How to control data roaming charges

You can avoid racking up needless data roaming charges when you go on holiday this year, with our top tips.
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How to control data roaming charges

Don't get landed with a surprise bill

We see it in the paper every year. Someone lands themselves with a huge mobile bill because they’ve used way too much data on holiday. Usually for something embarrassing like downloading a Barry Manilow album.

These stories aren’t just funny; they’re useful too. They remind us that we need to think carefully about data roaming charges. Especially if we don’t want to end up plastered over page 5 of The Daily Star, looking sad, holding up our phone in one hand and a copy of Barry Manilow/My Dream Duets in the other.

So let’s make sure this doesn’t happen to you.

The most sure-fire way to avoid data roaming charges is to not do it (sounds obvious, we know). But this option isn’t for everyone, and many of us will want to use some data when we’re on our travels.

Good news is on the distant horizon - from 15 June 2017 you won’t have to pay a penny extra to use your phone in the EU. But until then, we’ve got some top tips you need to check out.

If you don’t need to go online abroad…

1. Turn off data roaming

If you turn off data roaming, you’ll still be able to use your phone for music, games, taking photos and doing anything else that doesn't require a signal. Here’s how to turn off data roaming on Android and iOS phones:

  • Android* - Go into Settings > More Network s> Mobile Networks, tap to untick the data roaming option.
  • iOS - Go into Settings > Cellular > tap data roaming to ‘off’.

2. Turn off all your apps

A lot of apps run automatically behind the scenes, routinely checking for updates and downloading stuff. So before you go abroad, turn those bad boys off.

  • Android* - Go into Settings > Data usage > tap the three dot ‘settings’ icon > select ‘Restrict background data’.
  • iOS - Go into Settings > iTunes & App Store > tap updates to 'off'.

You can also go into the settings for each individual app - there's usually an option for you to turn off auto-updates.

3. Take it offline

You can store lots of useful content like maps and restaurant guides offline, then view it at your leisure without needing to access the internet.

Google Maps lets you easily download all the maps you’ll need to get around when you’re abroad, so that's a great place to start. And then there's the free Pocket app (iOS and Android) - it's our favourite place to store webpages offline.

Still want to go online abroad? Here’s how to keep costs down…

1. Hunt out those local Wi-Fi spots

Take advantage of Wi-Fi whenever possible. It’s always worth asking your hotel, or the local bars and restaurants if they’ve got Wi-Fi. But check how much they’re charging first, as it won’t always be free.

Be careful if your Wi-Fi connection drops though - your phone might automatically switch back to your mobile network connection without you realising. So just make sure your data roaming is switched off before you settle down for a session.

2. Check what your network has to offer

If you know you’re going to be using your phone a lot abroad, talk to your network provider. They might have some data roaming packs that let you use a certain amount of data overseas on the cheap.

If you do buy a pack, make sure you know what happens if you use it up when you’re abroad. You could automatically start getting charged at a standard rate, which might be more than you think.

Oh, and make sure the pack on offer actually works for your travel destination.

3. Compress your data

The free Onavo Extend app (iOS and Android) compresses your data. This means that you'll be able to indulge in much more mobile action when you're abroad, before you reach your limit and start having to worry about the size of your bill.

Onavo Extend reckons it can reduce data usage by 80%. And because it doesn’t actually store any of your data, it claims to be completely secure.

Onavo Extend currently works in 90 countries around the world, so could be a great choice to help you keep your roaming rates right down to a minimum.

But be careful - it can't compress downloads for apps that stream content, like YouTube or BBC iPlayer.

Some final words of wisdom…

If you’re using your phone abroad and you’re not on Wi-Fi, then please, please, please avoid indulging in any data-hungry activities like watching videos, downloading music, uploading photos to Facebook, and even opening large email attachments. Be sensible, keep costs down, and most importantly - keep your face out the papers.

* Some Android phone models do things differently. If this doesn’t work for you, consult your phone’s set up guide.

What are your thoughts? Join the conversation here…

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