Avoid costly cell phone charges while traveling abroad


For Lee Frankel, the world is his office. He introduces college students to the beauty of places like London and Madrid. But incoming pictures and messages from his family back home delivered costly cell charges during a recent business trip to Canada.

"I could hear in my pocket my 'ding, ding, ding' as the texts kept coming in and the photos kept coming in," said Frankel.

For more than 20 cute pictures of his son, Frankel was charged close to $70 in roaming fees, even though he never even opened the pictures when he was abroad.

"I don't think it's fair. I think the fees are exorbitant. I've been given the excuse that they have to pay the cell phone provider abroad to use their network," said Frankel.

If your cell phone is on, your data is still being delivered. And since you are out of the country, consider the comforts of your home data plan deported. Even if you never use your phone, you're being charged international roaming fees for any incoming data.

"It can be shocking. Consumers have their phones on, they think will if I don't take an email or if I don't look at my IMs, I'm not going to incur any roaming fees. But they do and in some cases we've seen bills in the upwards of hundreds of dollars," said Rod Davis, Senior Vice President of Enterprise Programs for the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

"There was one particular complaint that was over $65,000. That's more than a lot of people make in a whole year," said Mindel de la Torre, chief of the International Bureau at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The FCC and the Better Business Bureau plan to work with cell phone companies to prevent bill shock.

"I think it would be very helpful to have a certain document that they were able to send out to consumers in every case just outlining exactly how the international coverage works," said Davis.

Here are some actions you can take:

  • Have your cell phone company turn off your data while you're gone
  • Rent a phone or buy a SIM card from the country you are visiting so that you are charged their local rates
  • Look into international plans

"Go over the examples, you know, put it in plain English. If this happens, what's the cost? If this happens, what's the cost? Find that out upfront," said Davis.

Remember to always get your plan in writing to avoid costly cell charges. If you end up slammed with extra charges, try to negotiate a credit or a refund -- some companies have been good about that in the past.

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