The Curse of the Roaming Charge

9008639493?profile=originalThe Curse of the Roaming Charge

Or, roaming charges can be dangerous to your health.

Heard the latest horror stories about travelers experiencing near-cardiac arrest when they get  the bill for roaming charges from their mobile provider?

Michelle Higgins, writing in The New York Times,  tells the story of a Verizon customer traveling in Jamaica, who racked up an $11,0000 bill in roaming charges for four days of trying, unsuccessfully, to text and check email.

That Verizon reduced the bill to $2,500 didn’t do much for the customer, so, understandably,  the case is still being negotiated.

Roaming fees are unfair, exorbitant, and most of all, sneaky.

Standard advice is to turn of the roaming feature of your phone when traveling abroad.

Except how does that work, and how do you do it?

I arrived at an international airport recently, made a quick call, and received the expected caution about expecting roaming charges.

That was fine. I planned on using my iPad in WiFi-only hot spots so I didn't much pay attention.

A few  hours later I received a text message advising that my roaming charges were now at $205.00.

That was very strange. Charges for what? I made only one phone call. 

An hour later when I called my provider, T-mobile, to ask about the charge, I was fold the bill was now 500 bucks.

Again, I hadn't even used the phone, except that once.

No matter, the T-Mobile rep said that my phone is constantly accessing data and thus the roaming fees.

Could that be?

Then Rick Romero, reporting for KABC-TV (LA),  said that if your cell phone is simply on, data is still being delivered and the customer is being charged...even if he/she never uses the phone.

And a spokesperson for the Council of Better Business Bureaus tells the story of a customer getting socked with a bill for $65.000!

My T-Mobile guy offered a 20% discount on the spot, and this great advice: turn your phone off and use a land line.

This from a mobile network provider. And it was incorrect advice. My phone had been off.

At the end of the day I did get a text message from T-Mobile’s counterpart with instructions on how to disable the roaming feature  I had to dial a series of numbers and pound signs, freeing me from roaming charges.

Needless to say, my bill is being negotiated.

The FCC and Better Business Bureaus are apparently working with mobile phone companies to avoid near-death by sticker shock.

In the meantime, all parties seem to suggest the following stop-gap measures:

• Turn off data roaming on your phone until you’re in a Wi-Fi zone where you can check email and access the Internet for less or no cost.
Be sure to ask your provider HOW to turn Data Roaming off. It’s not intuitive.

• Rent a phone or buy a SIM card from the country you’re in. Pay local charges. But if your trip involves multiple countries, that could be a hassle.

• The New York Times article wisely suggests renting a portable Wi-Fi bubble.
TEP Wireless is the company of choice, offering a pocket-size device connecting to 3G signals in 16 European countries. It’s a Wi Fi bubble, but one that fits in your pocket.

TEP’s web site and video are quite clear on how this works.

• Finally, talk to your provider about their international data packages which allow roaming charges at lower prices

The process gets very complicated with lots of talk about various plans, MB’s, data condensing and so on.

So, pick up a Wi-Fi bubble and/or talk to your provider before you leave the country may be the best advice from all this.

And take your blood pressure meds along.

PS: T-Mobile was willing to work with me finally in reducing then eliminating roaming charges.