5 Tips to Avoid Costly International Cellular Charges

5 Tips to Avoid Costly International Cellular Charges

With travelers relying more on their cellphones, travel agents should know how to advise clients on international cell service By: Samantha Davis Friedman
Share these tips with clients so they aren’t greeted by surprise cellphone charges upon returning home. // © 2015 IStock
Share these tips with clients so they aren’t greeted by surprise cellphone charges upon returning home. // © 2015 IStock

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Traveling abroad can provide once-in-a-lifetime, bucket-list-worthy experiences, so most people are willing to endure long flights and navigate ever-changing airline and TSA policies in order to see new and exciting places. But, there are three words that strike fear in the hearts of even the most experienced world travelers: international cellular charges.  

For some travelers, the only way they’re certain that they won’t be hit with international cellular charges is to switch phones to airplane mode and pretend they are iPods and/or cameras. However, for those clients who want to be able to call, text or go online while traveling abroad, here are a few tips that will help them stay connected without discovering  some expensive surprises upon returning home.

Do You Plan On Texting?
Texting has become the go-to form of communication for many people, and while some international cell plans include texting, others do not. For example, Verizon’s International Travel Preferred Pricing plan carries a charge of 50 cents per text sent and 5 cents per text received, which — as anyone with a teenager knows — can add up very quickly. 

And while AT&T’s Passport plans include unlimited text messages, iMessages or other cellular-based messaging are not included. This may leave clients vulnerable to expensive cellular data overage charges if they forget to set their smartphones to text messaging only.

Just Say No to Cellular Data, Especially Location Services
All international travelers need to know how and when their phone uses cellular data. The fastest way to rack up unwanted international overage charges is to have apps and other features using cellular data unnecessarily, but most people don’t realize that certain apps are constantly running even when they’re not in use. 

For example, while all of those location services are handy at home, they will eat through international cellular packages faster than their teenagers can text. Agents should recommend that clients traveling abroad disable (or even remove) any apps or features that are continuously using cellular data.

More Devices = More Charges
Agents should also remind clients that international cellular plans are charged per device, so if people traveling together don’t need to contact each other by phone while abroad, it may only be necessary to add an international plan to one phone in the group. Plus, purchasing the plan with the most international data for one device may turn out to be less expensive than putting the lowest plan on every device. Last but not least, the lower the amount of data purchased, the higher the likelihood of inadvertently incurring overage fees.

Check Cell Service Options Prior to Cruising
International cellular plans generally apply to travel on land only, so agents should advise cruise clients that different rates will most likely apply on ships. 

For example, some larger cruise lines (such as Carnival Cruise Lines) offer cell service at sea, but pre-purchased plans do not cover this usage and additional international roaming fees will apply. On other ships, cellular signals are accessed from land-based towers while in port (or close to shore), so they may or may not be covered by a pre-purchased international plan based on the country.

Because international cell service can vary greatly from ship to ship, agents should consult each cruise line for its international cellular service options before advising clients.  

Cellular Usage via Wi-Fi Is Always Free
An important piece of information that agents can give clients is that international cellular usage via Wi-Fi access is always free, so advising clients to use Wi-Fi whenever possible can greatly reduce (and possibly even eliminate) international cellular usage charges. However, even if travelers intend to use only Wi-Fi for cell usage, it’s still a good idea to purchase the minimum international plan offered by their carrier — just in case of an emergency.

Unfortunately, carriers may not alert users that they have incurred costly international cellular data charges until after the fact, so agents should always recommend that clients contact their carrier’s international department for the most accurate information. Educating clients about the potential pitfalls of using their cellphones abroad can certainly help them avoid unwanted charges later.