Preventing $5K Cell Phone Bills When Traveling Abroad

Best options for making free international calls from a smartphone

But although Google’s online help does state that the Google Voice app’s calls “use minutes from your mobile phone plan,” its listings in Apple and Google’s app stores hide that detail below “more” buttons and at the end of some scrolling. Cell phone bill: check out how to save!

To make Internet-only calls from a Google Voice number, you instead need to use Google’s Hangouts app—yes, the one that the Google Voice app supposedly replaced in January. The iOS version lets you restrict calls to WiFi, while the Android app’s Hangouts Dialer only does calls over a data connection.

Then we have Verizon’s role. The company’s Travel Pass international roaming isn’t bad, but this $10/day deal isn’t on by default. Verizon’s lengthy list of Travel Pass countries overstates its reach with extensive double-counting: It lists England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man, Jersey, Guernsey, and the United Kingdom as separate destinations.

Saudi Arabia isn’t even eligible for Travel Pass, leaving visitors stuck with pay-as-you-go rates of $1.79 a minute for calls, 50 cents per text message, and $2.05 a megabyte of data. The kingdom also restricts purchases of prepaid SIM cards, the traditional way to avoid international roaming charges.

Cell phone bill

So my reader got one text advising her of those roaming rates on arrival, then received no further warning of her mounting bills as she had many lengthy calls with anxious, hurricane-menaced parents in Florida. The resulting balance due is $5,585.60.

Verizon looked into the situation after I inquired about it and volunteered to refund the roaming total, even though my reader had already canceled her account and ported out her Verizon number.

It’s true that, as the company notes, this was an unlikely combination of circumstances. But the problem could happen on a smaller scale because Verizon’s default international roaming is so expensive. AT&T subscribers face an even worse risk since that carrier’s default pay-as-you-go rates outstrip Verizon’s. And AT&T’s $10/day Day Pass option, meanwhile, works in far fewer countries than its pricier Passport roaming packages.

Sprint and T-Mobile, however, each include discounted international roaming in their regular plans. Both charge 20 cents a minute for calls and allow free texting and slow-but-usable 2G data in a much larger assortment of countries than either AT&T or Verizon’s most affordable roaming deals—yes, including Saudi Arabia.

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