Traveling abroad for business is costly enough, but it can get downright budget breaking if you aren’t careful with your mobile phone. Many small business owners have unwittingly racked up thousands of dollars worth of charges simply because they didn’t prepare ahead of time.
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“It’s very easy to run up a costly phone bill when small business owners use their cell phones abroad,” says Mike Pugh, vice president of marketing at j2 Global. “In addition to expensive phone bills, small business owners need to be aware that their cell phones may not work at all if they don’t communicate with their carriers prior to travelling. It can be a nasty surprise to find out that you can’t make calls or check email while away from home and office.”
Here are tips for staying connected and avoiding a huge mobile phone bill the next time you travel out of the country for business.
No. 1: Call your carrier in advance.
Many business owners assume their mobile phone will work wherever they travel and they won’t have to pay a lot more in usage fees-- but that is not the case.
Often when traveling abroad mobile phone users are charged a fee similar to the domestic roaming charges, because the phone is operated by a different carrier in another country, says Pugh. So be sure to call your carrier ahead of your trip.
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“Knowing exactly how you will be charged is critical to limiting bill shock when you return home,” says Pugh. “Thoroughly discuss your options to find out if it’s cheaper to pay a flat international calling fee, take a country-specific offer, or get a price-per-minute plan depending on your usage. You can set up these plans to turn on the day of your arrival and turn off the day of your return.”
Lou Delery, AT&T senior vice president of small business marketing says SMB customers should think ahead of time about how they will use their mobile phone while abroad so they can choose the best package to meet their needs.
“To know what data package to select, we suggest that customers review past billing statements to understand their typical monthly data usage, then select the data package based on the number of days they will be traveling abroad,” says Delery.
No. 2: Turn off cellular and data roaming.
Even if you aren’t using your phone while abroad, you can rack up serious charges if the cellular and data roaming is left on. So make sure you turn the features off before you hit the road.
“Smartphones automatically push data to the cell phone – that includes voicemail, texts and other data that automatically updates as soon as there is a signal,” says Sarah Schlichter, senior editor of IndependentTraveler.com. “Even if the traveler isn’t making any outgoing calls, the phone is still updating regularly using the data network.”
No. 3: Use Wi-Fi whenever possible.
Whether you need to jump on a conference call or check your email, if there is an available Wi-Fi network opt for that instead of the carrier’s network.
“It’s a cost saver whether you’re down the street or around the world,” says Pugh. Wi-Fi is often free in your hotel or local coffee shop and is often faster than the cellular network. Keep in mind that there are security risks if you are using an unprotected Wi-Fi network, so refrain from doing anything sensitive like checking your bank account from a public hot spot.
No. 4: Consider a mobile VOIP phone number.
If you’ll be doing a lot of work with your mobile phone when traveling abroad, Schlichter suggests that you consider getting a mobile VoIP phone number, especially if you expect to have easy access to Wi-Fi.
“You can forward your regular cell phone number to this number, so although you’re turning off cellular data, 3G and roaming on your device, you can still receive voicemails, as well as call and text, from your VoIP number over Wi-Fi,” says Schlichter. With a virtual phone system all you need to do is connect to a wireless network to get access to a business class phone system.
“Trains and airplanes are starting to equip with powerful Wi-Fi connections, so it’s never been easier to stay connected while traveling,” says Pugh.