It is best to rather turn off data roaming when its not 100 percent necessary and rather connect to WiFi networks where available.  Picture: Simone Kley
It is best to rather turn off data roaming when its not 100 percent necessary and rather connect to WiFi networks where available. Picture: Simone Kley

9 ways to avoid shocking cellphone bills overseas

By IOL Time of article published Aug 22, 2016

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Cape Town - You’ve likely heard horror stories of friends and family who have gone overseas, used their phones (sometimes sparingly), and return to find a bill going into the tens of thousands of rands.

Using your phone overseas, called “international roaming”, is one of the quickest ways to rack up an exorbitant cellphone bill. And it’s extremely difficult to control, or to know how much your bill will come to.

When you go overseas, you will automatically connect to a local cellular network who your South African service provider has partnered with. Using data and making calls while connected to these networks can get very expensive, very quickly. Tariffic ( has put together some handy tips to help you save money on your international roaming bill.


Not all roaming networks are created equal

It is important for you to research which networks will be the cheapest to roam on when you are overseas and manually connect to the cheapest networks when you land. Roaming rates in some cases vary drastically depending on which network your phone automatically connects to upon arrival in a country overseas. For example, if you have an MTN SIM and are roaming in the United States, connecting to AT&T, you can pay a cool R1/MB for data roaming, but if you happen to connect to the T-Mobile network, you’ll pay a massive R225/MB for data roaming.


Don’t use data roaming unless you absolutely have to

While some countries have more favourable data roaming rates, others, like Thailand will cost you anywhere between R120.27/MB on Telkom to R300.00/MB on MTN. So a couple of Instagram sessions could easily cost a few thousand rand! It is best to rather turn off data roaming when it’s not 100 percent necessary and rather connect to WiFi networks where available.


Save money by buying a local SIM card when you land

Try buy a local prepaid SIM card when you land which will be much more affordable when making local calls and using local data while overseas. It may be worth considering a dual SIM phone if you travel often so that you can still receive calls on your South African number but can make calls and use data with a local SIM.


Try not to make local calls with your South African SIM card

Some networks have fairly competitive rates for local calls while overseas, such as Cell C’s R1.87/min rate in the United States, but it is often very expensive to make a local call with your South African SIM card with calls in Thailand for example costing R15/min on MTN. Rather try connect to a local WiFi hotspot and make free calls using Skype, Whatsapp, or Facebook calling.


Beware of answering incoming calls

Answering calls from South Africa can become a very costly exercise while you’re travelling with rates as high as R27.64/min to receive a call in England if you’re on Cell C. Rather notify your friends, family, and colleagues that you’ll be away and ask them to rather SMS or Whatsapp you.


Turn off voicemail when travelling abroad

Did you know that if you’re overseas and someone calls your phone and leaves a voicemail message, then you’ll pay for that call? This becomes really expensive when you consider that you’ll pay international calling rates for that call, and so we’d suggest turning voicemail off until you arrive home.


Save money with roaming deals

Many of the networks now offer roaming deals, which give you access to cheaper roaming rates in certain countries, for free or for a daily fee. Examples of this include Vodacom’s Travel Saver and MTN’s Roam Like Home.


Rather receive a call from South Africa than call South Africa from overseas

Want to speak to loved ones in SA while you’re overseas? It often works out much cheaper to receive a call from overseas than it is to call from overseas to South Africa. For example, it could cost you R23.50/min to call South Africa from America on Vodacom, but will only cost R6/min to receive a call from South Africa.


Rather use WhatsApp on WiFi than SMS

SMS rates vary from country to country with MTN’s rates ranging from R1/SMS (if you’re in the US), to R7.50 (if you’re in Thailand), so a quick SMS conversion with someone back home could add up pretty quickly. Rather use Whatsapp than SMS.

Source: Tariffic

Adapted from a press release for IOL

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