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Guest blog - Mobile roaming: A guide to staying connected while on your gap year

Date added: Thursday 8th October 2015

This blog has been written by Broadband Genie. They have a Roaming Costs Tool to help with choosing a provider for international use. It’s a quick way to compare international data pricing from the UK’s four main providers for your destination, plus any specialist roaming services that operate within the country.

Introduction

Of all the kit you’ll be packing for a gap year abroad, a mobile phone, tablet or laptop are among the most essential - not just to keep in touch with friends and family but also for staying connected to current events and as a tool for research and advice.

It can even help save money, because with internet access you can use apps like Skype and WhatsApp to make calls and send messages without paying for calling minutes or texts.

But while taking a mobile device overseas is a great way of staying on top of things, if you’re not careful you could find yourself facing unexpectedly large bills for the amount of data you use. This is a key consideration for anybody going overseas and particularly those on a tight budget.

Costs…. and staying in control

Travellers in EU territories are broadly protected from prohibitively high charges thanks to laws capping roaming data prices that were brought in by the European Commission in 2009. It currently costs £0.20 for every MB downloaded within EU territory, with a further €50 (around £45) limit on the total spend; once this amount is reached then access to further data is blocked. If you need to use more than this then you can ask your network to raise this ceiling, or even remove it completely – obviously this is only recommended if you can keep a very tight control on the data you are using.

Outside the EU the charges vary from country to country so it’s really important that you know exact costs for each place you are visiting. Your network may offer an international data bundle that is cheaper than simply using roaming; in fact, some providers insist that you have to buy a bundle before allowing you any international data use at all.

If you’re lucky you may find that your network provides free international data as part of your current package. EE provides 100MB every month within the EU, while Three has its ‘Feel At Home’ offer, where in select countries there are no additional charges and your regular bundled minutes, texts and data can be used.

Pay as you go and specialist roaming services

If you’re on a Pay As You Go SIM then it may be possible that it doesn’t include any international roaming support. You’ll need to check this before you go, if it doesn’t provide support, consider picking up either a new PAYG SIM from a network which does permit roaming or a rolling monthly deal that you can cancel once home.

Note however, that costs can vary depending on whether you’re using roaming internet on a smartphone or a mobile broadband device such as a dongle or tablet, so be sure to confirm that with your network. And if travelling as a group you may prefer to use something like a tablet or Wi-Fi dongle to share a single connection rather than each person paying their own roaming fees.

If your trip is going to last for a while, or if you are going to be making repeated visits to the same place then you might find that using a local mobile provider could work out cheaper than your home network. If you do decide to go down this route, make sure that your device is network unlocked before you set off, otherwise you’ll find your access blocked.

Another option is the aforementioned specialist roaming services. If you plan on going online frequently or on downloading large amounts then there are several companies who sell roaming data plans which often can be utilised throughout multiple countries across the globe. These are generally cheaper than using your network’s roaming package for the same amount of data.

Blind spots and wifi hotspots

Always keep in mind that when it comes to roaming there can be no guarantees: devices may not work on certain networks due to differing frequencies and standards and broadband speeds may be slow or the signal occasionally non-existent. If you’re relying on internet access do some research ahead of time and prepare backup options. Wi-Fi hotspots are now common across the world, and often free to boot. In fact if you’re looking to keep spend to an absolute minimum this may be the cheapest way to stay online while travelling.

If you’re really lucky, your parents may offer to help cover the costs, in return for a promise of a once weekly Skype and a few emails sent about where you are. Just remember that no matter what option you take for using the internet, keep sharing those pictures, so all your friends can be marvel at your fantastic year out.