Take your BlackBerry or iPhone on holiday to Asia or the US, leave it on but don’t touch it and what’s the worse that can happen? A £340 phone bill, that’s what.
Research by consumer group Which? warns that anyone travelling outside of the EU (where data charges are capped at 68p per MB) could see their smartphone rack up a huge bill as emails and apps automatically gobble up data.
One of my friends used her iPhone to navigate the South African bush on safari, thinking her data package was all-inclusive. She came home to an £800 data bill.
Even those with non-internet mobile phones often receive a shock holiday bill. So what can you do about it?
* First, plan ahead: if you don’t expect to use a mobile much abroad, then as soon as you leave the country, turn off data-roaming in your mobile’s settings, switch off your answer machine (you’ll be charged if anyone leaves you a message) and use it only in emergencies.
* But if you are a heavier user, speak to your operator: Most offer offer ‘bolt-ons’ to help cut the cost of data usage or foreign minutes and texts abroad but only buy what you need. Which? points out that O2 offers 25MB of data for £1.99 a day and “while this makes data cheaper, it’s enough to send around 750 emails, much more than most people would need.”
* Consider buying a local pay-as-you-go Sim card to pay only local rates for data downloads and local calls and texts. If you do return home to a shock phone bill and want to complain to your mobile operator, go to www.which.co.uk/billshock to download a template letter.
* Ask about package guarantees: If you buy, say, a 100-minute call package for overseas, ask your operator to text you when it runs out. Usually the salesman on the other end of the phone line will agree to this, even if the network doesn’t have a facility to do so. This way, either you do receive a text and know your spending in advance, or you don’t receive one - which gives you a license to call the operator on your return, point out the promised text didn’t arrive and demand a refund.
* If you need to connect your phone to the internet, use wi-fi hotspots: which are often free - instead of data.