Angie’s List: Avoiding Data Charges Overseas

Texting a friend or family member with a change in dinner plans or using an app for directions to a new destination is pretty common when you’re home and texts are unlimited in your phone package, but those habits can cost you big when you travel abroad.

We are constantly on our phones. Some of us never turn them off. And that can be a costly mistake when traveling abroad.

“You want to be sure that you check with your cell phone carrier to understand the charges associated with your phone and your data plan when you’re out of the country because it’s not unusual for people to actually rack up hundreds of dollars of extra unexpected expense," Angie Hicks says.

“Even checking an email here or there or uploading a photo to Instagram can really be pretty costly when you actually calculate it out," world traveler Davis Webb says.

David Webb knows. He purchased an international travel plan for $40 for his two-week vacation to Iceland, but opening just a handful of work emails had a dramatic effect on his final bill.

“Instead of being 40 dollars, I think it was closer to 250 because it’s just the… smallest of increments, basically, is where it will jump up and it will charge you like 25 dollars per so much data, and it’s just such a small amount," Webb says.

Before your trip, spend some time on your phone carrier’s website to see what plans they offer for international travel. Determine how much data you think you’ll need, and then be disciplined about your usage.

“Prepare accordingly. Go to these web sites, take a look at the wireless travel tips, take a look at the different package options that we offer, and then really figure out what you’re going to be utilizing when you are traveling abroad," says Benjamin Linder of AT&T.

The most obvious way to save is to simply turn off your phone, but if you can’t do that, at least turn off your data roaming by putting it in “airplane mode.” You can also change your mail settings to “fetch” rather than “push” email to your inbox and disable automatic downloads and app updates.

Angie recommends checking your data usage history to estimate how much you’ll need to buy in an international plan, and to avoid streaming content unless you get unlimited data. Use the Wi-Fi at your hotel or resort to share photos and check email. Even if you have to pay a daily rate, it will be cheaper than using the data in your plan.