Preparing your iPhone for international travel

Sep 28, 2009 By FRITZ FAERBER , Associated Press Writer

(AP) -- An inventory for a trip to a tropical beach could read like this:

Swimsuit, check.

Sunscreen, check.

Passport, check.

And iPhone, check.

Well, make that a possibly giant check, drawn from your bank account. Unaware travelers can blithely rack up eye-popping bills on their iPhones while traveling abroad.

The international roaming calling rates are bad enough, but data usage is what really delivers the sting. The root of the problem is that the iPhone, with all its apps, positively inhales data. Because domestic plans feature unlimited data, few users bother to track the amount they send and receive.

When you travel to a foreign country, this cheap smorgasbord of bits and bytes becomes a pricey a la carte menu. Worst case scenario, you don't sign up for any international plan and use your phone as you would at home, checking , sending photos and adjusting your fantasy football roster from the beach while enjoying an ice-cold beer and taunting your friends in chillier climates.

When you get home, the bill could be hundreds or thousands of dollars.

There are some steps you can take to maintain some of the functionality of the phone without the monster bill, but it will still cost you extra.

First off, learn how to defang the functions of your iPhone that can whack your wallet: international calling and data. The easiest way to completely shut these off (other than turning off the phone) is to go into flight mode. But that leaves you with a virtually useless phone that can't make or receive calls, check e-mail or text.

To be more selective, go to "Settings," then "General" and then "Network." Here you can shut off "Data Roaming" so you won't feast on high-priced data but can still make phone calls.

Also, in your e-mail settings, turn off the "Fetch" option so you won't automatically download e-mail. Do so under "Settings," then "Mail, Contacts, Calendars" and "Fetch New Data."

There are a few options for international calling plans, which bring down the cost of making or receiving calls while abroad. I used the AT&T Mexico add-on plan for $4.99 a month for a recent trip, thereby qualifying for a calling rate of 59 cents per minute rather than 99 cents.

Incoming calls calls that go to voice mail also cost. And, in an amazing double-whammy, "Visual Voicemail" uses data to deliver the messages while also charging you international airtime for the duration of your friend's meandering message.

If you'd like to check e-mail, view maps or update Facebook with the iPhone, you should probably also sign up for an international data plan. The cheapest is the $24.99 Global Add-On plan, which gives you 20 megabytes of data at $1.25 per megabyte. That compares to nearly $20 per megabyte if you don't have an international plan. There are other options going up in price and amount of data available.

Before using your iPhone in another country, you should also reset your usage statistics so you can track how close you are to your limit. Go to "Settings," then "General" and "Usage." The reset option is at the bottom. Also on the same page, there is a listing for "Cellular Network Data." This can grow at an astounding speed.

I used up a third of my 20 megabytes in an hour by checking e-mail, instant-messaging friends, getting directions from the Mayan Riviera resort area to Cancun's airport, and resetting my fantasy football roster for the week (I would have done better ignoring my team).

If you happen to be staying somewhere with wireless Internet access, you can dodge most of these charges. Establish a connection with the network, use Skype or another Internet phone service for all voice calls and use the wireless network to surf the Web and check e-mail.

With some care, your can make a wonderful travel companion, but just don't expect it to deliver quite as much as it does at home anywhere close to as cheaply.

©2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Explore further: Form Devices team designs Point as a house sitter

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Verizon Launches Global BlackBerry

Apr 25, 2007

The new Verizon BlackBerry 8830's killer feature is dual CDMA/GSM functionality, which makes it Verizon's first global BlackBerry.

Review: How an iPod can be a poor man's iPhone

Mar 18, 2009

(AP) -- I try to keep a stiff upper lip about not having an iPhone. Just couldn't afford it - not with the $75 a month or so AT&T charges for service on top of the $199 upfront cost for the device.

Vonage makes free international calls standard

Aug 19, 2009

(AP) -- Unlimited domestic phone calls are nearly standard feature for landline plans these days. Now, Vonage Holdings Corp., which helped pioneer that feature with its Internet phone service, is expanding it to most international ...

Review: Google Voice has cool tricks but downsides

Sep 09, 2009

(AP) -- Google Inc. gives away a lot of good stuff for free. That struck me last year when I downloaded the free Google Maps app to my "smart" phone. It turned the phone into a handy navigation system and ...

Recommended for you

Form Devices team designs Point as a house sitter

22 hours ago

A Scandinavian team "with an international outlook" and good eye for electronics, software and design aims to reach success with what they characterize as "a softer take" on home security. Their device is ...

Amazon offers Washington Post app on Kindle

Nov 20, 2014

Amazon said Thursday it will offer a free Washington Post app to Kindle users for six months, a move highlighting the digital strategy for the newspaper owned by Jeff Bezos.

Gift Guide: Help your selfie with some add-on gear

Nov 20, 2014

Not all selfies are created equal. Some are blurry, are poorly framed or miss the action entirely because you might be scrubbing your thumb fishing for a virtual shutter button as the moment passes you by.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.