Push notifications, automatic updates and roaming charges can create costly data overages that break the bank. But you can devise ways to minimize the cost.
Since summer tends to bring out the explorer in all of us, we’ve compiled a list of ways to eliminate roaming charges and minimize your data usage while traveling abroad.
1. Turn Off Data Roaming
The European Commission recently voted to end roaming charges by 2014, but until then it’s important to turn off data roaming on your phone when traveling outside your network.
Roaming occurs when you use your cellphone on a network that does not belong to your provider. Data usage means you’re using services like Internet (without Wi-Fi) or email. When you roam on another network, the mobile phone company that owns that network sends a bill to your provider, who then billsyou.
If you want to access the Internet on your smartphone when traveling abroad, consider enabling Airplane Mode on your phone. You can still enable Wi-Fi when your phone is in Airplane Mode, so head somewhere like McDonald’s or Starbucks for free Internet access.
2. Disable Push Notifications and Auto-Synching
Does your phone alert you instantly when you have new mail? That requires data usage. If you have an iPhone, you can change this by accessing Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendars > Fetch New Data to turn off Push Notifications. Furthermore, on iPhone, you can manually disable push notifications for each app. Click on the app and turn the Notification Center to “Off.”
If you have an Android, go to Settings > Accounts & Synch and turn off Auto-Synch.
3. Be Aware of How Much Data You’ve Used
Reset your data tracker so you know exactly how much data you’ve used in a given time.
If you have an iPhone, go to Settings > General > Usage (“Cellular Usage” on some phones) to reset data statistics.
Android is a little trickier. CNET recommends Android users download an app from their mobile carriers. Verizon’s app is called My Verizon Mobile and allows you to check data usage, make payments, and view your current phone plan. The AT&T app is called myAT&T and lets you view and pay your bill, check data usage and locate Wi-Fi hotspots.
4. Buy an International Data Package Through Your Mobile Provider
These packages are sometimes called “add-ons.” Most carriers let you buy a bundle of data for a monthly rate, so you can use the Internet without searching for a Wi-Fi hotpot.
To check international roaming data plans for AT&T, click here.
To check international roaming data plans for Verizon, click here.
To check international roaming data plans for T-Mobile, click here.
5. Buy a SIM Card Once You’ve Landed
Buying a local SIM is often the cheapest option, but it can also be the most difficult. When you purchase a local SIM, you also get a local phone number.
If you decide to buy a prepaid international SIM card for traveling abroad, you’ll need to look into getting an unlocked GSM standard phone. We recommend asking your provider if your phone is “world-compatible.”
Companies that offer these include OneSimCard, Maxroam and Telestial.
OneSimCard sells international SIM cards for $29.95. Incoming and outgoing calling costs vary depending on your travel destination, but OneSimCard rates tend to be lower than international calling rates offered through providers like AT&T or T-Mobile.
Maxroam interntaional SIM cards sell for $20. It’s most cost-efficient for travel in Europe.
Telestial Passport offers a $19 international SIM card; it’s best for heavy data users.
6. Wi-Fi-Enabled Alternatives
There are some great apps right now, which you can use to communicate with people while abroad — if you have Wi-Fi or Internet access. What’s App lets you send messages, pictures, audio notes and video messages with friends, via Wi-Fi. Vibr is free and lets you call, text or send pictures, via Wi-Fi or 4G.
Image via Flicker, David Goehring