Staying connected while global roaming

Travelling Well | Michael Gebicki | Posted on 03 July 2019

Three ways to use data while travelling without exceeding your plan. 

‘Data’ might be a small word but it’s one thing most travellers can’t do without when they travel overseas. Data means a link to friends and family back home. With a data connection we can share precious moments, celebrate discoveries, find our way around the back streets of the world, download emails and keep all our phone apps functioning.

So universal are data streaming services that it’s hard to be out of reach. You can now send a selfie from Everest Base Camp, and if you make it to the top you can tweet your success on Twitter – from the summit.

Tent pitched on grassy banks next to a river with rocky mountain outcrop behind

When it comes global roaming, there are two ways to go. Either leave your phone’s SIM card in place, turn off data roaming at your phone’s settings menu and log onto the internet and social media accounts only when you have free wifi. 

If you have a smartphone and you don’t turn off global roaming and leave your usual SIM card in place when you're overseas, beware. Even if you’re not using your phone, your apps are constantly updating and relaying data and that data comes with a hefty price tag. Unsuspecting users have come home to bills of many thousands of dollars. 

Free wifi is available in most hotels, in airports, cafes and restaurants, even in public places in many cities. Just be aware that free wifi comes with a security risk. There have been cases of hackers setting up free wifi networks with the aim of harvesting information. If you’re checking bank accounts, credit card balances or logging onto any financial websiteover an unfamiliar network, take care. 

The other option is to replace the SIM card in your phone and access data over local telecommunications networks, and a data SIM card is what you need. Some SIM cards will allow you to make calls but with a data-only SIM card you can make free calls using WhatsApp, or cheaply with Viber or Skype. Most SIM cards will allow you to send and receive messages at minimal cost. 

If you plan to replace your phone’s SIM card your phone needs to be unlocked. If in doubt, contact your telco. 

Photo of mobile phone taking photo of the beach at sunset

Global roaming is imperative if you want to ’gram about your global adventures.

Photo of person using phone for directions while walking

Staying connected overseas means you’ll never miss a cool cafe or laneway bar again.

Three ways to stay connected when you're far from home

Leave your SIM in place and buy a data plan 

Most Australian telcos now have daily plans that peg the cost of data roaming.  Activating this plan is as simple as logging onto your telco’s website. You may even be advised of this facility when you activate your device upon landing in another country.  The cost is between $5 and $10 per day. If it’s a short stay you might be tempted to take this easy road, but the daily fee applies even if you use just a fraction of your daily data allowance. 

Replace your SIM card with a local SIM card

This is usually going to be the cheapest option. Getting a local SIM card can be as easy as walking into a retail outlet, buying a new SIM card with data and getting it activated. 

At the other end of the scale, buying and activating a SIM card in some countries is nightmarishly difficult. In Italy you need to find a friendly English-speaking merchant prepared to spend at least an hour with you before your SIM card is activated, which will include making a photocopy of your passport. 

A local, prepaid SIM card will work only in the country in which it is issued. This is a problem if you’re hopping between countries, for example in Europe. While EU residents can set up apost-paid SIM card account that works everywhere in the EU, that option is not available to non-residents. 

Local SIM cards also come with limited data – probably enough to last a few days or even a week, before you need to top up. Unless you speak or read Greek, Thai or whatever the language happens to be in the country where you bought the card, adding more data is not going to be straightforward. 

Replace your SIM card with a Global SIM card

Global SIM cards offer connectivity in just about any country you’re likely to find yourself. For example, United Networks’ Global international SIM card gives you data roaming in 190 countries, across 600 telecommunications networks. You pay only for the data you use and topping up is simple via the provider’s website.  

Another advantage – when you buy a Global SIM card you have just one phone number. If you buy local SIM cards, each will have its own number. That gets complicated if you need to keep people back home up to date with your number in case of an emergency. If you’re looking for a single SIM card that gives you worldwide coverage, global SIM cards offer a great balance between convenience and cost effectiveness. 

RACV members can take advantage of great discounts on United Networks’ Global SIM cards. For more information on this offer, click the link below.

Heading overseas? RACV Travel Insurance has you covered.