+ Thursday June 27th, 2019

Vodafone has commissioned a bit of research about international roaming, and it reached some unsurprising conclusions; international roaming is still expensive, people use it too much without doing simple things to save costs, and people are taking extreme steps to avoid bill shock.

The research conducted by YouGov Galaxy revealed that Australians have spent around $1.4bn in international roaming fees. With that figure, it’s no surprise that 63% of mobile users are concerned about their mobile costs while overseas, and almost 1.5 million Aussies have left their smartphone at home when they go overseas to avoid nasty bills.

There’s some other interesting findings too:

  • 5  million Aussies (41% of smartphone owners) have been hit with international roaming fees.
  • Gen X (51%) and Millennials (45%) are much more likely to have been charged fees than Baby Boomers (29%)
  • The average international roaming fee per person is $290, which equates to more than $1.4 billion in fees.
  • Around 250,000 Aussies claim to have paid more than $1,000 in international roaming fees.

What options are there?

These findings are kind of surprising, because each of the three major Australian carriers offers roaming packages which can significantly cut the cost of taking your mobile overseas. Vodafone spruiks its Red Roaming service – which for $5 a day allows customers to use their call, SMS and data inclusions overseas without any other restriction – but of course you’d expect they would.

Telstra offers an International Day Pass for $10 a day for unlimited calls and SMS, and 200MB data per day which – from personal experience – would suit me just fine for probably 75% of the days I spend overseas. Optus offers a similarly priced Travel Pack for $10 a day, but it only includes 100MB per day.

Regardless of which of these options you choose, I wouldn’t describe any of them especially cheap. Even a modest trip overseas can cost $35 or more on Vodafone, and that same trip would be at least $70 on Telstra or Optus.

There’s another catch. Vodafone’s roaming data – which relatively cheap – is routed to the Internet via Australia. In many countries, this can be very slow, and better yet, some countries only offer 3G roaming which can be even slower. Even in countries where Vodafone has a presence, roaming isn’t necessarily available. It’s a good offering, but it’s not a panacea.

What about something cheaper?

Almost always, you will be better off buying a SIM card and a prepaid service locally when travelling. Not only are these almost always cheaper than Australian equivalents, but they’re almost always faster than using roaming data anyway.

For Mobile World each year, we often buy a local Orange SIM for €15 (or around $24.42 AUD) which will easily last us the duration of the conference. In France recently, that same price got us a SIM on the local major carrier which offered exceptional speed for the entire trip.

Yes, buying a local SIM means you’re often without your Australian mobile number, but there’s ways around this, too:

  • If you’ve got an old phone, stick your Australian SIM in that, turn off data and roaming, and just use it to receive emergency calls / SMS when overseas. On most carriers, this won’t cost you much of anything.
  • If you’ve got a dual SIM phone, buy a SIM at your destination and stick that in your phone, and use it for data needs.
  • WhatsApp, Telegram, and many other messaging apps which use your mobile number aren’t tied to your local SIM – you can use these services with any SIM, provided you can receive a verification code (easy enough without enabling roaming data).

While Vodafone’s Red Roaming deal is a great offer, it’s far from being the only or most affordable way to access data overseas.

Vodafone’s research is a timely reminder that you should:

  1. Contact your telco before you go to check what options you have for roaming overseas.
  2. Pre plan – either:
    1. Purchase roaming packs or if you are a Vodafone post-paid customer, take advantage of $5 Roaming and add this cost to your holiday budget so that you don’t any nasty surprises.
    2. Do some research on local mobile costs at your destination, and save some money.
  3. Use your smartphone or telco provider app to track your data usage.
  4. Be aware of apps such as maps that use location services which are heavy on data use. If you’re using Google Maps, switch on WiFi before you go and download some offline maps.
  5. Use trusted Wi-Fi such as the network at your accommodation to conserve your data. In most tourist destinations, WiFi is literally everywhere and often free.

 

Rachel Rowland   Associate

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Rachel is a freelance reporter and photographer who often helps Ausdroid fill in gaps in coverage. She's attended a number of events for Ausdroid, including the world's largest mobile trade show, Mobile World Congress.

