Things to Consider When Using the iPhone Outside the U.S.

Keeping costs under control when traveling abroad involves understanding how billing works and how to manage your iPhone's use of data and voice services.
You're addicted to your iPhone - you have to check the e-mail, see how your stocks are doing, find out if it's raining back home, and of course, read the hometown paper on the web. Naturally, it's going with you on your overseas vacation. But using your iPhone outside can be expensive; there are stories floating around about four figure bills.

AT&T offers domestic phone plans that include both voice and data services. Your plan probably gives you four hundred or more minutes talk time and unlimited data usage, and on the weekends and evenings, calls are virtually free.

But outside the U.S., voice and data are billed separately and charged by the minute or kilobyte. Keeping your phone bill under control involves understanding how the billing works and how to manage your phone's use of data and voice services.

Overseas Voice Plans
AT&T has several plans for overseas travelers that reduce the per minute calling and receiving charges.

For travel to about 200 countries, there is the "World Traveler" plan. For a charge of $5.99 per month, per minute charges for making and receiving voice calls are reduced, usually by around .30 to .50. For instance, with the plan, making and receiving calls in France and England are $.99 per minute, compared to a usual rate of $1.29.

The plan is billed monthly - without a contract - but AT&T recommends that customers keep the plan for at least "a couple" of months even when traveling for just short trip, since overseas calls can sometimes takes several months to show up on your bill.

If the overseas plan is not in effect when the bill for your calls comes through, you'll pay the regular overseas country rates. There are also special plans for Canada ($3.99/month) and Mexico ($4.99/month).

Data Do Da?
On the iPhone, you use data services when you check or send e-mails or when you are browsing the web. You also are using data every time you check the weather or stocks, watch YouTube, use maps, or even listen to your visual voice mail. In other words, just about everything on the phone - except calling - uses data services.

Data usage is calculated by adding up the number of kilobytes (kb) used to send and receive data. The iPhone can receive data from either AT&T's EDGE network or from Wi-Fi, a wireless internet connection. In the U.S., unlimited EDGE service is included in your iPhone plan. Wi-fi access - like the kind available in cafes and airports - can either be free or paid through a daily or monthly subscription.

Data Plans
Overseas, however, EDGE data service is not unlimited and is not included in your domestic monthly plan.

AT&T offers two overseas data plans for the iPhone that work in about three dozen countries. One plan is $24.99/month for 20MB of data use. The other is $59.99 for 50MB. That's not a lot of data. It's easy to quickly max out your monthly limit since sending average e-mail with an attached photo uses about 1MB.

Additional data use - over the 20 or 50MB - is billed at a rate of $.0195kb, which works out to about $20.00 for 5MB.

If you are someone who gets 30, 40, or 100 e-mails a day, data costs will quickly add up.

You can use your iPhone for data service without subscribing to AT&T's data plans, but you will be billed at a rate for sending and receiving data of $.02/kb, or $5.00/MB. The same rate applies if you are roaming in one of the 36 countries with which AT&T has a roaming agreement.

Strategies for Keeping Costs Down
Before you go call AT&T 1-800-335-4685 to have your iPhone "provisioned" for overseas service and to sign up for an overseas voice and data plan, if you think you need one. If you've had AT&T service less than 90-days, AT&T will conduct a financial/security check on you.

  • Will an overseas voice plan will save you money
    If you think you may be using your iPhone to make or receive many calls you might want to subscribe to the World Traveler plan. That gives you a reduction in the standard per minute rate. Remember you must pay for calling and receiving calls, and rates are rounded up to the full minute. Nights and weekends are never free. Taxes are additional.

  • Use SMS text messages.
    Compared to voice, text messaging is a bargain - $.50 for sending or receiving each message. There are monthly packages that reduce the cost of each SMS message available from AT&T.

  • Turn off data roaming.
    If data roaming is turned off on your iPhone, it will not automatically access the EDGE network and you won't be charged for data services. (You also won't have email, browsing, weather, visual voice mail and so forth.) If data roaming is turned on, you will be sending and receiving data whenever your phone is turned on.

    On iPhone software version 1.1.4, there is an option to turn off data roaming; on earlier software versions there was not. Go to Settings, General, Network. There is a box to turn data roaming off.

    To access your voice mail, you must use the "old fashioned" method. Press the "1" key on the keypad, then enter your 10-digit telephone mobile number. You will be asked for your password - by default it is the last 7 numbers of your mobile number.

  • Use Wi-Fi
    With Wi-Fi features like e-mail, browsing, visual voice mail will work and you won't have to pay those costly rates to use the EDGE network. If you can find a place where there is free Wi-Fi just connect to the network. (Remember, your iPhone Wi-Fi needs to be on : Go to Settings and into the Wi-Fi section). 

  • Using your phone for making and receiving calls is very expensive. Remember to turn off data roaming and try to use Wi-Fi whenever possible. Have a great trip! 

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