How to avoid bill shock when roaming abroad - TechCentral

How to avoid bill shock when roaming abroad


Ahead of the end-of-year holidays, telecommunications spend management company Tariffic has published a list of top suggested travel tips in order to avoid bill shock when travelling abroad.

The company, which helps businesses and individuals manage their mobile bills by applying complex software to find the best packages to suit their needs, has suggested a number of ways that consumers can curb spend while overseas. They range from using WhatsApp over SMS to making sure they connect to the best network:

Not all roaming networks are created equal: It is important to research which networks will be the cheapest to roam on when you are overseas and manually connect to the cheapest networks when you land. Roaming rates in some cases vary drastically depending on which network your phone automatically connects to upon arrival in a country overseas. For example, if someone with an MTN Sim roams onto AT&T in the US, they’ll pay R1/MB for data roaming, but if they connect to T-Mobile, they’ll pay a massive R225/MB.

Don’t use data roaming unless you absolutely have to: While some countries have more favourable data roaming rates, others, like Thailand, will cost you anywhere between R120,27/MB on Telkom to R300/MB on MTN. A couple of Instagram sessions could easily cost a few thousand rand. It is best to rather turn off data roaming when it’s not 100% necessary and rather connect to Wi-Fi networks where available.

Save money by buying a local Sim card when you land: Try buy a local prepaid Sim card when you land, which will be much more affordable when making local calls and using local data while overseas. It may be worth considering a dual-Sim phone if you travel often so that you can still receive calls on your South African number but can make calls and use data with a local Sim.

Try not to make local calls with your South African Sim card: Some networks have fairly competitive rates for local calls while overseas, such as Cell C’s R1,87/minute rate in the US, but it is often very expensive to make a local call with your South African Sim card, with calls in Thailand, for example, costing R15/minute on MTN. Rather try connect to a local Wi-Fi hotspot and make free calls using Skype or WhatsApp.

Beware of answering incoming calls: Answering calls from South Africa can become a very costly exercise while you’re travelling, with rates as high as R27,64/minute to receive a call in England if you’re on Cell C. Rather notify your friends, family and colleagues that you’ll be away and ask them to rather SMS or WhatsApp you.

Turn off voicemail when travelling abroad: Did you know that if you’re overseas and someone calls your phone and leaves a voicemail message, then you’ll pay for that call? This becomes really expensive when you consider that you’ll pay international calling rates for that call.

Save money with roaming deals: Many of the networks now offer roaming deals, which give you access to cheaper roaming rates in certain countries, for free or for a daily fee. Examples of this include Vodacom’s Travel Saver and MTN’s Roam Like Home.

Rather receive a call from South Africa than call South Africa from overseas: Want to speak to loved ones in SA while you’re overseas? It often works out much cheaper to receive a call from overseas than it is to call from overseas to South Africa. For example, it could cost you R23,50/minute to call South Africa from the US on Vodacom, but will only cost R6/minute to receive a call from South Africa.

Rather use WhatsApp on Wi-Fi than SMS: SMS rates vary from country to country, with MTN’s rates ranging from R1/SMS (if you’re in the US), to R7,50 (if you’re in Thailand), so a quick conversation can add up pretty quickly. Just think that a few emoticons could land up easily costing him over R100. Rather use WhatsApp than SMS.


  1. “Not all roaming networks are created equal”

    This is a con, peculiar to our South African networks. The chances of your phone connecting to the carrier of choice initially and staying with it are very small. If I were an AT&T customer roaming, I would have ONE rate for roaming in a particular country and my phone would only connect to those carriers. No chance of unexpected rates. The only limitation may be that LTE is only available if you connect to certain carriers.

    In other words, as a South African roamer, one needs to remember to turn manual carrier selection on and then remember which carrier to choose after arriving.

    Look at the differences in that attached offerings by Vodacom to their customers and notice how easy it is for them to ensure that prepaid users don’t have any problems.

    “Turn off voicemail when roaming abroad”

    Again, a peculiar con of the South African networks. It’s understandable that if you have your phone set to divert to voicemail when not answered or busy (who does this anyway), then the call will be routed there and back, generating double charges. However, if your phone is set to divert to voicemail when not available (the simple standard), there should be no charge when the call is diverted to your voicemail. However, the South African networks see this differently. MTN doesn’t even allow you to set up this option.

    “Don’t use data roaming unless you absolutely have to.”

    Well, if we had plans like this one, we would be roaming to our hearts content.

    Have a close look at “Simple Global”, “Binge On” and “Data Stash” which are part of this plan.

    Edit : In the Vodacom rates tables below, the first one is contract.

  2. There are better alternatives that eliminate mobile operator roaming costs and protect against public Wi-Fi security concerns.
    Local SIM cards mean that you will not be able to receive those important bank or credit card SMSs, incomming calls or important SMS from friends and family.
    Totally agree that SMS roaming is the best option for a phone and a local SIM card is a good option for a tablet or wireless router.
    There are other alternatives too.

  3. ever wondered what to do with that old iPhone?

    Travel with 2 phones, do SMS roaming only on your main sim and get a local sim for the old phone. Then use it as a hotspot. NEVER roam on these crazy mobile operator prices.

  4. If you’re visiting multiple countries, you can save a lot of time and effort by getting an international SIM card. I bought one from GO-SIM for a trip around Europe which was cheaper than roaming, and I didn’t have to waste time waiting in line or registering for a local SIM. As well as offering cheap rates for Europe, the rates for calling back to SA (and several other countries) were greatly reduced too.

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