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Scott
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Scott

I reckon having local cellular coverage is a must in most places, being able to organise a ride share an electric scooter or a bike share without having to rely on finding an accessible WiFi network is pretty critical. Let alone navigation once you’re on your way. In most of Asia I use the local sim card option and it’s usually cheap and easy. A lot of carriers in Asian countries have specific one week to two week traveller / tourist pre-paid sims that have plenty of data for things like maps and WhatsApp while out and about. Plus they… Read more »

Bobby B
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Bobby B

A good point about Vodafone roaming by routing through Aus. servers is that it allows you to use all services you would be able to at home (ie: nothing blocked in China).

Also good for banking services etc that might trigger from the use of an overseas number/server route.

Chris Rowland
Ausdroid Director

This is one of the advantages of Vodafone’s roaming, but equally (as we understand it) this isn’t limited to their roaming; each carrier is the same.

Kevin
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Kevin

We found to our cost that using maps is a big drain on data – basically don’t use it unless you have an offline copy. The problem is (on the Optus $10 deal anyway) that by the time you realise you have gone over your quota, you are already racking up a pretty hefty bill. One small trip (around 100km) on one day not only used up the data for that day, but also $60 worth of excess charges !

Chris Rowland
Ausdroid Director

Yep, that 100MB allowance on Optus is not even worth having. With a tiny allowance like that, you need a phone where you can turn off background data entirely (most allow you to do this), and you’d want to have your maps thoroughly downloaded for offline use in advance.

Phill Edwards
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Phill Edwards

One of the hardest issues is how to get your Aussie text messages when you buy a local SIM overseas. This becomes a major drama when you’re trying to log into something and it sends you a code via SMS.
I’ve recently set up an IFTTT recipe which sends a copy of text messages to my email. So next time I’ll leave my SIM in a phone at home but check my emails for any text messages.

Chris Rowland
Ausdroid Director

That’s a very clever workaround Phill. You can, usually, receive SMS overseas at no cost without activating roaming data. That phone you leave at home you could probably just take with you, but I guess it means carrying a second phone.

Scott
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Scott

If you do a lot of travel where it makes sense to buy a local sim card, you can still get mid range phones for not too much cash that that are dual sim, but can take two sim cards AS WELL, as an SD card for storage. I use boost which doesn’t have international roaming, but since it’s still basically a telstra sim will connect to a local partner carrier and I continue to receive SMS at no cost. Much of the Motorola line like the Moto G6 is like this. It’s a great option, but I also really… Read more »

Wayne Moore
Ausdroid Reader

I think Vodafone’s deal is OK. I mean sure, if you’re travelling for 2/3/4 weeks it can add up but if you’re smart you probably don’t need to trigger roaming every day. We’re going to the UK and Ireland later in the year for 3 weeks and I’ll probably activate roaming for 12-14 days our of 21. My wife will probably activate 4-5 days (on other days she can tether off me). When with family we will hang off their wifi. So $80-100 for the trip versus the convenience of unlimited calls and large amounts of data. I’m happy with… Read more »

Chris Rowland
Ausdroid Director

That’s a good way to look at it Wayne, very true.

We’ve used Vodafone Red Roaming extensively in the past, but more recently we’ve found the experience less and less useful. Personally, I use a dual-SIM phone, so it’s academic for me to buy a cheap local SIM with a tonne of data for far, far less than $80 to $100 for a trip.

Matty
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Matty

You actually don’t realise how much we rely on our phones for everything until you go overseas and are limited to 100-200mb a day. It’s painful. Just a quick google maps direction and already you start getting notifications that you have used 50% of your limit. Whenever you found a wifi spot it was like finding water in a desert.

Chris Rowland
Ausdroid Director

This can certainly be the case; however, if you’re using offline maps, you do save an awful lot of data. Even when I’ve travelled with Vodafone Red Roaming, I use offline maps to save data and also to make sure the maps are loaded – roaming data is always slow, and if you’re in a hurry to get somewhere, you don’t want to be waiting for maps to load. That said, Telstra’s 200MB a day is really, really close to being completely pointless. The good thing, I guess, is that you can pretty much get away without roaming data if… Read more »

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