Managing International Roaming for Business Travelers

As the summer comes around once again, many people will be making plans to take some time off work and enjoy a vacation. Some may choose to travel internationally for their vacation. As of January 2024, foreign air travel was up 24% year-over-year (Source).

While traveling internationally has become easier, there are still challenges that many travelers are unsure of how to face, particularly with their mobile phones. International roaming charges, spotty coverage, eSIMs, data plans, and other seemingly confusing options may have users keeping their phones on airplane mode for the duration of the trip to avoid accidentally racking up a huge bill. But what about the business traveler who needs to have connectivity?

For IT professionals who manage wireless mobility programs and business travelers alike, understanding the intricacies of international roaming can save both stress and money. This guide provides essential insights into managing your phone’s roaming capabilities effectively and offers a checklist for administrators to minimize unexpected charges.

What to know about your phone before you travel internationally.

Understanding Data Roaming Costs                                                                                                                    International roaming occurs when your mobile device connects to a network outside your home country’s service area.

For the International Traveler:                                                                                                                                          Before you embark on your journey, ensure your phone is “travel-ready” by confirming the following:

  • Compatibility: Check if your device supports the network frequencies used in your destination country.
  • Roaming Plans: Most US carriers offer several roaming options including an affordable day pass that allows you to roam for a fixed fee per day. Other monthly plans can provide coverage if your stay extends more than just a few days in a country.  Check with your carrier’s roaming packages to see which will be best. For business travelers on a corporate plan, alert your mobility administrator well ahead of time on your travel plans so they can take steps to have the appropriate levels of connectivity set-up.
  • Consider Purchasing a Temporary SIM Card (for the destination country if available): These are often at more “local” rates than your carrier in your country of origin but will result in a local phone number should you need to receive calls.
  • Data Management: Turn off automatic updates and background app refreshes to conserve data usage.

For the IT Administrator:                                                                                                                                                          As the overseer of your company’s wireless mobility, it’s crucial to have a system in place that prevents bill shock due to roaming. Here is a checklist guide for you:

  • Mobile Device Policy Implementation: Establish clear guidelines for international phone usage within your organization.
  • This should include when company phones can be used during international travel.
    • Specific guidelines on streaming videos, calling and general data usage must be addressed. While in some situations, to perform work related activities, there is a justifiable cost of doing business.
    • Employees should have a notification process to ensure plan changes are made in advance of leaving on a trip. Some enterprises choose to have their travel department send notifications to the wireless team when international travel is booked.
  • Communication to Employees: While some employees travel internationally on a regular basis, other only do so sporadically. Regular communications to employees on steps to take prior to travelling internationally should be made.  No one want to hear they incurred hundreds or thousands of roaming charges after the fact.
  • Roaming Plans: Stay up to date on your wireless carrier’s international roaming packages to effectively manage this cost.
  • Mobile Device Management: Ensure all company devices are equipped with tools to monitor and control data usage abroad.

Minimizing Roaming Charges                                                                                                                                                No matter what phone plan you are using, the most affordable solution is always to use Wi-Fi as much as possible. You can download apps like Telegram or WhatsApp to send text messages over Wi-Fi, as well as make calls but beware of public and not secured Wi-Fi. While most hotels, restaurants, and cafes will have public Wi-Fi that you can utilize, it comes at a cost with the major downside to be device security.

The best plan to have in place to mitigate any security issues (as well as international laws restricting access to certain websites) is to use a VPN (Virtual Private Network). When using a VPN, you can be sure your device is secure, and you will be able to access all the same websites and streaming apps that you can access in your home country.

 Options for Reducing Roaming Charges                                                                                                                                       1. Use Secure Wi-Fi: Many hotels offer Wi-Fi which can minimize cellular data consumption while providing                  you access to email and other apps.                                                                                                                                     2. WhatsApp Messenger: A messaging and Voice-over-IP (VoIP) service owned by Meta. A great secure way                to stay connected and make calls utilizing Wi-Fi connections.                                                                                         3. Carrier Day Pass Plans: Many carriers offer a “Day Pass” which incurs a per diem charge only when you turn            your phone on allowing cellular connections.  This approach is great when you combine it with Wi-Fi and                  limit the number of days you actually need to have a cellular connection.                                                                     4. Monthly Data Plans: These monthly data plans will give you a fixed cost to use data services when you will              require cellular access for more than just a few days.  These may also include a limited number of voice                  minutes or give you a discounted per minute rate.                                                                                                             5. Cruise Ship Data Plans: No matter how you do this, obtaining cellular access on a Cruise Ship is expensive              providing you with mediocre service at rates that can be 2 to 4 times of a typical Day Pass.  Some cruise                  ships will offer a “Social Media” Wi-Fi” package which will minimize costs when you together with                              messaging apps like WhatApp.                                                                                                                                               6. Local SIM Cards – You can purchase local in-country SIM cards in advance of your trip or by visiting a local            cellular store once you have arrived. This will provide you cellular service at a reasonable rate allowing for                both voice and data usage. Note, with a local SIM you will have a local phone number that is not you home              country phone number.  This may present challenges if your customers or colleagues need to contact you              directly.                                                                                                                                                                                         7. eSIMs – Also known as digital SIM cards can help reduce roaming costs by allowing travelers to use a                      virtual carrier’s eSIM that offers better data roaming rates than their home network. eSIMs can also help                  business travelers keep their home line active for calls and messages while traveling.                                               8. Roaming Controls – Today’s smartphones have Roaming Control setting that can be configured not to                      connect to a mobile carrier network that is outside of your home carrier’s network.                                                   9. Airplane Mode – A simple yet effective way to put you in the driver’s seat of when your device can connect             to a carrier’s network. When on, your device will not connect to a carrier’s network while you can turn on                   Wi-Fi while in Airplane Mode to take advantage of low or no cost connection options.

With the right knowledge and tools, managing international roaming doesn’t have to be a daunting task. By following the guidelines and checklists provided, IT professionals and business travelers can navigate the wireless world with confidence, ensuring connectivity without the fear of excessive charges.

OVATION Wireless Management has been guiding businesses for over 20 years with expense management and cost avoidance strategies. Contact us today for a comprehensive account review and help with mobile device policies including international roaming management.