Money: Costs When Roaming With Your Cell Phone

Advice for cell phone owners on how to minimize costs when roaming with a cell phone, both inside the home country and internationally.

As anyone who owns a cell phone knows, wireless services can be exceedingly costly, especially when traveling. The price of "roaming", as it is referred to, skyrockets as soon as the user leaves their local calling area. This is due primarily to the high charges the cell phone company incurs when one of their phones roams on another carrier's network, even within the same country.

It is now possible to roam almost anywhere in the world using a GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) phone. However, the costs incurred by GSM roaming (and subsequent calls back to your home country or other international numbers) are even higher, and can come as a major shock to a first-time roamer. If you are considering traveling with your phone, contact your provider first to determine that you will have service in that area, and inquire about the cost. Ask about local calls, incoming calls, long-distance within the country you are visiting, and the cost of calling your home phone. Some of these functions may turn out to be surprisingly expensive, as you will be paying for your airtime, the roaming charges on the foreign network, and possibly long-distance charges as well, depending on where you are calling. Some networks will charge a nominal fee simply for turning on your phone in one of their service areas. Since the foreign provider will be billing your home carrier for roaming on their network, your home provider should have this information. You do not need to contact the local provider in the area you are traveling to.

Roaming prices sometimes differ between TDMA (North America-only) phones and GSM phones, and if you use functions such as text messaging or Internet browsing you may want to inquire how those costs will change while you are in roaming mode. You may also want to inquire about running into independent carriers during your travels. Many of these small-time carriers charge scandalously high if you so much as venture onto their network. Just turning on your phone could result in high charges appearing on your next cell phone bill. Fortunately, these carriers are few and far between, and your provider can tell you whether or not there is a chance of encountering one.

If you are a frequent traveler, consider asking about roaming price plans. Such plans can considerably cut costs, in particular if you are staying within your home continent or country. Generally a roaming plan will allot you a certain number of roaming minutes per month, or price all calls (no matter where in the region you may be) as local calls. This is handy for people who work outside their local calling area or take frequent trips. Alternately, adding a long-distance package onto your cell can bring down your costs - though it may not affect your roaming charges, calls back to your local area will be discounted or free.

Contact your local provider to ask about price plans, roaming or long-distance add-ons, and the exact cost of airtime in your destination country. Plan ahead, and you can head off what could have been a very costly vacation.

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