If you are travelling and use your mobile phone as you usually do then you will find a nasty shock waiting on your door mat when you return home. Roaming charges can make using your phone five times more expensive than using it at home. You can avoid them with a bit of planning though . . .

Roaming with a Sim-Free Phone

Sim free phones are ones that you buy without any tie-in to a particular mobile phone network. Never buy a Pay as You Go (PAYG) phone with a network tie-in, because you can buy the same phone without the tie-in for less, either at the supermarket or online.

When you are planning your journey buy a sim card for your destination country before you leave. Buy enough credit for the sim card to last for at least a few days after your arrival. This will save you from searching desperately for sim cards and credit on arrival and using your home sim card on a roaming rate.

Roaming with a Contract Phone

You cannot use a different network’s sim in a contract phone, so buying a local network card is not going to be any use to you.

You have three kinds of charges on your phone bill, data, calls and texts. There are three solutions, one risky and free, the other two totally secure for $80.

The Free Solution

You can use free public wifi hotspots and make all your calls and texts using apps on your phone. Internet data is free in these hotspots, so emails and social media updates are not an issue.

There is another major issue though, security. Wifi hotspots are notorious as centres for identity theft. Anyone else on the same network can access everything on your phone, all your online banking details and any saved passwords. They can send emails as though they are coming from your and can also load a virus onto your phone, even if it is an iPhone.

The $80 Solution – Option 1

Buy a cheap PAYG phone and stick a local network card into it. This obviously means that you lose all your smart phone capabilities and you still have to do all your Internet stuff over a public wi-fi network.

The $80 Solution – Option 2

Buy a MiFi personal wifi box for $80 on Amazon. This box is slightly larger than a thumb-drive, it has a rechargeable battery like a phone and it allows you to set up your own secure wifi hotspot wherever you are. You just need to buy a pre-loaded sim card for a local network and slot it in.

The mifi allows you to attach five phones and laptops to it over your secure and encrypted wireless network. It accesses data over a local 3G network and sends it to your phone or laptop wirelessly. You need to use your phone’s apps to make VOIP calls and Internet texts, but the data charges are much lower than even local international call rates would be.

The fact that it allows multiple devices to connect simultaneously means that you are not fighting over the one cheap PAYG phone. The Internet connection is slower when more than one is connected, but if you keep it to Facebook and emails that should not be an issue. Streaming live TV and watching YouTube videos is not really feasible and would cost a fortune in terms of data in any event.

When you get home, don’t just put the mifi box away, you can use it at home too. Connect your old-fashioned non 3G laptop to the Internet, just like you would with an iPad, but at a fraction of the price. It does the same job as a USB 3G dongle but is much easier to use as opposed to a 4in long thingy sticking out of the back or side of your laptop computer. All you need is a sim only plan from any phone network.