ROAMING CHARGES are one of the banes of the lives of travellers, and we've seen countless horror stories of less-than-savvy holiday goers facing thousands of pounds in charges on their return to Blighty. So how do you avoid them? Well, the answer is, lots of ways.
Use the WiFi
Most booking sites will now give you the option to select ‘free WiFi' as a must-have for your hotel. However, it might be very slow, or it might be restricted to the common areas, with a heavy tariff for the high-speed service in your room. If in doubt, check, but if it's an option, it's going to be the cheapest. Don't forget though, whatever you do, make sure you've turned ‘data roaming' off in your settings because most apps use data even when they're in your pocket.
Three Feel At Home
Yes, Three's deals with 42 countries give the widest free roaming support of any of the main networks. With the USA, Australia and Sri Lanka on the list, on top of the whole of the EU and some other random ones. It's a no-brainer - just take your phone, use it as normal. You'll often only get 3G data instead of 4G, but it's better than nowt.
If you're not a Three customer, check out their range of prepaid SIMs that might be worth investing in just for abroad times, especially as most deals include some level of tethering.
Cost: Varies (but free to most existing customers)
Local SIM Card
Buying a local SIM card at the other end is a good chance to test your language skills, but it's also the guaranteed cheapest way to get mobile while you're away. Of course, that does mean you'll have a different phone number, but it's a small price to pay in every sense. Do watch out, as in some countries, you'll have to sign up to a contract with no minimum term, but you will need to cancel it when you leave or you'll keep getting charged by the month.
Be wary of special offer packs for tourists - they're usually more expensive than the locals get. Check your guidebook (Lonely Planet and Rough Guide usually cover this subject). Don't be tempted to buy a local SIM at this end. You'll almost certainly pay more that way too.
If all you want is that lifeline of WhatsApp and text, then your best bet could be ChatSIM, a global card with a modest price tag. For less than the price of two beers in Stockholm, you can use WhatsApp, Telegram, WeChat, BBM, Facebook Messenger and good ol' SMS - including emojis, for absolutely zilch extra. Nadda. Zip.
If you want to add photos, videos or calling, then you buy credits, For example, 2,000 credits (£12) in most countries buys you 200 photos or 40 videos or 80 voice minutes. There's no option for full surfing though, so it's best used in a secondary device, but a more or less essential travel companion.
Cost: Starting at £12 a year.
Following some comments from readers (below), Skyroam got in touch with us and offered to let us take a look at their service. As with Y-Roam (below) it offers a SIM-less hotspot that gives you 4G across the globe. The difference with Skyroam is its pricing. You can either buy a unit for $99.95, and then pay $8 per day for unlimited data, or your can rent a unit (we saw vending machines at SFO recently) and then pay $9.95 per day. It's a much more economical way of getting the service and it worked flawlessly for us. There's much to recommend here, especially as, because you pay by the day, there's no risk of your credit expiring. Battery-wise? It lasted us 24 hours, almost exactly.
If you're a regular traveller, then you might want a device you can count on working first time every time, especially if the company is paying. In which case, this offering from French telecoms company Transatel could be what you're seeking. Available as just a SIM card, or with a 3G or 4G MiFi dongle provided, the device comes with 25 Euros of credit, which is worth 1GB in Europe. The SIM is truly global but the price changes - for example, in the Americas (including the US) it's a much steeper 49 Euros for 500GB. So do check first. Transatel claims it's up to 90 percent cheaper than roaming.
Cost: €29 for the SIM, up to £129 with a Huawei 4G Hotspot (includes €25 credit).
Y-Roam dispenses with SIM cards altogether, instead opting for a rather chunky, but Android-powered virtual SIM affair, something we don't see often in the UK. With partner networks in over 100 countries, Y-Roam offers plans based on countries of usage, so a US pack is £15.99 per gig, or an EU one is a steeper (but still cheaper than roaming) £24.99. Further flung places command £34.99 a gig. The box is £199, but that does include the first gig of worldwide data, and the touchscreen device can accept two additional physical SIMs on top of the virtual one, and has a 6000mAh battery which can be used to charge your devices, thanks to a full-size USB port.
Cost: £199 (includes 1GB credit). µ
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