Foreign travel brings costly cellphone woes
FCC offers advice on avoiding pitfalls
Using your cellphone outside the country comes with pitfalls, including unpredictable roaming charges, compatibility problems, and added fees for texts and data that are “unlimited’’ within the United States.
This week, the Federal Communications Commission issued a list of recommendations to help travelers connect without hassle and avoid sky-high phone bills.
Edgar Dworsky, editor of Consumerworld.com, said the FCC information calls attention to what can be an expensive problem.
“How to set it up and cost have always been the two biggest issues in trying to have a phone when you travel overseas,’’ Dworsky said. He added that the agency’s tips offer only general advice. Consumers “will still have to ferret out deals themselves,’’ Dworsky said.
The FCC advises consumers to:
■Determine whether a cellphone will work in a specific country.
■Understand the rates charged for international calls.
■Be aware that “unlimited’’ minutes or texting may not apply in a foreign country.
■Realize that roaming fees can vary depending on the network.
■Make sure a smartphone does not automatically connect to an international network and download texts or data, which can result in costly charges.
“There are some real surprises that can hit travelers,’’ said Joe Gurin, chief of the commission’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau. “People are not aware when they go to Canada, for example, they’re in an international area and unlimited texting plans may not apply.’’
The FCC said consumers may avoid roaming charges by purchasing or renting a handset with a SIM card compatible with systems in the countries they are visiting. (T-Mobile phones, for instance, work in Europe when outfitted with a special SIM card.) There are also numerous voice-over-Internet services like Skype, Fring, and Truphone that provide free or discounted rates for online calls.
Megan Woolhouse can be reached at email@example.com.