data roaming

How to avoid excessive roaming charges while on vacation


You’re on vacation…but if you’re like me, your cell phone sure isn’t! It always blows me away when friends take long trips and never post a single picture or check email the entire time. I just can’t ‘turn off’ like that. The second the plane hits the runway, I’m wondering if it’s okay to turn on the Wi-Fi!

The thing about staying connected on vacation is, you can expose yourself to some serious roaming charges while abroad, especially if you’re a person who normally gets a lot of texts or uses a lot of data. Here’s how to protect yourself from racking up a huge bill…which is the last thing you want on your relaxing vacation!

How roaming works

Roaming allows your cell phone to work outside of your service provider’s coverage area (i.e., outside of Canada). But even if you’re determined not to use your phone a lot while on vacation, roaming fees can add up fast because they can apply even when your phone is not in use, just turned on! That’s because apps are working in the background, sending and receiving data. And of course, roaming charges apply to actual phone use like calls, SMS and MMS. Service providers and charges vary, so you’ll want to check with yours to find out what exactly you’d be on the hook for.

You’re not without defense against this; you will get a message from your service provider notifying you that roaming is in effect. Now what?

Prevent your phone from roaming

Of course, you could just shut off your phone! But whoa – the minute you take it out of your theft proof backpack and turn it on for emergencies or to use maps, translator etc., you could be deluged with data, all of which subjects you to roaming charges. Instead, turn off your data roaming so it can’t connect to networks. This will still allow you to talk and text on your own network – though you won’t be able to get online.

Each operating system has its own way to disable data roaming, but it’s an easy procedure. Usually it will involve going to your Settings and tapping the Data Roaming slider into the Off position. If you’re in doubt as to whether you have really disabled roaming or not, just google ‘disable roaming on my iPhone’ or a similar search, to get a step by step tutorial.

A better way to roam

The above instructions will save you money – especially if you’ll be staying in a hotel or resort where Wi-Fi is readily available for a daily rate, in which case you won’t be without the internet on your trip. Unfortunately for me, turning off data is still too extreme, especially with the spotty Wi-Fi at many destinations. There has to be a better way! And you know what…there is.

Most cell phone service providers offer a special travel roaming service! On the Telus network, for example, it’s called Easy Roam. For a flat fee of $7 per day in the US and $10 per day internationally, you can use your phone to your heart’s content with no roaming fees! Other alternatives exist as well, such as flat rate travel passes that are basically like buying an additional cell phone plan; your existing minutes, data etc. are not touched.

These add-ons can make it more than worthwhile to post that bikini selfie and stay in touch with friends and family when you’re on vacation – if that’s what you like to do.

One day maybe I will turn the phone off altogether and just be completely in the moment…maybe. In the meantime, I’m lucky if my phone ever makes it into my theft proof backpack. I’m too busy staring at it!

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