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Roaming charges beyond 'reasonable'

Smartphones have become a key part of modern international travel. You can use them to check in for your flight, to order rideshare, to navigate your way around a foreign city and even to pay for things with your digital wallet. But using data outside your plan’s normal region can be very expensive, as Remund found out.

Remund, who travels often with his wife, said he always notifies T-Mobile before leaving the country. He did exactly that before their trip to Switzerland in September 2023 and claims the carrier told him he was “covered.”

While he was “covered” to the extent that he never lost data connection and he could send photos and messages to friends and family while traveling, Remund did not realize how much that service would cost.

He was shocked to discover his post-vacation phone bill featured thousands of dollars of roaming charges each day of his trip. When he called T-Mobile to contest the charges, a customer service representative told him the bill was “good” and he owed the six-figure sum.

“‘What do you mean this bill is good?’” he recalled replying. “You’re kidding me, you’re crazy.”

Remund then spent $2,500 to hire an attorney and sent a letter to the president of T-Mobile pleading for the carrier to see reason. But his efforts were to no avail, until he reached out to ABC Action News.

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Avoid post-vacation bill shock

When the local news station contacted T-Mobile’s corporate office on Remund’s behalf, things started to move in his favor. Within days, he received a call from the carrier notifying him that his account would be credited for the entire $143,269.75. This, Remund said, was “an absolute relief.”

The cell phone carrier also issued the following statement to ABC Action News: “We recommend our customers check the travel features of their plan, such as international data roaming, before departing …

“If a customer is on an older plan that doesn’t include international roaming for data and calling, they’ll need to make sure they’re using airplane mode and Wi-Fi when using data to be certain the device doesn’t connect to an international network.”

All mobile phone companies have different roaming charges. To avoid bill shock, it’s worth checking your plan and your carrier’s international service terms before traveling abroad. You can also control your data use by turning off data roaming in your phone’s settings when you don’t need it, and you can plan ahead by downloading maps through the Google or Apple maps applications, which can then be used while in offline mode.

Another option is to swap out your U.S. provider’s SIM card for a local SIM while traveling, usually with a pay-as-you-go or prepaid package and at a cheaper rate than what you’d be charged for roaming. If you have a newer model of phone, you may also be able to use a digital eSIM, which can unlock affordable cellular data abroad.

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Bethan Moorcraft is a reporter for Moneywise with experience in news editing and business reporting across international markets.

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