Take a holiday from overpriced mobile call charges overseas

Charges for phone calls from foreign parts are set to fall but you need to take action now, says James Daley
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The Independent Online

odafone and T-Mobile this week announced they plan to cut charges for both making and receiving calls on your mobile when overseas. "Roaming" charges - payable when your phone roams on to another network while you're abroad - are set to fall by up to 50 per cent.

O2, Orange and Three, the UK's other mobile networks, are certain to follow in the months ahead, because the European Commission is set to crack down on international mobile call charges. An EC consultation on proposals to outlaw high charges closes this weekend, with new laws expected to follow shortly.

That charges will fall is good news. But only T-Mobile is reducing prices straight away. Vodafone's cuts don't take effect until next year, and the others have still to announce their plans. So if you regularly use your phone while abroad, you need to take action to keep call charges down.

The most obvious strategy is to change network - or the tariff on your existing network. T-Mobile's new rates come into force at the start of next month: customers will be charged 55p a minute for most calls made from abroad - in Europe and North America - while the rate for receiving calls will fall to 50p.

If international call charges make up a significant chunk of your bill, it may be worth switching to T-Mobile to take advantage of these price cuts. Its prices for calls to and from the US, in particular, are now especially competitive.

"Prices are usually pushed up abroad because of charges levied by the foreign network, and in the US and Canada these are particularly high," says Anthony Ball, of Onecompare.com, the price comparison service. "T-Mobile has its own giant network over there, so it can keep prices right down."

If Europe is your more usual destination, Vodafone may be a better bet, especially if you make longer calls. Its customers can reduce call charges dramatically by registering, free of charge, for its Passport service. With Passport, all calls are subject to a 75p connection fee, after which you pay your regular UK rate. You can even use free minutes if you are on a contract.

Vodafone and 02 customers can also get cheaper overseas calls by signing up to the networks' international Call Saver packages. This costs £2.50 a month on top of your existing tariff for Vodafone customers and £2.99 for O2 customers.

Once you have the right tariff, use your phone smartly. While your phone automatically picks up the signal from your network provider at home, when you're abroad it will pick up signals from different providers. Your UK network may have cheaper deals with some of these than others.

For example, if you're a UK Vodafone customer travelling in France, you'll get a much cheaper rate if your phone is on the SFR network than if it's using Bouygues or Orange. Most phones are set up to choose networks automatically but, by going into your phone settings, you can manually choose the network you want. Check with your provider if you need help.

Similarly, as it costs to receive calls as well as to make them when you're overseas, tell people to stick to text messages until you get home. Sending texts home will cost you slightly more than they would in the UK, but this is a cheaper way of communicating than making a call.

Finally, note that listening to your voicemail can cost a fortune when you're overseas. And most people don't realise they will also be charged to receive a text or call notifying them of a message. If your messages can wait till you get home, turn off your voicemail diverts when you go away.

Buy a local SIM card before you travel to pay local charges

* Several independent companies now sell SIM cards that you buy before you go abroad: these guarantee you cheaper call charges because they put you on to the local mobile phone network in the country to which you're headed.

* Costs are often 50 per cent cheaper or more for calling home, and the savings are even greater if you're making calls within the country you're staying. Plus there is no charge for receiving calls.

* All the major UK providers of this service charge £30 to buy the SIM, with which you get between £10 and £15 of call credit. You can then top up your credit as and when you need it on the internet, over the phone, or by buying vouchers at retailers. Anthony Ball of Onecompare says 0044.co. uk and sim4travel.com are two of the best suppliers, depending on where you're headed.

* You don't need a new phone for this service - you simply insert the new SIM card into your existing handset. However, you will have a different phone number for receiving calls while you're away.

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