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Business traveller: What you need to know about roaming charges

Cellphone use doesn’t have to break the bank when you are on the road

Few expenses sneak up on you as deviously as international cellphone charges. But telecom rates don’t have to be exorbitant if you do a little homework before you travel.

Start by talking to your own provider to see what’s covered. As companies update their phone plans, features get added and changed, resulting in benefits to current customers that they might know nothing about.

If you have an iPad with an Apple (Nasdaq:AAPL) SIM, you can browse cellular data plans from select carriers in almost 100 countries and regions worldwide. You might be able to buy a SIM card for a specific country before making your trip.

Here are options while travelling.

U.S., U.K., France, Italy, Germany, China and Japan

For business trips of five days or fewer, using your cell service provider’s roaming plan might be most convenient. For longer trips, it’s cheaper to buy a local SIM card. If you go to European Union countries, you can get a local SIM card in one country and roam freely in other EU member countries. In all cases where users buy a SIM card, their phone must be unlocked.

Roaming with your Canadian service provider starts at about $5 a day depending on the provider. With Rogers (TSX:RCI.B) Roam Like Home, for example, most subscribers on a consumer plan can use their normal Canadian rate plan for $5 per day in the U.S. and $10 per day in more than 100 other international destinations.

Roaming charges will max out after a certain time period in each month, after which there are no charges. With Rogers and Fido, after 10 days of payment, subscribers can roam freely for the rest of their monthly billing cycle. Telus (TSX:T) caps its charges at $100 per month in the U.S. and $150 per month internationally; Bell (TSX:BCE) applies daily charges up to 20 days.


All four major U.S. carriers – AT&T (NYSE:T), T-Mobile (Nasdaq:TMUS), Sprint (NYSE:S) and Verizon (NYSE:VZ) – offer monthly plans with unlimited data starting at between $30 and $40. As with almost every data plan offered in the U.S., pricing increases depending on how much high-speed data the consumer wants. The most intriguing offering comes courtesy of T-Mobile, which offers a three-week tourist plan. Priced at $30, it includes 1,000 talk minutes, two gigabytes (GB) of LTE data and Wi-Fi hot-spot functionality. 

There are also a variety of low-cost mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) that call the U.S. home. FreedomPop, for instance, offers a US$19.99 per month, unlimited talk, text and 1 GB data plan. With Roam Mobility, travellers can buy the SIM card for $9.95 and pay $4.95 a day for talk, text and data.


AlwaysOnline Wireless sells data SIM cards for US$14.99 with a variety of plans by the hour, day or megabyte in more than 90 countries. In the U.K. and France, for example, travellers can get 3 GB of data over 30 days for US$60, while in Italy and Germany it’s US$90 and in Japan and China it’s US$120 for the same plan.

SIM stickers – which customers affix to their existing SIM card – are another option. KnowRoaming sells a SIM sticker option and an unlocked SIM. The sticker costs US$30, while the unlocked SIM is priced at US$10. Once consumers have a KnowRoaming SIM or SIM sticker, they can either buy an unlimited data pack, valid in more than 80 countries, for US$8 per day, or stick to pay-per-use rates.

U.K., France, Italy, Germany

Major European carriers include EE, O2, Vodafone and Orange. U.K. carrier Three offers its Three Essential Plan, which comes with 4 GB of data as well as unlimited calling and texting for 10 British pounds ($18) per month. As in the U.S., inexpensive MVNOs are also an option, including the U.K.’s Giffgaff, which offers plans starting at 10 British pounds.


The three major telecom players in China – China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom – offer special prepaid plans for visitors. China Unicom, for instance, offers prepaid SIMs with 1 GB of data for US$25.


MVNO service providers are the way to go in Japan. Many offer cheap data SIMs, but only one, Mobal, offers the ability to make and receive calls. Mobal’s SIM card costs $35.25 and there are 15-day, 7 GB plans for $47 and 30-day, 7 GB plans for $70.50.