Overseas Cell Phone Usage


Today, I appeared on BBC World Service’s Your Money program talking about America’s fiscal cliff.  It was fun, and it was interesting to listen to the other topics  that were discussed.  The other guest was Nick White, the Executive Vice President of the International Telecommunications Users Group, and he was talking about data roaming charges, and ridiculous roaming fees in general.

First, we heard several horror stories of customers racking up huge cell phone bills while outside their home country.  Then, there was some discussion of why the problem exists, what steps are being taken to eliminate the problem, and how consumers can protect themselves from such charges.

I took away a few tips to avoid high roaming charges:

Buy a local SIM card for use overseas.  For US travellers with locked cell phones, this may mean purchasing a cheap cell phone once you arrive.  Do some advance research and give yourself the time to make such a purchase.  For example, here in the UK, you can get an inexpensive cell phone for less than 10 pounds sterling, and the SIM card usually comes for free with the phon

Read up on the terms of your contract.  Do you know how much roaming costs?  How about data roaming?  Can you buy an international plan for the time you are overseas?

Make sure you have your phone settings programmed to only allow data or roaming when you authorize it.  Your Mediterranean vacation is not the right time for your phone to be updating it’s Facebook application.

I am certainly not an expert on this subject.  I always just try not to use my phone at all when I’m outside my home country.  However, some of you are super-savvy cell phone users.  Could you please share your tricks with us?

Thanks from every one of us whose ever tried to navigate the unpredictable world of cell phone usage overseas.

About the Author

Kate Horrell
Kate Horrell is a military financial coach, mom of four teens, and Navy spouse. She has a background in taxes and mortgage banking, and a trove of experience helping other military families with their money. Follow her on twitter @realKateHorrell.
  • Dave

    I deployed to Iraq at the start of the war back in 2003. We spent nearly a month in Kuwait on the front end, and a couple of weeks on the back end. When I got to Kuwait, I purchased a cheap local prepaid cell-phone. I could text message my wife back home for cheaply by sending texts from my Kuwait phone. Receiving texts on my T-Mobile phone was free at that time. To get the most bang for our buck for actual phone calls, it was cheapest to have my wife call my Kuwait cell phone from our land line at home using a cheap phone card with low international rates. I think we were talking for something like 13 cents per minute back then. That cost was split between what I paid for my Kuwait cell phone and what she paid on her phone card.

    TImes have changed, but it pays to think outside the box.

  • Trevor

    This article is absolutely correct. Travelling with a US phone and a US carrier is a very bad and expensive mistake. I use an inexpensive Maxwest MX-12 when I travel. It’s dual-sim and works anywhere in the world. I use a US carrier here in the states and buy a sim card in whatever country I go to. Dirt cheap airtime, local number and I can keep my US SIM card in the phone for when I return to the US. My travel companion uses an IceMobile Quattro which hold 4 sim cards. He has 1 US SIM cards and can use 3 more wherever he travels. Both these phones are very inexpensive, loaded with features and work great. Happy travels!!