Inside travel How to cut costs when phoning home

Using your mobile abroad doesn't have to incur heavy charges, says David Phelan

Taking your phone abroad with you is a no-brainer: a text message lets your family know you've arrived safely; an emailed photo of the beach makes your colleagues jealous; and, of course, you can be contacted quickly in an emergency.

The old rip-offs perpetrated by outrageous hotel phone rates can also be avoided if you use your own phone. But although "roaming" – using your phone overseas – sounds relaxed and carefree, it can be costly. The way many people get around this is by taking a laptop and headset, and using Skype.

Whether you're in the centre of Funchal, Madeira (with free Wi-Fi throughout), or at an internet café in Bali, you can talk to anyone else with a Skype connection for free. You can also dial landlines in the UK for only a penny or two per minute, although calls to mobiles are higher.

However, when you are on the move, you'll probably want to use your own mobile. So what do you need to know to make sure phoning home doesn't incur an ET-sized bill?

First, check before you travel that you can use your phone overseas. If your phone isn't activated for roaming, or it is incompatible with the local system, it just won't work. Networks in countries such as Japan work with some handsets but not all – you'll need a 3G handset here, as the frequencies used in the older 2G handsets aren't compatible with those in Japan.

Second, remember that you pay to receive as well as make calls abroad. Calls made in the EU are capped at 36.6p per minute, and 11.5p per minute to receive calls. Check with your network before you go to see if there are roaming bundles to save you money.

Voicemail services can be useful while travelling, but aren't free to retrieve, as they often are in the UK. Also, if you haven't set up voicemail before you go, you may find you can't do it from overseas. Consider asking friends to send you texts instead – they're free to pick up. Alternatively, try HulloMail, a free service for many smartphones which sends your voicemails as emails containing MP3 files ( hullomail.com).

It isn't just calls and texts that cost more abroad. Data, for smartphone users, costs a lot. If in doubt, make sure Data Roaming on your handset is off. If your phone regularly checks email without your knowing, the costs will mount. The EU recently insisted that networks impose a data limit of €50 a month. When you hit this limit you can request for it to be raised.

Orange has launched a new mobile internet browsing bundle for use abroad in the EU. It offers 30MB per day for £3. If you don't use any data, you won't get charged that day, but if you use any at all, then the full fee applies. With T-Mobile you must buy a Euro Internet Booster for internet access. There's a series of boosters ranging from £1 for 3MB to use in a day, to £10 for 50MB to use in a month. Vodafone's Data Traveller offers 25MB a day. It is free on price plans over £40 a month, or £2 a day for cheaper tariffs and pay-as-you-go customers. O2 charges just over £3 per MB, but there's a maximum charge of £40 a month. If your spending hits £40 you can continue to use data until you reach a total of 50MB without extra charges. These rates will be higher outside Europe.

Some smartphones have apps for free voice calls through the internet, though again a Wi-Fi hotspot is needed and not all apps work internationally. Skype is available for iPhone, Android and BlackBerry handsets but to use it outside a Wi-Fi zone varies according to phone and network. Remember that as well as the cost of the Skype call, you'll be using your data allowance. (Skype advises using your laptop in a Wi-Fi area when abroad.)

T-Mobile BlackBerry users can buy unlimited email access for £15.32 a month. If you have an Apple iPhone, iPad or iPod touch, you can use it to make free video calls, called FaceTime, providing both parties are in a wireless hotspot and have compatible Apple equipment.

If you wish to use your mobile as you would at home – to book local restaurants and so on – then consider buying a local SIM card. Pick up a pay-as-you-go card at your destination – typically around €10 – and take an old phone to put it in (check the handset is unlocked to work with any network).

You can buy Spanish or French SIMs from www.0044.co.uk, where you can also opt for a Global SIM card which allows you to receive free calls in 70 countries. It can do this because of the way calls are routed and the type of commercial agreement smaller networks have with international roaming partners.

Finally, remember that using your smartphone as a SatNav works well, but most systems download maps on the go, so data costs can spiral. Nokia and HTC phone users can download maps for free before they travel.

As smartphones work as ebook readers, games consoles, cameras, music players and more, it's often hard to leave them at home. Provided you take care with call and data costs, your smartphone can also be useful on your travels – and save some luggage space, too.

Thanks a bundle

* Vodafone's Passport scheme is free to join and works for 35 countries. You pay 75p to connect each call and the cost is then charged at UK rates – it can even come out of your inclusive monthly minutes. If you receive a call, you pay 75p and the call is free for up to 60 minutes. If you tend to make and receive only short calls in Europe, this will not be to your advantage.

* T-Mobile's Euro Talk and Text Booster costs £5.10 but offers a travel allowance of £7.50 – in other words, you get a 30 per cent discount. Many T-Mobile customers can opt to have one of a range of Boosters included in their monthly tariff.

* Orange has bundles including Euro Traveller. For £5.10 you can make 200 minutes of calls at the rate of 27.4p per minute and receive the same amount of calls free. Pay-as-you-go callers can buy 30 minutes of calls for £5.

* O2's My Europe Extra costs £10.21 and offers a call rate of 25p per minute. It's free to receive calls too, up to a total 1,000 minutes of made and received calls in a month.

* Three has no bundles.

Sport
sportGareth Bale, Carl Froch and Kelly Gallagher also in the mix for award
News
Japan's Suntory Beverage & Food has bought GlaxoSmithKline's Lucozade and Ribena
news
News
A tongue-eating louse (not the one Mr Poli found)
newsParasitic louse appeared inside unfilleted sea bass
Sport
Nathaniel Clyne celebrates after salvaging a point with the Southampton equaliser
footballAston Villa vs Southampton report
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Out and about: for 'Glee' character Bert Hummel, having a gay son was a learning curve
lifeEven 'cool' parents need help parenting gay teens
News
peopleJack Monroe accuses David Cameron of 'misty-eyed rhetoric'
News
The illusionist believes hypnotism helped him to deal with the lack of control he felt growing up
people
News
Tana Ramsay gave evidence in a legal action in which her husband, Gordon, is accusing her father, Christopher Hutcheson, of using a ghost writer machine to “forge” his signature
peopleTana Ramsay said alleged discovery was 'extremely distressing'
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Windsor and Aljaz Skorjanec rehearse their same-sex dance together on Strictly Come Dancing
TV
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Money
Anyone over the age of 40 seeking a loan with a standard term of 25 years will be borrowing beyond a normal retirement age of 65, and is liable to find their options restricted
propertyAnd it's even worse if you're 40
Arts and Entertainment
Perhaps longest awaited is the adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road with Brazil’s Walter Salles directing and Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart and Viggo Mortensen as the Beat-era outsiders
books
Arts and Entertainment
theatreSinger to join cast of his Broadway show after The Last Ship flounders at the box office
Life and Style
fashion'To start singing with Pharrell is not that bad, no?'
News
news
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Investigo: Group Financial Controller

    £50000 - £55000 per annum: Investigo: A growing group of top end restaurants l...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Excellent opportunities are available for par...

    Investigo: IT Auditor

    £60000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits : Investigo: A global leading travel busi...

    Recruitment Genius: Chef De Partie x 2

    £16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This charming and contemporary ...

    Day In a Page

    In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

    Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

    Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
    The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

    The young are the new poor

    Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
    Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

    Greens on the march

    ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

    Through the stories of his accusers
    Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

    The Meaning of Mongol

    Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible