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Ways to Keep in Touch for Less When Travelling

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  • Return home with happy memories, not a huge phone bill – discover cheaper ways to stay in touch
  • Learn how to avoid excessive data roaming charges with an international data SIM card
  • Cheap and free ways to keep in touch on holiday – from free Wi-Fi to apps such as Skype and FaceTime

Want to keep in touch with family and friends while on holiday overseas without running up a massive bill? Everyone’s heard the horror stories of people who return home with memories, souvenirs, a suntan – and a mobile phone bill of either hundreds or thousands of pounds. Don’t end up paying over the odds for making calls and sending texts when abroad. From switching roaming off and using free Wi-Fi to buying an international data SIM card, making cheap calls abroad is easy when you know how.

international data sim card enjoying facetime

Keeping in touch while travelling in Europe

When on European tours and visiting destinations such as Spain, France, Germany, Italy or any of the 31 countries that are covered by the ‘roam like at home’ rules, it’s fairly straightforward to make cheap calls abroad. If you’re a contract customer, you simply use your UK network allowance of call minutes without paying anything extra. Additional fees only apply if you exceed your bundle allowance.

It’s worth knowing that standard overseas call charges may be more than your usual UK rate. Different providers have rates that can differ by as much as 50p per minute*.

It’s also important to know that while some service providers, such as O2, Vodafone and Sky Mobile, allow contract customers to use all of their UK data allowance, others have a ‘fair use’ policy and may cap the free limit, so you run out of data quicker than you would at home and then higher data charges apply. However, EU regulations state that wherever you’re roaming, mobile network providers have to cut you off when your monthly data usage reaches €50*, though this cap doesn’t cover calls or texts. If concerned, speak to your network before you travel.

Mobile phone networks – data roaming and calling abroad

Find out the specific charges, advice and information for your mobile phone network:

Data and phone money-saving tips when travelling

To avoid any nasty bill surprises, it’s a good idea to switch roaming off when not using your phone and save your bundle allowance for when you’re actually making calls and sending texts. Leaving mobile roaming on can result in mobile phone apps using it in the background to download updates, eating into your precious data allowance. Download maps, ebooks, music, boarding passes and other essentials before you head off on holiday, so you don’t use up valuable data.

It’s always a good idea to contact your network supplier before a trip to clarify their charges and terms and conditions. If you’re a pay-as-you-go customer, the cost of a call or text in the EU is the same as the UK. However, if you need additional data, or the itinerary of an escorted tour includes Switzerland or Turkey which are not usually covered by the ‘roam like at home’ agreement, then it’s worth discussing what other bundle packages are available.

With Brexit on the horizon, remember this could all change and if the UK leaves the EU without a deal, mobile companies may alter these arrangements or introduce new charges.

international data sim card senior couple using phone

Keeping in touch outside the EU

Exploring further afield? Perhaps on a tour in Asia or a USA holiday? Then calling loved ones back home, or sending texts, will be more expensive. Even receiving a call on your mobile can cost you money – in some cases as much as £3 a minute*. Again, it’s best to contact your provider to discuss overseas bundle packages which, although pricey, can work out cheaper than standard calling rates. Just remember to cancel the bundle when you get back home.

Using an international data SIM card

Another alternative is to buy a local or international data SIM card to use in either your everyday mobile or a cheap basic phone. Check the phone is a tri-band GSM model. These are compatible with any international data SIM card, and check that the phone is not locked to a UK service provider.

Local SIM cards are also an option. These can be bought when you arrive in a country and are great if you’re in New York, for instance, and want to call a Manhattan restaurant or speak to a tour guide with a US number. Simply buy one when you arrive and pop it into your phone’s SIM card slot. However, don’t use a local SIM to call the UK, as call costs can be expensive.

international data sim card

Buying an international data SIM card

If you do want to contact people back home, browse the internet and send emails, using an international data SIM card should offer better value. You can usually buy prepaid international data SIM cards which are often better value for money and can usually be topped up as and when you need more data.

Make use of free Wi-Fi

One way of keeping in touch for less while overseas is to use free Wi-Fi whenever possible. Many hotels give their guests free access to the internet and you can also find free Wi-Fi in cafes and bars, at airports, in galleries and on public transport. Check emails, send holiday updates to family and post photos on social media when on a free Wi-Fi network. However, if the connection is not secure and you haven’t been given a Wi-Fi password, avoid logging on to your bank account or typing in any credit card details. Always stay safe on public Wi-Fi and don’t share personal information with any potential scammers.

Embrace smartphone technology

If you’ve got a smartphone and free internet access and looking to make cheap telephone calls abroad, then apps such as WhatsApp and Skype make it easy to keep in touch for free – perfect if you’re travelling alone on solo holidays and want to let family know you’re well and having fun. WhatsApp allows you to text and make phone or video calls to anyone who also has the app. Skype is great for live video calls as you can see the person you’re speaking to, and they can see you. Apple’s FaceTime is similar on its iPhone and iPad devices. All should be used on Wi-Fi networks.

Contacting friends via Facebook Messenger is another option, or if you have photos you want to share send them via Dropbox or WeTransfer. Both are free online file-transferring platforms and won’t use up your data allowance if you access them in a free Wi-Fi area.

international data sim card keeping in touch

Voicemail on the move

Not only do travellers have to pay to answer calls in some worldwide destinations (top tip: if you don’t recognise a number, ignore it), you may also incur charges for voicemails, even if you don’t listen to them. Those with EE contracts will be charged £1.80 a minute* to receive calls while on holiday in South Africa or Argentina, and a further £1.80 per minute* to listen to a message. To avoid escalating phone bills, ask your provider to turn off voicemail and tell close friends and relations to contact you another way.

Costs can mount on some cruises too, regardless of whether you’re on a European cruise or a trip down the river Nile. If possible avoid connecting your phone to the satellite phone network on a cruise ship. Instead, use your mobile in free Wi-Fi zones aboard or when you’re on excursions ashore and you know the tariffs.

Know before you go

With tariffs in mind, make sure you know how much you’ll be charged for using your mobile abroad before going on holiday. Exceed your contract allowance while in Belgium or Norway and EE, Three and O2 will charge you 55p per minute* to call a UK number, whereas Sky Mobile costs just 10p a minute. Spend time in Mumbai, India, or Egypt and a call home with Tesco Mobile will be £1.49 a minute*. If you’re in China, this is only 69p per minute.

Keeping on track of escalating costs is paramount, especially if you’re using data. If in the US or Australia where roaming on an O2 contract costs £7.20 per MB*, downloading a couple of songs could cost £72*. Watch a 30-minute Netflix show and your bill could soar to over £3,500*! The good news is O2 says it will alert customers when costs reach around €50*, but make sure you don’t get caught out.

*Please note that these prices were accurate at the time of publishing, but these can vary depending on your provider.


If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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