How to . . . cut phone charges when travelling

Stop bill shock before it starts

 

Summer may be in its dying days, but there is still time to squeeze in a last minute holiday. There’s also the possibility of a last minute bargain to take into account - but there could be hidden costs. That could be on the airline, at a car hire desk or at the hotel. But what about in your own pocket?

Specifically, is your smartphone draining your wallet while you are sunning yourself by the pool?

Things have certainly got easier, thanks in part to EU regulations that have pushed to reduce - and in some cases eliminate - roaming charges and force the networks to treat you as if you were using your phone at home. That only applies to the EU though, and some networks impose limitations on use, including caps on your roaming data use, for example, under the guise of “fair use”.

But what about outside the EU? We’ve all been there: landed in the US and got the text message announcing the data charges per megabyte that you’ll be charged if your dare check your email or look up something online. And forget about uploading anything to Instagram, unless you’d like a nice shock when you get home, just as post-holiday comedown is hitting hard.

There are a few ways to halt that in its tracks though.

Turn your phone off

If you are on holiday, chances are you don’t want to be disturbed by unnecessary phone calls and texts. So you can save yourself the stress by simply choosing to leave your phone off for the duration of the holiday. No calls, no texts, no data - and no roaming charges on your bill.

Turn some phone functions off

But who actually switches their phone off at the start of their holiday? Very few people. Smartphones have replaced a lot of devices, including GPS and cameras, so you may want to use it during your holiday. If so, you can choose to switch off mobile data, for example, and save yourself a potentially huge data bill. This is the time to hunt down the free WiFi hotspots too, and download offline map data in Google Maps. You’ll still get calls and texts if you want them, but your iPhone won’t working merrily away in the background, downloading data.

Sign up for special deals with your network

Some networks offer bundle deals for roaming phone access while you’re away from home. Signing up could save you a small fortune later on, while still allowing you to use your phone relatively normally.

Limit what apps can access mobile data

If you need to access some functions but don’t fancy a €1,000+ bill when you get home, you can limit what apps can use mobile data. On iOS, go to Settings>Mobile Data and scroll down to the end of the page where a list of your installed apps sit. You can switch off mobile data for individual apps.

It’s a bit more complex on Android. On Huawei Android 7 handsets, go to Settings>wireless & networks>Mobile data>Networked apps. You’ll see a list of apps with mobile data and WiFi options listed next to them.

If that option isn’t open to you, other versions of Android allow you restrict background data usage. If you don’t, apps will refresh themselves quietly in the background, using data without you even touching them.

Go to Settings>Apps & Notifications> App info and choose the apps you want to bar from accessing background data. Go to Data usage, and turn the slider for background data to off. That will prevent your app from using mobile data unless you open it.

On iOS, go to Settings>General>Background app refresh and switch it to off. Alternatively, you can choose certain apps to have background data if they are essential.

Get a local sim

If you are going to be in a country for an extended amount of country - maybe three weeks or so - and can’t bear to be without your phone, you can pick up a local SIM card and use that to access calls and data.

WhatsApp for example gives you the option of keeping your regular number for conversations if you put a new sim card in your phone.

If you are somewhere where you are being charged for each incoming calls, you can cut down on costs here too. The simplest way to do this is to forward your calls to the local sim you bought for your extended trip. But depending on where you are, that could prove expensive, because your home mobile network provider will charge each forwarded call as an international call, along with the associated charges.

That’s where something like Skype can come in. If you buy a Skype number for your home country (cost: €7 for a month), you can set up your calls to divert from your home mobile number to the Skype number. From there, you have two choices. If your temporary phone has unlimited data and you’re confident you’ll have decent data coverage, you can take calls through the Skype app on your smartphone. If you want to stick with regular calling, you can forward the Skype calls through to your temporary mobile number. You’ll need to buy Skype credit to do this. The cost varies depending where in the world your temporary mobile is, but if it’s a US phone, it’s 2.9 US cents per minute with a 5.9 cent connection fee. If you’ll be getting a lot of calls, you can add unlimited minutes to US number for €3.69 per month.

To get a Skype number, go to Skype.com, and select Skype Number from the menu. You can select a local Irish number from anywhere around the country. Make a note of the number you have been allocated.

To forward your home mobile phone to the Skype number on iOS smartphones, go to Settings, scroll down to Phone and under Calls, select Call Forwarding. Put in your Skype number.

On Android, it can vary depending on the manufacturer or version of Android you are using. On Samsung the easiest way is to go to the phone app, select the three dots in the top right corner, the Settings> More Settings. Huawei owners will find it under Settings>Wireless and Networks. Otherwise just do a search for Call Forwarding, switch it on and put in your Skype number, along with country code and local code.

If you are somewhere with decent data coverage, you can use the Skype number to take calls on your smartphone once you have the app installed on your smartphone. But if not, there is another step you can add - forwarding your Skype calls to your temporary local mobile number.

Go to your Skype account online and tell the service to forward your Skype number to your temporary mobile number. Scroll down to Manage Features, then choose Call Forwarding and Voicemail, and activate call forwarding. You can choose how quickly the forward kicks in. Then put in your temporary mobile number.

Just don’t forget to take it off when you return home.