Overseas roaming advice for UK iPhone users

As this post goes live on the blog, I’ll be on my way home from what should (hopefully) have been a great two weeks in France with my family (banned from the Internet – hence the need to set up some posts in advance and keep the site alive whilst I’m away).

My iPhone is a quad-band GSM phone so I can use it pretty much anywhere in the world (subject to coverage); however international roaming can get a bit pricey, so I checked out the best way to avoid excessive charges before I left the UK.

AT&T don’t allow US iPhone users to roam internationally unless they ask for it but UK iPhones are automatically enabled for O2’s International Traveller Service (ITS). Any calls are in addition to the monthly charge but the rates are not too bad – after all, I’m not going to be chatting for hours, this is really just for emergencies. There’s the usual overseas rules about having to pay to receive calls (which complicates the visual voicemail functionality and can result in additional charges, so O2 recommended I turned off voicemail divert before leaving the UK by dialling 1760 and then using 1750 to turn it back on again when I get home).

The real killer could have been data roaming. You see, whilst the EU has been putting pressure on mobile operators to reduce their charges for roaming across networks, very little has been done about data charges, which for O2 users are currently priced at £3 per MB in the EU (and £6 outside the EU).

I called O2 before I left the UK and their advice was to switch off data roaming (Settings, General, Network, Data Roaming, Off). They also recommended that I turn off automatic e-mail checking (Settings, Mail, Auto-Check, Manual) – although accessing Mail and Safari from a Wi-Fi network will not result in any charges (other than whatever wireless hotspot charges apply – there are no roaming arrangements between The Cloud – O2’s UK Wi-Fi partner – and overseas Wi-Fi providers). They also advised me that SMS is the most efficient method of communicating without extra charges as receiving a text costs nothing and, when sending, O2 take them from the normal allowance but at four times the rate (each text will count as 4 messages, so the 500 texts in my tariff become 125 for use overseas).

Hopefully, by following this advice, my next bill will just be for the standard £35… although if all I want is texts and the odd phone call, I could just put my SIM in another handset – as the BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones found when he turned off data roaming on his iPhone:

“I turned off data roaming – and immediately found that what I was left with was a not very smart phone.”

8 thoughts on “Overseas roaming advice for UK iPhone users


  1. Think I probably munched through a good proportion of my 500-down-to-125 messages chatting with you! Thanks for moderating comments for me whilst I was away!!!

    Cheers, Mark


  2. Hi Mark, I had this nightmare at the end of March when emailing pics of The Feeling playing live in Meribel, France to my blog. Signal kept breaking up and I was constantly trying re-sending emails from the iPhone using gmail – should have been 2mb usage (then O2 were charging £6 per Mb in the EC) but all the re-sending cost nearly £400….. I went off on one with O2 and eventually they refunded the lot – it was called “Bill Shock”. They now have some abroad data packages of £20/10Mb or £50/50Mb I see, may be worth getting one for next ski season (although so many of the bars have free WiFi I can probably do without)…. Hope you had a nice break, catch up soon. Toffa.


  3. Hey Toffa – good to hear from you. I saw that there were some packages available if I was going to do any real data transfer but to be honest they are still pretty extortionate.

    One side effect of all this – turning off all data usage massively increased my battery life.

    Looking forward to catching up soon, Mark


  4. When I travelled overseas again last weekend, I noticed that on my iPhone 3G (software version 2.2) the automatic e-mail checking option has moved – now there is a Fetch New Data option in the settings, where Push should be switched off and Fetch set to manual.


  5. Very useful indeed. About to head to France for two weeks with iPhone and netbook. The last thing I want to do is to come back and discover a £400.00 phone bill. Thanks.

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