Sunday 25 February 2018

SMART CONSUMER: How to avoid 'bill shock', wherever you may roam

Photo: Thinkstock
Photo: Thinkstock
Photo: Thinkstock

It wasn't that long ago that if you went abroad you were almost afraid to make or take a call on your mobile given the high charges that applied.

Thankfully the 'bill shock' era for roaming calls has ended and from tomorrow the rates will be lower again.

We have the European Commission to thank for this as, back in 2007, realising that charges to roaming customers were too high, it introduced the first of a series of EU roaming tariffs.

Back then charges were capped for making and receiving calls abroad, and in 2009 the regulation was extended, introducing caps on texting rates and data download rules.

The current regulation expires at the end of June next year, but if the commission decides competition on roaming charges isn't healthy enough, it can extend the rules again.

In the meantime, from tomorrow the prices you pay drop again.

Charges for making and taking a call are capped at 35c and 11c (ex VAT) and charges for texts are capped at 11c (ex VAT), and it doesn't matter what network you use when travelling.

Even better, operators must use per-second billing after 30 seconds when you make a call and from the first second when you receive a call.

Plus if you miss a call or your phone is turned off you cannot be charged for voicemail, but you will most likely pay for retrieving the message, so bear that in mind.

Most Irish operators are sticking to the set tariffs but Meteor is offering better rates this summer. Prepay customers will pay 29c a minute to make a call and 12c per text (inc VAT) and Bill Pay customers will pay 25c per minute to make a call and 10c per text, again including VAT.

Meteor customers aren't charged for receiving a call in the EU, but if you are a Meteor customer you do have to sign up to these rates to avail of them.

Outside of the EU tariffs 3 has a good deal. Their 3Like Home offer allows you to use your existing bundle to make calls and texts and receiving calls is free. If you go outside your bundle you'll pay your 'home' rates. But make sure you are roaming on a 3 'sister network' though, as otherwise the EU tariffs will apply.

In fact, if you are using a roaming package rather than the EU tariffs, whatever operator you are with, check before you travel to see what network you should roam with when abroad, otherwise you could end up paying more.

Vodafone Passport charges 79c for initial connection and then the same rate as you pay at home for making calls, and they only charge the connection fee for receiving a call. This will work out better than the EU tariff rates if your calls are longer than a few minutes.

A similar deal is offered by O2 -- you pay a 79c connection fee and then an additional 30c per minute for making a call, and nothing extra for receiving a call.

And if you're heading outside of the EU, check your operator's roaming package to see if the country you are visiting is included. If not, do check the rates, as otherwise you could be back to the old 'bill shock' scenario.

Free calls

If you have a Smartphone there are ways of getting free calls and texts wherever you are in the world.

You can get Skype-enabled packages for your phone or download the Skype App to your Smartphone.

Other apps that are useful include Viber, which gives you free calls anywhere once you and the person you are calling have downloaded the app. Another is WhatsApp, which gives you free texts when both users have the app.

Remember, though, these apps use your internet connection, so if using these abroad, you'll either be paying roaming data charges or you'll need to look for that free WiFi area.

Downloading data abroad

Under EU rules there is a cut-off point of €50 for data downloads.

This means that if you're using your phone for emails and internet abroad you won't be charged more than €50.

Once you have used 80% of that limit, you have to receive a warning message.

If you continue to download, once you reach your limit you should receive information on how to carry on downloading data or be cut off.

But if you are planning on going online via your phone, you're probably better off checking what data-roaming package your operator provides.

Failing that, stick to using free WiFi whenever you can find it.

Irish Independent

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