Things to Consider When Using the iPhone Outside the U.S. (Part II)

More tips on how to avoid killer phone bills when using your iPhone outside the U.S.

Last week I took my iPhone to Mexico. Wary of running up running up a possible four-figure telephone bill from excessive use of voice and data roaming, before I left I read tips & tricks online and then did did the following:

1. Called AT&T (1-800-331-0500) and asked to have international voice roaming activated.

Since my contract with AT&T had been in effect for less than 90 days, I had to complete what the service representative called a “security” questionnaire.

The first question asked was to list my personal residence addresses for the past four residences. Since I’ve lived at my present address for 32 years, I couldn’t recall the exact street addresses of my graduate school and college apartments. I just named city and state–but it turned out that whatever database AT&T was using for security was inaccurate.

It had me listed as living in two states I had never lived in. So I failed this test. According to the AT&T representative I could prove my identity by copying and sending utility bills from my present address to AT&T. Instead of doing this, I decided to wait and call another service representative.

A few days later, I spoke with AT&T and asked again to have international roaming turned on, and it was immediately activated. Why? Because by then, my contract had been in effect for more than 90 days.

2. Decided not to subscribe to an “International Traveler” package.

For a monthly fee of $3.99-5.99, a subscriber can have calling rates overseas for both incoming and outgoing calls about $.40 lower a minute.

Without the package, your phone still has full phone functionality, it’s just that calls are more expensive. Depending on how many calls you plan to make/receive, having an international traveler package could result in substantial cost savings.

I planned to be in Mexico only 4 days and did not anticipate making or receiving many calls.

3. Turned off data roaming on my iPhone.

(Settings->General->Network – Data Roaming “OFF”). This prevents your phone from roaming on a network other than AT&T.

If Roaming is ON, your phone will use the network(s) in the country you are visiting. (For practical purposes, Data Roaming can remain in an OFF position all the time when in the U.S.,as well, which will force the phone to use only the AT&T EDGE Network.)

With the iPhone, data services are used for visual voicemail, Web browsing, e-mail, maps, weather, stock reports, and YouTube, unless your phone is working on a Wi-Fi network.

Data roaming and international data roaming plans are available from AT&T, but they are extremely expensive and charged per kilobyte sent and received.

4. Told my family and friends not to call me, but to use SMS text messaging if they had an urgent need to contact me.

SMS messages cost $.50 to send and receive, compared to $.99/minute for voice calls.

How Did It Work?

Turns out, my home town was struck by tornadoes while I was in Mexico, and I received several calls from friends concerned about my safety. I told them that I was in Mexico, but I had heard from my family–via SMS–that no one was harmed and that my son’s house had sustained damage.

At the conference I was attending, there was free Wi-Fi. I joined that network (Settings->WiFi “ON” ->Chose a network) and was able to read the Atlanta newspaper, receive e-mail updates from my family, and even read press releases sent by the Mayor’s office to reporters to keep up-to-date with the tornado news.

With careful usage, my monthly bill from AT&T was only $7.96 higher than usual (8 SMS messages sent/received, 4 short calls received). Phone functionality on the free Wi-Fi network was excellent. And, of course, the phone was always there for emergencies, if I needed to use it.

Story adapted from

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