AVOID A $1,106 BILL
Smartphones have become such a critical part of our lives that it seems second nature to want to take your phone along with you on vacation. Smartphones have all of your important contact information (friends, doctors, banks, family members, etc.), and once you find a free WiFi hotspot, using Google Maps in a foreign city can be a life and time saver. However, there is a dark-side to smartphones that many people find out about the hard way. I was reminded of this in an LA Times article where the writer had received a $1,106 Sprint bill for international roaming even though she had data roaming turned off.
This happens virtually every day around the world. Smartphones keep looking for a way to connect to the network even when you don’t want them to or when you think you have told them not to, and this is the problem.
How can this happen?
There are lots of ways unfortunately. Have you turned on ANY of the phone’s location/gps services or any app that uses location services? Do you know that while you are in a foreign country, the local cell service is going to keep “asking” your phone to accept data (i.e., phone calls, emails, texts, and voice mails sent to you) and unless you have properly set your phone, it will gladly accept the data. While you think you are being smart and only turn on your phone in a free Wifi hotspot, did you know that if your free signal is broken, no mater how briefly, your phone will switch to the local cell service and your nightmare will begin. In addition, once a connection is made outside your home service area, that overseas location will be remembered by the network which will keep trying to send data and information to the node that last connected with your phone and you will be charged for all of those attempts.
How can you protect yourself?
It is easy. Before you leave your local service area, turn you smart phone into “Airplane Mode.” Every smart phone has this function. Once it is in “Airplane Mode” you are SAFE. “Airplane mode” disables the phone, text messaging, voice mail, and data – it ONLY allows the phone to work via WiFi. Plus, you can also download Skype or Google Voice apps which will let you make calls home when you have WiFi access.
Because this is such a huge problem that is repeated daily, in 2010 the FCC required that all cell phone providers notify customers by voice or text as soon as international roaming, text or data charges begin to mount. These rules became effective April 17, 2013. But once they notify you, it is still your problem to figure out how to stop it.
What ever you do, DO NOT turn you smartphone on outside your local service area. PERIOD. Once it is on overseas you will rack up a sizable bill as your smart little phone attempts to connect you again and again to various data and voice services/apps.
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Blog author. Former travel editor for Compete Magazine, awarded top 25 travel writing blog 2018 & 2019..