Life & Culture

Money Mensch Hang up on costly calls abroad


Money made from calling abroad, aka “roaming”, is an enormous contributor to mobile networks’ profits. Within the EU, one half-hour call out can cost £12, and you pay to receive calls too; around a fiver for 30 minutes. Outside European boundaries, it can be far worse, sometimes a pound a minute — and that’s when someone calls you! Picking up the phone, even to tell someone you can’t talk, can instantly add 50p to your bill.
However, if you know what you are doing you can slam these costs to smithereens.

Know what being abroad means
The moment your mobile receives a foreign network’s signal you are abroad and pay to receive calls and get charged the overseas rate to make them.

So, even if you are sitting on a ferry in the middle of the Channel, nearer the UK than France, if you are connected to a French network, you are on a French call.
Being in the UK doesn’t mean you are home. Until the phone receives your UK network’s signal again, you’re “abroad”
What to do
- Don’t talk, text. Calls are expensive, and the bill can quickly stack up. Rather than take costly calls, encourage friends and family to text you, as that is always free. To text back from Europe shouldn’t cost more than 10 pence, though further afield it can be more, so keep messages short.
- Ask for cheap calls. Many networks offer cheap “roaming” package deals that cut the cost of calls when you are abroad. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
- Get a free Vodafone sim. This summer only, Vodafone customers who ask for its free Passport option can call home from many European countries, plus down under, at UK rates. If you are not on Vodafone, just grab one of its free Pay-As-You-Go sim cards and put that in your phone. The one proviso is you must ensure you are connected via Vodafone’s own network in the country you’re visiting. For full instructions and where to get the sims, see
- Use your phone’s Wi-Fi (wireless) to make calls. If your phone is Wi-Fi enabled, find a Wi-Fi connection, download Skype or Sipgate, and call home for pennies. If you see people sitting by the pool on an iPhone or other gizmo talking for hours, the likelihood is they are simply doing it over the web on a Wi-Fi connection —either that or they are really, really rich (or stupid).

- Get a local/international sim. If you make lots of calls, either get a PAYG sim while abroad to substantially cut costs, or get a special international sim. See details at

What NOT to do
- Do not use voicemail. If someone calls your voicemail when you are abroad, you pay as if you had received the call (up to £1/min), and then pay to listen back too. Ask your network to temporarily switch it off while you are away or, if you need it, record a short message saying: “Please text me instead”.
- Do not turn “emergency” mobiles on. Turn your mobile off in the UK, and take it abroad without turning it on (unless an emergency happens). That way, your phone is still “at home” for cost’s sake.
- Beware data. Use your laptop to download emails when abroad as costs are prohibitive. Horror stories of £1,000+ bills for watching YouTube clips abound. If you really have to check emails, set it to “download headers only”, which lets you see each subject line and then decide if you want to download the rest of each message. This way, you won’t pay £100s to download spam photos. A better option is to find Wi-Fi, and use that. Some modern mobiles allow you to use it, and all modern laptops do.
- Do not call on the hotel phone. Charges of £5 a minute are not uncommon. Though do get people to call you on it, as that is usually free. Of course it does mean they will be making a foreign call and that can be expensive. For cheap foreign calls access numbers, go to,

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