Roaming is the word used to describe using your mobile phone on another network for a short period, while still being billed by your existing provider. When you are roaming on another network the temporary mobile service provider will bill your usual service provider for calls you make while roaming on its network.
When your mobile phone roams to another network within Australia, your service provider will usually bear the costs of the roaming rather than pass these costs on to you.
However, when your mobile phone roams to a network in another country, your provider usually passes the costs on to you. International roaming costs can be very high and are usually excluded from any ‘included value’ in your plan. So, if you would like to use your mobile phone overseas on another network you need to be aware of the following important information.
Before you travel overseas
Firstly, you will need to talk with your service provider before you depart to confirm that it has a roaming agreement with a mobile phone company in your destination country, and if this is the case, activate roaming on your mobile service. Check whether there is any special information regarding your mobile phone and what to do on arrival at your destination.
Using your mobile overseas can be very expensive
It is very important to be aware that calls you receive while roaming overseas may be charged to you, and not the person making the call. You will be charged at the international mobile call rate of your Australian service provider for the international leg of the call and at the mobile call rate of the local mobile phone company for the leg carried on that network.
International calls you make while roaming internationally will be charged at the rates of your host mobile service provider. You may also be charged for checking your voicemail. These charges will then be converted to Australian dollars and billed to you by your service provider. It is important to remember to turn off any diversions you have to services provided by your Australian service provider, such as voice messaging or paging services.
You may also be charged higher rates to send SMS and picture messages (MMS) and access email and the internet. Prices will differ depending on your destination and may also differ depending on whether you are on a pre-paid service or a contract.
As the charging structures for roaming are usually very different to the charging structures for using your phone at home, you should take note of the following elements of pricing:
- how call duration is calculated (per second, per minute or otherwise)
- whether there is affixed charge for call connection in addition to charges for call duration
- data service prices
- any difference between peak and off-peak charges
- whether different charges apply among different mobile networks in the visited country. You may manually select a network when travelling overseas.
Avoiding roaming costs
If you have a smart phone you need to be very careful about excess data charges. Make sure you switch off the ‘data roaming’, ‘location services’ and ‘automatic updates’ settings on your handset to avoid incurring expensive roaming charges when sending and receiving email, MMS, browsing the web and other data services.
Apart from changing the settings in your handset, there are a number of ways to avoid roaming costs. These include:
- Use your service sparingly. SMS are usually more affordable than voice calls and e-mails
- Purchasing a pre-paid SIM card to use in your mobile phone when you are overseas. You will need to check if your phone is unlocked (so that you can use SIM cards other than your provider’s.) Unfortunately this option does not enable you to use your usual mobile phone number. Pre-paid SIM cards for overseas use may be purchased in Australia or your destination
- Use alternative ways to communicate, such as Wi-Fi spots, internet cafes, payphones and international calling cards.
If you do intend to travel overseas with your mobile phone and existing service, you are highly encouraged to find out more information from your service provider about roaming charges and ways to manage the costs of roaming, before departing. Service providers are required to make information about roaming, including charges, readily accessible on their websites.
Buying a new mobile service
Under the new Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code, when you are looking to buy a new mobile plan or switch providers, from 1 March 2013, your service provider must give you a document that summarises the key features for the product, known as a Critical Information Summary). When relevant, a Critical Information Summary must include:
- a warning about the cost of international roaming
- if additional charges may be imposed because you roam onto a different network within Australia. This is known as national roaming.
Service providers within Australia have limited roaming agreements with other carriers and service providers that allow customers to roam from one service provider’s network to another. For example, as part of the Rural Highways Project, Vodafone was selected to extend GSM coverage to highways across Australia. Users of other networks that have made agreements with Vodafone will be able to roam onto the Vodafone network along highways where Vodafone is the only network with coverage.
National roaming also enables customers of one provider (such as Vodafone) to roam onto another provider’s network (such as Telstra) in regional areas of Australia where the customer’s service provider does not have network coverage. Your service provider will be able to give you more information on national roaming and whether it is relevant to you.
Information sources for roaming
In addition to the warning in the Critical Information Summary, service providers must display information about international roaming on their website in a readily accessible position and must provide this information to you upon request in a store. Such information includes whether you need to take any action to activate or deactivate international roaming and the basic charges to send SMS, make and receive standard calls and for using data for the product you are on and advising that call charges may be higher than charges for international calls from Australia and data usage may be more expensive.
International calls made whilst in Australia
It is important to be aware that any calls made overseas whilst in Australia will almost certainly be charged at a higher rate than Standard Charges (and may not be covered in your plan). Make sure you read all key information contained in the Critical Information Summary and have a clear understanding of what is covered in your Contract before signing up.
Information about roaming is available on the following carrier websites:
Please note: this document is intended as a guide only and should not be relied on as legal advice or regarded as a substitute for legal advice in individual cases.