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International roaming: WLAN and mobile communications abroad

International roaming: Cost traps when using mobile phones outside the EU

The principle "Roam like at home" applies exclusively in the currently 28 countries of the European Union as well as in Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. Switzerland or Turkey are not included. If you make calls there or surf the web using your mobile data connection, you have to pay more money for it than in your home country. A worldwide cost brake applies to mobile internet. By default, it is 59.50 euros. If this amount is reached, the mobile internet connection should be disconnected. However, that doesn't always work.

Before going abroad, it is essential to find out from your mobile phone company what the costs of international roaming are for your tariff and, if necessary, take out daily or weekly flat rates.

Cost traps when calling other countries

If you go on holiday in Spain with a German mobile phone contract, for example, you will usually use your German tariff there - unless otherwise agreed with your provider. If in doubt, you should definitely inquire about this before your holiday! But be careful: If you call Spain (or any other country in the world) from Germany, the following generally applies: Calls from Germany to other EU countries have only cost a maximum of 19 cents per minute net since May 15, 2019. An SMS can then be sent for a maximum of 6 cents without VAT. You can find more information here: What can phone calls and text messages from your home country to other EU countries cost?

Cost traps with messengers

With most messengers such as Skype, Threema or WhatsApp and others, you can not only send and receive messages and files, but also make phone calls. Even if telephoning is often touted as free, it can be expensive! Because the conversations always take place over the Internet and consume corresponding amounts of data. When traveling, you should only use Messenger to make phone calls in the WLAN.

Technical requirements for long-distance travel

You can only make calls and surf the web with your mobile phone abroad if the frequency of the local mobile network is supported by your own mobile phone. There are four main frequencies for mobile telephony: 850, 900, 1800 and 1900 MHz.

All cell phones that work in Germany can therefore use the frequencies 1800 and 900 MHz. This is why these devices are known as dual-band cell phones.

  • In North and South America on the other hand, you need a mobile phone that supports other mobile radio standards (tri- or quad-band mobile phone).
  • who in Japan or Korea wants to make a phone call, needs a UMTS-capable mobile phone. UMTS can not only be used to transfer data, but also to make calls.

Younger smartphones are usually capable of quad-band and UMTS. However, there are problems with UMTS use in the USA because of other standards. This also applies to LTE. Since you can now make calls with your smartphone via Messenger (e.g. WhatsApp), calls are also possible via WLAN (WiFi) hotspots.

Cost traps for WLAN calls

As a difference to phone calls via messenger or comparable apps, there are also so-called WLAN calls (also known as Wifi calls or VoWiFi). You use the normal telephone function of your smartphone via WLAN. Prerequisite: the device and mobile network provider support the function. With some providers you have to have it activated. Inquire about possible costs! Because WLAN calls do not fall under the rules of EU roaming.

Many providers bill WLAN calls abroad as if you were in Germany. If your tariff has a Germany flat rate, you should not pay anything for calls to Germany via WLAN, even when you are abroad. Likewise, you should not incur any charges when you receive a call. There may be costs for calls to other countries (including the one in which you are staying). These can be different depending on the country. Check with your provider about the cost of Wi-Fi calls versus roaming calls in the country you are in. If you are in a country of the EU or the European Economic Area, it is often cheaper not to make WiFi calls.

Cost traps near the border to non-EU countries

Just be careful if you are in an EU country but close to the border with a non-EU country. There is a risk that your cell phone will automatically dial into the network of the non-EU country. In this case, the tariff is not based on the "Roam like at home" principle, as your mobile phone is no longer dialed into the network within an EU country. Therefore, when you are near the border, make sure that your mobile phone actually dials into the network of the relevant EU country.

Cost traps on ships and in airplanes

On board a ferry between Germany and Norway, a twelve-year-old watched a few videos on a smartphone. After the trip, the parents received a phone bill for around 12,000 euros. Why? The smartphone had logged into the satellite network. Here, a megabyte costs up to 30 euros. The video watching consumed around 470 megabytes, reports the media.

And even during many flights it is now possible to access the Internet with mobile devices. It is therefore essential to switch your smartphone or tablet to flight mode.

Otherwise, if you are not careful, you will quickly accumulate a mountain of costs - and not just for Internet use. There is actually a globally applicable cost airbag for mobile Internet: If 59.50 euros are reached, the data connection should be automatically disconnected. But this cost airbag does not apply to satellite connections that regularly come about when using cell phones on ships and in airplanes.

Many shipping companies and airlines offer WLAN (also known as WiFi) at package prices. Make sure to switch off the cellular data via the settings of your device. Because if the WiFi is weak, your smartphone or tablet can automatically switch to the very expensive satellite network.

You can find out more about roaming on ships here.
You can find more information on smartphone and tablet fees on the plane here.

Correct setting of the devices

Smartphones can also generate significant costs in your pocket: for example, by updating apps or downloading e-mails. If you want to prevent this, you should set the device before you start your journey so that it does not automatically download data via cellular networks, but only when requested. Incidentally, the navigation software installed on the smartphone also only works in many cases with an active internet connection. The operating instructions reveal which steps are required for deactivation. Help is also available from the manufacturer or in internet forums.

Cost trap 0800 numbers

Using the 0800 or 00800 numbers, which are free of charge, can be expensive abroad if you call them with a German cell phone connection.

Call-back for prepaid contracts

Even owners of prepaid cell phones can make and receive calls on long-haul trips. In addition to the usual dialing procedure - direct dialing - Telekom alone also uses the "call-back" procedure for prepaid cards in a number of countries, which is used to establish a connection to friends or family in Germany. A special network code must be entered before the actual destination number. The caller then receives a call back after a short time, with which the connection is established. Which procedure is to be used in which country and how the procedure works exactly will be communicated to the customer via SMS after arrival abroad.

For prepaid customers, the use of the mobile Internet ("data roaming") and the sending and receiving of MMS may be restricted. Before going abroad, you should ensure that you have sufficient credit on your prepaid account. Some network operators offer to top up the credit from abroad; however, it is easier and safer to do this at home.

In any case, it is advisable to obtain the latest information from the network operator / service provider before going abroad.

Mailbox cost trap

Probably the biggest cost trap when staying outside the EU is the mailbox. Because if you do not deactivate your mailbox from home, you face high costs while you lie unsuspecting on the beach. Before starting their trip, vacationers should ask their provider about the tariffs in the vacation destination. The prices of the various networks are sometimes very different. The cheapest network can then be selected at the holiday destination via the menu item: "Manual network selection".

You can find out more about the mailbox cost trap here.