How to reduce data roaming charges

If your users travel internationally, they can rack up some serious roaming bills. Five easy changes can reduce data roaming charges significantly.

If your users travel internationally for work, you know how expensive the mobile voice and data roaming charges

can be. These five easy tips can help your company reduce data roaming charges significantly.

The costs of making phone calls and using data networks domestically are included in users' monthly fee, so users may not realize how many applications -- social media apps, email, navigation and more -- connect to the Internet from startup. Internationally, the data charges for apps running in the background can get out of control quickly. If users make phone calls, data roaming charges can easily cost more than $2 per minute.

If your company is footing the bill, it's important that users be aware of the charges they may be incurring, and that they make these efforts to reduce data roaming charges:

Wi-Fi

If someone sends you a photo while you're abroad and you download it over a data network, that picture alone can cost $30 or more. Using Wi-Fi is a good way to avoid such high data roaming charges. Many commercial hot spots charge a daily access fee of about $10, which provides all-day Internet access, as long as the user is within reach of the selected hotspot. Some mobile providers offer worldwide access to their own Wi-Fi hotspots and those of their partners. If your provider doesn't offer international Wi-Fi, you might consider a service such as Boingo that will give you access to a broad range of hot spots all over the world for a fixed monthly rate.

Local SIM cards

One way to reduce data roaming charges if you're only visiting one country on your trip is to buy a local SIM card or even a local phone. Prepaid SIM cards are available for low prices all over the world. If you go for this option, make sure that your SIM card will cover you for data expenses as well. You'll get a different phone number with the SIM card, so it isn't a good option if your customers need to reach you. But if you're only going to be calling business partners, you can just hand out your foreign number. Before leaving for your trip, make sure that your phone doesn't have a SIM lock, which prevents you from using SIM cards from providers other than your own. Some phones have a dual SIM card slot so that you can use both your regular SIM card as well as the local SIM card of the country that you're travelling to.

International plans

Many providers offer international plans that can reduce data roaming charges. You should look into the terms of what exactly your wireless carrier will offer you and in which countries. Some providers' international plans are not that cheap, while others are a great value. For example, Vodafone, a European wireless provider, offers business subscription rates that allow you to call for the local rate in all countries where Vodafone operates. But again, make sure to check the terms before getting an international access plan.

VoIP

If you're connected to a Wi-Fi hotspot, you can use a Voice over IP (VoIP) application to make phone calls instead of using the mobile voice network. Apps such as Skype and FaceTime allow you to make voice and video calls for a few cents a minute, instead of incurring high data roaming charges. VoIP is good for making phone calls, but it isn't great for receiving phone calls, because you can't use your regular phone number. Also, make sure only to use VoIP while on a Wi-Fi hotspot. Using VoIP on a data network can be incredibly expensive.

Turn off roaming

The best option to cut expenses is to switch off roaming completely. All modern mobile device operating systems offer this option and it ensures that you'll never accidently connect to an expensive foreign network.

Sander van Vugt is from the Netherlands and travels regularly for work. He spends an average of 90 days each year abroad. Before he started using the tips in this article, his monthly cell phone bill averaged $750. Sander implemented the suggestions above to reduce data roaming charges, and since doing so, he has cut his monthly bill down to $100 per month, including all roaming fees. Sander drives a one-man business and hasn't missed a single customer since changing his roaming habits.

This was first published in August 2012

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