The CRTC often receives questions about roaming charges on cell phone bills. Although the rates consumers are charged by cellular providers are not established or set by the CRTC, the new Wireless Code, which will apply to new contracts for cellphones and other personal mobile devices starting on December 2, 2013, will ensure that extra roaming charges will be capped to prevent bill shock.
For additional information on how to manage and minimize unexpected roaming charges when travelling, see Industry Canada’s Cellphone Choices for Canadians: A Practical Guide to the Canadian Cellphone Marketplace.
What are roaming charges?
When you agree to a plan with your cell phone service provider, it includes a coverage area—or “home” area—where billing according to your selected plan applies. If your contract is for local coverage, roaming charges may apply when you travel and leave the coverage area of your provider’s network and “roam” onto the network or coverage area of another cellular provider, even if you are still within Canada. If you have a nationwide coverage plan, roaming charges apply when you travel outside of Canada.
Roaming charges can add up quickly
You should be aware that roaming charges can add up quickly and can be very expensive, sometimes reaching hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
Roaming charges apply to voice calls, text messages, the transmission of pictures, Internet access and other data that you receive, upload or send when outside your home network. You can accumulate roaming charges simply by leaving your Smartphone turned on while travelling outside your home area as data can be sent to and from a phone automatically.
CAUTION: To avoid roaming charges, shut off the phone, turn off network connections or set your phone on airplane mode, even when not using it. You may wish to purchase an inexpensive pre-paid phone or data plan in the country you are visiting.
How to manage roaming charges
The best way to avoid unexpected roaming charges is to be proactive when travelling outside your home network.
Before you travel, contact your service provider.
Most major carriers provide travelling packages that take roaming into account for an additional cost. These plans may help you minimize roaming charges, or make them more easily predictable.
If you know you will be leaving your home network, and will be taking your cell phone with you, contact your service provider before you go, to find out:
- Whether there is anything you have to do to ensure that your phone is capable of roaming
- What roaming packages they offer
- What roaming charges will apply to what services, including voice and data services
- How you can monitor your roaming charges while you are travelling, so you will know what charges have accumulated and won’t be surprised by an unexpected bill upon your return
Plan how you will use your phone while travelling.
Think about how you want to use your phone while travelling and ask your service provider how to customize your phone settings to meet your needs.
- When not using your cellphone. Shut off the phone or turn off the network connections or set your phone on airplane mode. This will prevent you from incurring roaming charges, including those that could result from the data usage in maintaining the connection between the phone and the cellular tower, that occurs even when the phone is not being used.
- Voice calls only. If it’s just for voice calls, and you don’t intend to access the Internet or use other data services, turn off data roaming and data synchronization services on your phone. Make sure that you don’t have applications on your phone that can override these settings.
- Data services. If you do want to use data services while travelling, turn your phone off when you are not using it. Using Wi-Fi networks can allow access to data for no charge or a nominal fee.
As an alternative to roaming, in many countries you can get access to local wireless service, by obtaining a SIM card from one of the local service providers in the area you will be travelling to, or by purchasing an inexpensive pre-paid phone. This will enable you to get service at local rates which are a lot cheaper than roaming charges.
Do some additional research
If you know a frequent traveler, or someone who has been to the places you will be visiting, ask how they handled roaming charges, and what they recommend. The Internet can also be a source of information offering advice on how to manage roaming charges or avoid them altogether. However, it is always best to confirm the information with your service provider, specific to your plan, the area where you will be travelling and you’re calling and data needs. You may wish to purchase an inexpensive pre-paid phone or get a local plan by purchasing a SIM card from one of the local service providers in the country you are visiting.
What to do about unexpected roaming charges?
Roaming charges are legitimate fees that consumers are contractually obligated to pay. If you are faced with unexpected charges, you should contact your service provider. It may be able to adjust the various network fees or, at least, establish a payment arrangement.