If you are considering taking your cell phone abroad, think again. The following is a true story. Names and locations have been changed to protect the identity of the parties involved.

Dan and his wife thought that they had the perfect vacation. Both of them took a month off to travel Europe. They took a boat trip across Venice, cruised through Amsterdam, and visited iconic cities such as Paris, Barcelona, and Berlin. Before leaving for home, they even stopped by the Buckingham palace, and captured several memorable moments on film.

Their life couldn’t be any better,  until they returned home and found a $12,000 cell phone bill. Needless to say, they called their cell phone company.


The customer service representative they spoke with apologized continuously throughout the call, but told the couple that he could not make any adjustments to the bill, “because these are valid charges.”

“Your phone was using internet in Europe,” the representative said. “Since you did not subscribe to any roaming packages before you left, we had to charge you at a pay-per-use rate of $0.05 per kb.”

“But before I left, I specifically ordered travel bundles for Europe,” Dan countered.

“You did sir, but those were for talk time in Europe. You did not purchase any data bundles to use in Europe.”

“I did not know!” Dan said. “When I got this phone, I was told I could use it anywhere in the world, and that it could pick up wireless internet without charge. That’s what I did, and I got charged for it.”

“If you used Wi-Fi on your phone, then of course we wouldn’t charge you for it. I’m sorry sir, but you were using the cell phone signals in Europe, and the European carriers billed your usage through us. I’m sorry sir; there really is nothing I can do.”

“Fine,” Dan said, “If you can’t do anything, I want to speak with your supervisor.”

The representative put Dan on hold for 5 minutes. Finally, someone came online, introducing himself as a supervisor for the company.

The two went on speaking for another 15 minutes. The supervisor was apologetic, but said that there is nothing that he could do about the charges.

“But to compensate for your inconvenience,” the supervisor said, “we’ll give you a $10 credit each month to make up for some of the charges.”

“So in other words, I have to pay $12,000 to get a $10 credit each month?”

“I’m sorry sir,” the supervisor said.

“Fine!” Dan said, “I will pay this $12,000! But I want my services canceled today. I no longer wish to deal with your company!”

“But sir,” the supervisor said calmly, “If you were to cancel now, you’ll also be charged a cancellation fee on top of the $12,000 bill.”

In the end, Dan spent the next few months trying to pay off the $12,000 bill before the company finally agreed to reduce the amount owed.  During that time, he spoke with countless collection agents, and the bill was still around $3000 after the company  reviewed it. Dan's credit history took a hit as well, and he vowed never to take his cell phone to Europe again.

So what’s the moral of the story?

1. If you bring your cell phone out of country, it is probably roaming. Learn about your company’s roaming charges. Don’t assume any of your services would be free when traveling abroad.

2. Shut off data while you’re traveling abroad. Using cellular data (your cell phone’s internet functions” is expensive, especially when you’re traveling abroad. Most phones have the options to block data access. If you can’t figure out how to do it, call your service provider, or ask them if they can block internet access for you.

3. Ask about roaming bundles. If you are just away for a week, call your cell phone company, and see what kind of bundles they offer for Voice, SMS, and Data.

4. Research prepaid phones from the other country. If you are visiting for more than 2 weeks, it might be worthwhile for you to simply get a prepaid phone from the other country. This will save you from having to worry about going over the limits of your roaming bundles

5. See if you can unlock your phone. Most cell phones are locked, and can only be used with specific carriers. If you are someone who travels extensively, you may consider unlocking your phone. This way, all you have to do is simply activate a SIM card from the country you’re visiting, and you’ll be able to use their services on your phone.