advertisement

It's a major headache for any traveler who didn't secure a mention on the Forbes list of the Richest People in America -- how to avoid getting whacked with excessive data and international roaming charges when traveling abroad.

You can always call your wireless provider, figure out how to unlock your phone, and purchase a prepaid SIM card. This can often be the most attractive option, especially if you plan to spend most or all of your time in one country.

And with prepaid SIM cards, incoming calls come at the right price -- they are free.

But if you plan on vacationing in several countries or just want the comfort of using your own phone number and smartphone, follow these tips to reduce the shock when you open your bill a few weeks after your trip.

1. Call your cellular provider before you depart.

Remember to call AT&T, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, or Sprint before you set out, but know that you may have a hard time getting a straight answer from your service provider (each has varying coverage options for international trips).

But at the very least, your service provider may be able to review your most recent bills -- or even tally the damage done during recent trips -- to help determine what plan or strategy would be best for your upcoming vacation or business trip.

AT&T (www.att.com), for example, has several new international data packages for rates in more than 110 countries. Its international data plans range from $24.99 per month for 50MB and $199.99 for 800MB, with a $10 overage charge for each 10MB.

T-Mobile (www.t-mobile.com) offers BlackBerry users an unlimited international e-mail plan for $19.99 per month.

2. Track usage while traveling to avoid big surprises.

It can also be a pain to keep track of your calling and data usage while you're trying to enjoy yourself abroad, but the financial consequences can be worse than your sunburn.

The iPhone and some other devices have built-in usage trackers. Apps from the carriers, such as the myAT&T app, and third-party apps can help monitor your minutes and data-crunching.

Sprint (www.sprint.com) sends an alert when a customer registers on an international roaming partner's network (Canada is excluded). The alert advises on roaming charges for voice, text, and data. Sprint also coaches customers on how to halt data roaming, and Sprint users can activate a data guard to regulate if and when they want data services.

3. Use Wi-Fi for calling and data usage.

T-Mobile (www.t-mobile.com) notes that most BlackBerry and Android phones come equipped with a Wi-Fi calling feature, which means you can sidestep international roaming and long-distance charges when calling the U.S. -- if you're connected to a Wi-Fi network. For U.S. customers, long-distance charges will come into play when calling non-U.S. destinations from abroad even when using Wi-Fi.

And, of course, as Verizon Wireless (www.verizonwireless.com) advises, customers can skip any international roaming charges for data use if they can find an accessible Wi-Fi network.

4. Text instead of e-mail.

Sending text messages instead of e-mailing can cut down on data costs if you're not on Wi-Fi. T-Mobile generally charges 50¢ for text messages sent and 20¢ for received messages. However, when you are roaming internationally, the texts are not covered by any messaging bundle or plan you may have at home. The charges can quickly add up.

5. Go incommunicado.

Staying off the grid isn't an attractive option for everyone, but if you want to avoid international roaming charges for phone conversations, forego making or answering phone calls while traveling around the world.

Power off your device to avoid text message charges. If you leave your smartphone powered on, many mobile devices automatically access networks to fill your inbox with e-mails or to update your apps if they are set for automatic updates.

You have the power, but if you are not careful, it will cost you.

Dennis Schaal covers travel tech as North America Editor of Tnooz (www.tnooz.com), and co-authors USA Today's Digital Traveler column.