Spam Data Charges Abroad: How to Avoid Them

If you’re one of the millions of Americans planning to travel abroad this summer after two years in which the COVID-19 pandemic slowed travel, that won’t be good news.

Travelers have reported that their mobile carriers have hit them with multiple mysterious international data charges of $10 per day. And this happened even after turning off their cellular data and only using Wi-Fi for calls and texts.

“Didn’t receive/make any calls or texts, and had ‘Mobile Data’ turned off all the time,” read a typical complaint on a Verizon message board. “My phone somehow used 65MB of data” – resulting in nine $10 charges.

Another cellphone user says he “completely turned off cellular data on both of our iPhones…However, even on days when we didn’t make or receive phone calls or send text messages, one of our phones or both were affected” by daily charges.

Others have described being charged similar mystery fees even when they haven’t traveled overseas. People traveling near the US-Canada border have reported that their phones have somehow tripped antennas in Canada, triggering unexpected international charges.

Travelers “should be worried about that because it doesn’t work in our favor unless you’re on top of it,” says Jackie Nourse, travel planner and founder of The Budget-Minded Traveler blog, who says avoiding the High cell phone bills are a main concern for many travelers.

To avoid these charges, first make sure you understand what your phone company offers. Verizon offers a daily TravelPass that extends your normal plan for a 24-hour period for $5 in Mexico and Canada or $10 in most other countries. AT&T offers a similar International Day Pass, which costs $10 for 24 hours. Some AT&T plans have free service in Mexico and Canada, but at slower data speeds.

Once you add them to your phone plans, daily charges apply automatically whenever you use international calls, texts or data.

But keep in mind that 24-hour sessions can be triggered unexpectedly, even by a refreshing app, software update, or email sync.

Some people have reported that their daily passes are triggered even when their phone’s cellular data is turned off and they set their device to Wi-Fi.

To completely avoid unexpected charges, set your phone to airplane mode.

Depending on your phone, switching to Airplane Mode may cause your Wi-Fi connection to drop. If this happens, you’ll need to reconnect to Wi-Fi once you’re sure Airplane Mode is on and cellular data is off.

“Just turn everything off,” says Nourse, who recommends using airplane mode and Wi-Fi, which is available in many places abroad.

She says she uses WhatsApp to communicate with friends and family and downloads maps from if she is planning a day trip where there may not be a good wifi connection. fi.

The third major US carrier, T-Mobile, has a different setup from Verizon and AT&T. Although it depends on its plans, most of its customers get free international roaming and unlimited texting and data, although this may be at slower speeds. Calls abroad are billed at the rate of 25 cents per minute.

T-Mobile users can add unlimited calling and high-speed data to select phone plans for $5 a day, $35 for 10 days, or $50 for 30 days.

There is another way to save on mobile phones abroad: get a new number. If you are going abroad for more than a month, remember to get a local SIM card when you arrive. If you have an unlocked cell phone, getting a local SIM card will cost around $20 for a month of cellular data.

The downside is that you’ll get a new phone number, which could be a problem if people need to reach you or if you need your old number for two-factor authentications.

Chicago speechwriter Kristin Boeke-Greven was wary of high cellphone charges after her parents racked up hundreds of dollars in data charges when they thought they were on Wi-Fi while on a cruise. She was therefore particularly careful when she traveled to Costa Rica in November with her architect husband for a three-week working holiday.

She says the $10-a-day pass offered by her carrier came in handy when their rental location’s spotty Wi-Fi failed. She used her phone to create a personal hotspot and held meetings on Zoom and Microsoft Teams without a hitch.

“It saved the day from a work perspective when the internet wasn’t working,” she says of the day pass.

Boeke-Greven says people need to find ways to avoid unnecessary phone charges as travelers rely on their cellphones to get around, stay in touch with family and work, check in for flights, book hotels and navigate.

“We rely on him for everything,” she says, “the same way we use him here at home.”