free Calls & Texts from your (Wi-Fi or Cellular) Data connection

You can also make voice calls, text and IM from your low-cost data connection. From your smartphone (or laptop), you can use Skype (or other VoIP clients) to make free or nearly free international calls (Skype lets you call other Skype members Free, but charges you a very low fee for International calls) and texts. So that you are ready to go anywhere you find Wi-Fi: before you travel, install the Skype “App” (client) on your smartphone, and fund it with a few dollars.

If you are a T-Mobile customer, they have a great Wi-Fi solution that lets you make you make calls over Wi-Fi, using your existing mobile number, with calls to the U.S. using your plan minutes (no extra charge for international Long Distance). This option is fully described in my article, “Free Mobile Calls over Wi-Fi.”

Mobile Internet is useful when you travel, like having an expert!

When you travel, you are less likely to know how to get around, which are the best activities, and where is the best food. So it can be incredibly helpful to have a guide handy to tell you where you are, with recommendations for activities and meals. These services cleverly use your mobile phone’s location to map out the area, and attractions. These location-based services are useful at home, but can save you a lot of time (e.g., travel directions, including public transportation) and ensure that you get what you want out of your travel. You can use your smartphone to access all of these services when you need them … but these service require a mobile internet connection which can be very costly!

Read Part 1: Purchase service locally, at Lowest Rates

For a step by step review of the basics of reducing your mobile phone service, when traveling, please read my article “Reducing your Mobile Phone Bill when traveling.”


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