Mobile broadband abroad: How to roam without racking up big bills

ByAnthony Hill
Man on the phone and using a laptop on the beach

Can’t live without the internet? We don’t believe you should have to. But if you’re travelling abroad, whether for business or holiday, it can be expensive to use your phone or tablet overseas. Here's all you need to know before jetting off...

Paying extra to use your phone abroad

Mobile 'roaming' charges, especially for data, have come down a lot since mobile internet became more widespread with the rise of smartphones and tablets. But while prices within the EU have dropped a long way, if you're heading further afield you could get stung quite badly if you don't take necessary steps to reduce your costs.

The price you'll pay for your mobile broadband abroad will depend on your network provider's charges, as well as the country you're travelling to. 

Woman using mobile phone at the airport

How expensive is mobile data roaming?  

You'll normally be charged a fixed amount per 1MB of data you use, but most networks also offer bundled add-ons that can help you keep your costs down.

Visit your mobile provider's website for more details:

Pay-as-you-go mobile broadband

Because of the high cost of going online abroad, many pay-as-you-go mobile broadband dongles have to be activated for roaming before you can use them overseas.

If your provider offers a data roaming bundle, you should enquire about whether you need to buy this before you leave, or if you can simply purchase a data bundle abroad whenever and wherever you need to connect.

Data roaming bundles mean you essentially use your mobile broadband on a pay-as-you-go basis abroad, only topping up your roaming allowance when you need to.

You'll be charged at your network's standard rate once your bundle has run out, which can become very expensive - so be sure to keep track of how much data you're using. 

Man using his mobile phone in the swimming pool

Capping costs in the EU  

Legislation capping the cost of using mobile internet while travelling within the EU came into force in July 2010. The EU rules mean providers must take measures to prevent a "bill shock" situation. Most will do this by cutting you off once your usage hits €50.

Should you need to use more data, you can increase the cut-off point by contacting your network provider. You can also lower the threshold if the thought of spending up to €50 on data makes you not want to leave the house, let alone the country.

At present, not all mobile broadband providers allow iPad customers to use 3G overseas. So even if you have the 3G model and the appropriate sim installed, you will still only be able to use Wi-Fi to go online when you're abroad.

Recent legislation has gone further to stop the "bill shock" scenario - read more

Using your tablet abroad

Anyone with a tablet will tell you just how good they are for checking mail and surfing the web - but they'll also tell go on about how much fun it is playing Candy Crush or Angry Birds on the move.

But travelling with a tablet actually poses a new set of connectivity problems as most apps do in fact use/need the internet in some form or another.

This makes it easy to use lots of data without even realising it. Certain apps will also run in the background, steadily eating into your download allowance.

The advice below should help you keep costs down when using your iPad/tablet abroad. 

Man sitting down with iPad

Connect to Wi-Fi wherever you can  

No matter which provider you're with - or if you don't have a 3G iPad - you may be able to use Wi-Fi while travelling overseas with your iPad.

Many hotels now offer free wireless broadband when you check-in, while coffee shops, bars and restaurants across the globe are increasingly kitted out with similar services.

Using Wi-Fi wherever possible means you can save your data for when you're not in range of a hotspot. As well as usually being free to use, Wi-Fi can normally provide a more stable and often a faster connection than 3G networks.

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