Lower the cost of using your mobile abroad

30 June 2008

Whether it’s sending a “wish you were here” text, or making an emergency phone call, using your mobile abroad is something many of us can’t avoid. But there is a danger that you could return home to find a massive phone bill waiting for you.

The deadline has now passed for mobile phone firms to slash the price customers are charged for sending text messages in member countries of the European Union. If they do not comply, a new law may be introduced to force them to cut costs.

In the meantime, if you are planning to pack your mobile on your summer holiday, follow these tips to ensure you don’t end up paying through the nose for the pleasure.

1. Before you set off on your trip, contact your mobile provider to ensure that you are able to use your phone abroad. You should also check that your handset will work correctly in your destination.

2. While you are on the phone, find out what sending texts and making calls will cost. Don't assume that the price of calls made abroad are included in your contractual package. To make sure you are getting the best deal, Ofcom recommends you check international packagers offered by operators before you travel.

3. However, Ofcom also points out that the pan-European tariff, Eurotariff (see below), which has helped to reduce the cost of calls, only applies to voice calls, not to texting and data downloads. It is available from all operators, across most European countries but is not available in Switzerland, Turkey or Croatia.

4. Think before you check your voice messages – this will often cost as much as making a call to the UK. To avoid the temptation, switch your voicemail off before you depart.

5. Using your phone to connect to the internet abroad can cost significantly more than it does at home. Using an interest café might be cheaper.

6. If you are an extended trip abroad, then investing in a local SIM card that is compatible with your handset could be the cheapest way of making local calls.

7. If you lose your phone, or it is stolen, then alert your provider as soon as possible as you may be liable for the cost of calls made.

Know your rights

There are a number of Ofcom regulations that all mobile phone operators must adhere to:

1. Operators are obliged to provide their customers with clear and up-to-date roaming charges and tariffs. They must also give customers additional information on request and free of charge via text or free phone call on the per-minute or per-unit charges for downloading data and give clear information on the cost of making calls abroad

2. When you travel between European Union member states, your operator must automatically send a free message with information on charges for making and receiving calls. It must also provide a free of charge number for obtaining more detailed information.

3. Mobile operators must offer a standard Eurotariff for customers travelling to EU member states. They cannot charge more than 49 euro per minute to make a call and 24 euro per minute to receive a call. Ofcom says this has led to an average reduction in charges of more than 50%.

4. Eurotariff is now the default tariff for most customers, but you can request to switch to or from the Eurotariff at any time. Operators must switch the customer within one day.

5. If your mobile is lost or stolen you must contact your operator as soon as possible. Ofcom says operators generally refund call costs if a stolen phone is reported lost within 24 hours – but be aware that they are not obliged to.

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