Winsett: Don't fall victim to roaming charges

Winsett: Don't fall victim to roaming charges

July 8th, 2011 by By Jim Winsett in Business Diary

Q: My family is traveling to Europe for vacation. Will my cellphone be active?

A: With today's technology, cellphone users are surfing the Web, receiving emails and watching movies, all on their smartphone with just the click of a button from just about anywhere.

However, when traveling abroad, many consumers fail to recognize that their data plan is constantly in use even when they think their phone is not.

The Better Business Bureau is advising consumers to either turn off their phone or make the necessary data arrangements with their cell phone provider to avoid hundreds of dollars worth of data charges while traveling abroad this summer.

Last year alone, BBB received more than 27,000 complaints against the cellphone industry, some of which were from customers who were unaware that their data was still in use as they traveled outside their coverage area or outside the United States.

One particular customer was charged more than $1,200 when his cellphone automatically received his emails daily during a one-week stay in Jamaica.

According to the Federal Communications Commission, "roaming" is the term that describes a wireless phone's ability to make and receive calls outside the home calling area under your service plan.

When your phone is roaming, an indicator light on your phone may display the word "roam." On occasion, your handset will not display a roaming indicator, even though it is in a roaming area.

Before traveling abroad or out of your coverage area, it is important for consumers to be proactive and contact their provider for specific details regarding individual data and roaming plan.

Typically, international roaming charges will vary from provider to provider; many of the fees can come as a surprise to travelers.

To assure prevention of unexpected roaming charges, contact your cell phone provider to clarify where you are covered and the data plans that can be purchased when traveling abroad.

BBB advises consumers to do the following with their cellphone and cellphone provider in preparation for a trip abroad this summer:

• Turn off your phone. If you don't need your phone and don't plan on using it while traveling abroad, turn it off.

Some travelers opt for renting or buying international cell phones.

Many rental plans offer services that work in several countries and may provide free incoming calls.

• Contact your cellphone provider. Many cellphone users know not to make calls or send text messages while out of their coverage area or abroad, but many fail to realize that their data is in use even when they don't think it is.

For the occasional traveler who doesn't talk on the phone that frequently, it may be worth looking into an international add-on plan.

Your cell phone carrier can provide specific tips that cater to the roaming needs of your individual cell phone and data plan.

n Invest in a prepaid SIM card. For the frequent, chatty travelers or long-term travelers, investing in a prepaid SIM card may be the best way to cut costs.

With access to a local phone number, you'll be able to make phone calls at the country's local rate.

Always check with BBB before choosing an international service provider. Many companies offer SIM cards that can be purchased and can include free incoming calls originating from anywhere in the world.

For more travel tips you can trust, visit

Get answers to your questions each Friday from Jim Winsett, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau Inc., which serves Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia. Submit questions to his attention by writing to Business Editor Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times Free Press, P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN 37401-1447, or by emailing him at dflessner@timesfree