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Data roaming advice while you’re abroad

Wednesday 6th July 2011

What’s the best way to keep in touch when you’re on your gap year? It’s easy to assume that every country is now wired up with the latest technology that you’re used to having daily access to in the UK but that’s not always the case. For example many parts of Africa still have limited access to a quality broadband connection, and of course if you’re trekking deep in the Amazon rainforest your mobile phone signal may be a touch weak, if not non-existent. However there are ways to prepare in advance for those times when you’re beyond reach. You should always let someone know where you are going if you know that even emergency contact might be difficult.

These days it’s usual for everyone to keep a mobile phone with them at all times but unless you want to risk your using your iPhone abroad not swap to a ‘pay as you go’ text and voice-only handset instead. This will also help to conserve battery power and save on the long periods of time when you’re waiting for the phone to recharge its batteries. The cheapest option is to try and use a service that’ll let you save cash and use a local rate charge too.  Or you can opt for a one off bolt-on charge for the time you’re out of the UK.

Your unlimited data and Wi-Fi allowances only apply to usage in the UK. Be aware that 3G or 4G data services can be very expensive when you leave the country of your service provider so check your current package with them before you go. Data roaming is the phrase used to describe using your mobile phone on another network for a short period while still being billed by your provider. When you are roaming on another network the temporary phone company will bill your own one for calls you make while on their network. Each phone company has different levels of roaming charges and some will alert you if you start to hit a certain limit, but others won’t. Checking emails should be ok as they don’t download large file sizes for attachments until you ask them to, but be careful browsing the internet as most websites aren’t optimized for mobiles.

Avoid wracking up huge unexpected bills by checking with your phone service provider first.

Roaming Charges:
•    O2 iPhone
•    Vodafone iPhone
•    Orange iPhone

There are also plenty of internet cafes all over the world where you can pop in to update your Facebook page or reply to parent’s concerned emails. Just be sure to properly log out of your accounts and clear the cached browser history before you leave. Try to use free Wifi as much as possible but make sure it’s secure. Check that your phone settings have Data Roaming switched to ‘off’ which is the default setting on an iPhone. New EU Legislation that comes into effect on 1 July 2010 states that Mobile Operators will cap what they charge for data services when customers are abroad and keep customers informed of the charges that apply. Each operator has it’s own level of data limit too.

The EU wants to introduce a cap of 80p (90 cents) per megabyte. It also wants to restructure the market so that roaming services can be offered by companies other than the consumers mobile phone provider. It will be available from July 2012, with a further reduction in the cap to 45p (50 cents) from July 2014, so consumers will likely not see a reduction in roaming costs until then.

Take a look at our Staying in Touch section on Gapwork for more advice and articles about what to prepare for and think about when you’re backpacking abroad.