What is Global Roaming?
Global roaming is a function of your regular phone plan that allows you to take your phone overseas and use your Australian phone number. While in a different country, you will be connecting to networks that your Australian phone company has partnership agreements with. You use the foreign service, they bill your phone company, and your company passes on those costs to you.
The benefits are that you get to keep your number, you don’t have to track down a new SIM when you arrive in the country, and that the global roaming offer you sign up with should be easy to understand and access.However, global roaming can be expensive, so you’ll need to know how much it might cost you before you leave.
Not all global roaming plans are created equal, and as all companies have a slightly different approach it’s worth checking that your current company really is the best option before you head overseas.
Post- and Pre-Paid Plans
Whether you have a contract or top up your account as necessary could affect how you pay for global roaming. Prepaid plans will require you to have enough credit to pay for your usage while overseas. Your phone company might just take roaming fees out of your regular credit, but you could have to purchase specific credit for roaming. If you do, you’ll still need to have an active balance on your prepaid service in Australia to be able to use your roaming credit.
If your plan is post-paid, then how you access global roaming will depend on the company you are with and the country that you’re going to. You still might have to purchase additional credit, but most companies will just add your usage bill on top of your regular bill. That’s great for convenience, but can make it more difficult to track how much you’re spending. Make sure you take the initiative to keep an eye on your usage and know your rates before you go.
Before You Leave
- Activate roaming.
Most companies have global roaming automatically enabled, but don’t wait until you’re overseas to find out. A quick check will ensure that you’re ready to go when you arrive.
- Make sure you have credit.
If your plan requires specialroaming credit, it will be easier if you have that ready to go before you leave. You might find you’re too busy to make calls, so it’s probably best to pre-purchase a smaller amount of credit until you know how much you’re likely to use.
- Research your rates.
If your plan offers different rates, it’s a good idea to know what those are before you head off. A quick 5 minute call home when you land doesn’t seem like much, but if you’re being charged $3 per minute it can get expensive very quickly.
- Find out how you will track usage.
If an app is the best way to get information about your usage, it makes it easier if you have it downloaded and ready to go before you leave.
- Set up alerts.
Since 2013, phone companies have been required to let you know that you are using global roaming and what your rates are as soon as you turn your phone on in a foreign country. Some companies offer other usage alerts, like Optus’s text notification for each $100 worth of data you use while roaming. If your company don’t offer alerts, you might want to consider downloading an app that can track and control your phone and data usage and send you alerts if necessary.
How do the Major Companies Charge for Roaming?
- Daily Fees.
Companies like Vodaphone and Telstra offer global roaming to selected countries for a daily rate that lets you access calls, SMS and data while overseas. Telstra offers unlimited calls and SMS with a limited amount of data, while Vodaphone goes a step further and lets you access your regular Australian plan features, including data, for a small daily fee. Both these companies won’t charge you for days that you don’t use any plan features.
- Pre-Purchased Roaming.
Some companies allow you to pre-purchase access for a number of days away. Optus have a travel pack option for a limited number of countries that allows you to purchase roaming for the number of days that you plan to be overseas.
- Special Credit.
Global roaming is sometimes only offered through purchasing credit specifically dedicated to communicating while overseas. This system helps you to avoid bill shock when you come home, but can make it a bit frustrating as you try to top up in a foreign country. Many pre-paid plans only offer global roaming through this purchasing method. You’ll need to find out how you buy this credit, as well as the rates for your destination, and how you can easily track your usage while overseas.
- Pay As You Go.
By far the most popular system for global roaming, most phone companies offer Pay As You Go rates. For each country, rates are set for plan features like making and receiving calls, sending SMS, MMS and accessing data. PAYG normally comes as a bill charged on top of your usual plan payments. For the countries that are less frequently travelled to by Australians, PAYG might be the only way to access roaming. PAYG can be expensive, and if you have a postpaid plan you will have to be very careful to track and limit your expenditure so you don’t come home to a big bill.
Saving Money When Overseas
No matter how good your international roaming deal is, you should aim to track your usage and minimise your spending to get the most out of your plan. Your phone company should have an app or website with up-to-date information about how much credit you have been using, and there are apps specifically dedicated to tracking phone usage.
Mobile data is a huge drain on most phone plans. Many people have been unaware of quite how much they’re using while on holiday, and come home to a bill totalling hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
Turn your mobile data completely off whenever you’re not using it, and make sure all your phone apps are set to only update when you’re connected to Wi-Fi. If you’re careful, then bill shock won’t happen to you.
You should also activate call forwarding, which means you won’t receive calls to your phone which you can be charged for. Go to the phone app, and access the settings from there – you should have an option for call settings, and then call forwarding. You can change the call forwarding to read “Always Forward”. With this setting enabled, you can send and receive SMS and make calls if necessary, but you won’t pay for incoming calls. It’s a good idea to try this before you leave, and get someone else to ring your phone to see how it works.
What Other Options are Available?
If you need your number while overseas, if you travel infrequently or for short periods, or if you simply want to convenience of staying with your current company – global roaming is a good option. Otherwise, there are alternatives to global roaming that you might consider.
Buying a local prepaid SIM is a popular option, and even some phone companies recommend it as a better solution than roaming. You can access local rates, it’s easy to top up, and you can’t easily overspend. It does mean you will need to change your number while you’re overseas, but for most people that’s not too difficult.
If you’d rather not wait until you go overseas to buy your SIM, there are dedicated travel SIMs that offer cheap rates for roaming. Even companies like Woolworths now offer SIM cards with cheaper rates than you will find offered by major telcos. Getting the best deal will take some research, and don’t forget to factor in the cost of actually buying the SIM – Australia Post charge $25 for theirs (you get $5 credit).
Depending on where you are going to and how much you need to communicate, some people get by just by waiting for Wi-Fi connections and using pay phones when absolutely necessary. If that’s too much uncertainty, you might want to combine using mostly Wi-Fi but also activating global roaming for emergencies.
For most people, global roaming only forms a small part of your decision-making process when it comes to phone plans, so you’ll have to work with what you have. However, if you do travel regularly to a country on their Daily Rate list, it’s hard to beat Vodaphone’s $5 daily rate.
If you are prepaid or travel to a country that is less frequently visited by Australians, researchthe different rates on offer to come up with the best plan.Soon, new technology like e-SIMs will make roaming unnecessary. Until then, some pre-planning can help you to access stress-free, lower-cost communication wherever you are in the world.