August.22.11Holiday Finance
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Money Matters with Nimi
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Cell phones have become such a major part of our existence and for most people our telephone bills have become a large monthly expense. Have you ever returned from abroad to find a shocking mobile phone bill awaiting you?  When you use your phone abroad, as soon as it is detected on a roaming partners network, expensive international roaming rates and charges kick in.

Roaming costs have tarnished the wonderful memories of many vacations, but fortunately there are practical steps you can take to stay in control of your phone bill and still stay connected with family, friends and business associates.

Know before you go

Do you know what you are being charged for? This should be a fairly obvious but it is amazing how many people take their phones abroad and do not have a clue what they are being charged to use it.

Before you leave your home country, ask your service provider about roaming fees for both phone and data use so that you have at least a rough idea of the cost of using your phone abroad. When traveling internationally, you are typically charged both for receiving as well as making calls, for sending text messages, for accessing e-mails, voice mail messages, for surfing the web and downloading videos, music, and images in the countries you are visiting.

What services do you really need?

Do you need to be able to make and receive calls? Do you need real time internet access, or other data services on your device? Do you really need to check your e-mail instantly? This will determine how you should use your device on your trip.

Send and receive text messages

It is free to receive texts abroad but there are significant charges to receive calls, so if you are having regular conversations with people in Nigeria, try to encourage them to make your interaction text based.

Use Skype

By using a web-based phone service you can keep your bills down. Service providers such as Google and Skype, offer free calling at relatively low rates on international calls. If you are travelling with your laptop, you can use Skype at any wireless hotspot or from your hotel room.

Be careful of your voice mail

Even if you are careful with your mobile phone use whilst you are abroad, and avoid making unnecessary calls, did you know that if someone leaves a message on your voicemail, you are billed as though you were receiving an international call? Even worse, you will be charged again to listen to those messages.

Buy a local SIM card

Buying a local SIM card can be the cheapest way of using your mobile abroad particularly if you plan to spend an extended period of time in the same country. Replace the SIM card in your phone or buy a cheap GSM-enabled phone as an alternate phone. This will allow you to continue to receive calls from family and business associates who must reach you and will almost certainly be cheaper to make calls within that country although this may not necessarily cheaper to make an international call.

Some people opt to switch off and leave off their smart phone if it isn’t being used all the time; they only switch it on to check emails and text messages periodically.

Switch data roaming off

The new-generation smart phones such as the I-phone and the Black berry have become hugely popular devices providing access to your emails and the internet, a world of shopping, and social networking applications just a touch away. We thus unwittingly leave ourselves open to international roaming charges on our smart phones as soon as we switch them on. The continuous activity utilizes data bandwidth and this leads to constant charging and huge bills in accidental roaming fees. If you do not need data services on your trip and can resist the temptation to sneak a quick e-mail check on your smart phone, then turn off the data service when you are roaming.

The good thing about smart phones is there are options and you can choose which services to cut off. After disabling data services, you will still be able to make and receive calls and text messages. In addition, you can turn this feature on and off at-will so you can still check your emails periodically.

Use wi-fi

If you will have access to wi-fi hotspots, business centers or internet cafes at your destination you won’t have to use your mobile phone all the time and can use your laptop. However, be cautious and only connect to wi-fi hotspots that you feel you can trust.  Use ‘free’ hotspots with extreme caution; they may be convenient but are not always safe as there is always a danger of hacking or snooping. To at least reduce your vulnerability, use strong passwords and install some security software. Wi-fi access, whilst it may not be free it is usually much cheaper than paying data roaming costs.

As a mobile phone user, you must take some responsibility for staying informed of the cost of services that you subscribe to. It is also important that mobile phone operators are more proactive about providing cost information for users rather than for subscribers having to stumble on information after a bad experience. Much of the information on the service provider websites is confusing and not that easy to understand.

Clearly what subscribers want, need and deserve is more transparency, so that they can confidently use data services when roaming, as well as some sort of control mechanism to ensure they do not incur excessively large bills when roaming and without even realizing it.

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