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How to avoid excessive mobile phone charges when you are abroad

Most of us have a pretty good idea of how much our next mobile phone bill will cost, so can you imagine how you’d feel if your next bill was for £42,202.55? Think it could never happen?

Think again, as this is exactly what happened to one mobile user in 2011. So what had this mobile phone user been doing to rack up such an expensive bill? Nothing much, she’d just been on holiday. But there are two magic words that allow your network providers to ramp up their charges, and these are ‘roaming charges’.

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So how do these two little words manage to add a couple of noughts onto your average mobile phone bill? Well, roaming charges are the extra costs that your mobile operator charges when you use your mobile whilst you’re abroad. So whenever you make a call, send a text or browse the internet while you are in another country, your mobile provider can ramp up extra charges on your bill. This is because your provider has to use the local companies to provide the network service, in whatever country you are visiting, and as they pay these companies for the use of their services, they pass the cost onto you.

But are these costs a true reflection of what they are having to pay? In a word – no.

Take that bill for £42,202.55 we were talking about. Laura Cotton from Bassingham received it after a holiday to Turkey in 2011. Laura had been using her mobile whilst she was on holiday, but had only been making the same amount of calls and texts as she would have done whilst at home. After months of negotiations, T-Mobile eventually agreed to lower the bill to £700 but how is this possible if the charges were correct and valid?

Telecoms Expert Matthew Howett spoke to BBC’s Watchdog: “In the case of extreme bills when the customer comes back to thousands of pounds worth of charges, we’ve seen operators quite often willing to negotiate and bring down some of those costs. I think that the fact that they are willing to do this demonstrates that there is still quite a premium being made on some of those charges.”

So how can you avoid paying excessive mobile charges whilst you are holidaying abroad?

Well the EU have made some changes that will help you. Since 2007 the European Union have put a cap on the amount mobile operators are allowed to charge you.

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And there is now a worldwide data cap on data usage which stands at €50, around £42.

However, if you buy a data bundle, that data bundle automatically opts you out of the safety data cap.

It appears that you have a couple of options in order to avoid excessive charges. If you think that you will not use your mobile that much when you are away, and only make calls or send texts, you should simply rely on the data cap. But if you are going to use it frequently, and use it for browsing the internet, checking email messages etc, buy a data bundle but remember to turn off your data roaming when you are not using it and check in on a regular basis with your mobile provider.

And don’t forget, you can always switch off your data roaming and use the free internet available at local wi-fi hotspots or camp down at an internet cafe.

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