Using Internet Abroad

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When on holiday, it can be tempting to spend hours streaming content at the beach or taking countless pictures of your trip. Unfortunately, this could result in a huge bill, especially if you use mobile data every day.

But using internet abroad doesn’t have to cost the earth. We’ll show you ways to get more affordable broadband overseas, as well as ways to get the most out of your data allowance while roaming.


Key points


Using internet abroad on a laptop

If you’re planning on taking your laptop overseas and want to use mobile broadband, there are two main ways: an internet dongle or hotspot setup.


Dongles

Broadband dongles are small devices that are compatible with your computer’s USB ports, meaning you can receive internet anywhere in the world. But in the same way mobile phone deals vary from network to network, so do different data packages exist for different dongles.

When using the internet abroad via dongle, your package will need to cover this.

Some laptops come with SIM card slots. If yours has one, you can simply insert your mobile broadband SIM into this, rather than using a dongle.

Remember, most standard broadband dongles only provide internet access to the device they’re plugged into. If you’re travelling as part of a group, consider setting up your own hotspot.


Hotspots

Turning your phone into a portable hotspot works best if there are several of you using the internet abroad at the same time. This creates a personal wi-fi connection, just like any home router – the main difference is that it runs on 4G or 5G signal.

You can set up a hotspot from your handset. Alternatively, get a mobile hotspot device from companies like Three, EE and Vodafone.


Finding wi-fi hotspots overseas

If you want to conserve data on your internet dongle, locate nearby wi-fi hotspots when you’re out and about. These are often free to use and have a stronger signal strength compared to when roaming.

You can typically find local wi-fi hotspots in places such as:

Wi-fi signal strength can be affected by the weather and the number of people connected. So if you’re in a busy venue, you might be better off using your dongle.

Also, check if your accommodation has free wi-fi. This will save you a lot of data over your trip.


Data roaming when using internet abroad

Using internet abroad is called ‘roaming’.

Technically roaming begins as soon as your phone connects to a different network. Any calls, texts and data usage from this new network will be charged as per current roaming rates, which are expensive when you go overseas.

A lot of providers have reintroduced roaming charges, but there are still those offering free roaming in Europe, like Virgin Mobile, Plusnet and O2.

Using internet abroad means you’re often charged a much higher rate than you would be at home. And unless your phone plan specifically states otherwise, your usual data allowance won’t count overseas.

If your phone plan does include data roaming, make sure you enable this when you’re abroad - Apple phones normally have it switched off.


Data add-ons to use abroad

A data add-on can help keep your costs down when using internet abroad. Some networks offer roaming add-ons, which give you an allowance of mobile data to use while travelling overseas.

If your bundle has expired (or is about to), your network should send you a text to let you know. Unless you buy another data add-on, standard roaming charges will apply once again.


Using different SIM cards

On the other hand, you could always buy an international SIM card that offers lower data prices in the destination you’re visiting. This will also allow you to make cheap phone calls abroad.

Another option is to purchase a local pay as you go SIM upon arrival. Local rates apply when contacting numbers in the same country, but ringing home does usually cost extra.

Before buying a new SIM card for overseas travel, though, check whether your phone is locked to a specific network, and then check call and data rates to see if it’s worthwhile.


Useful apps for travelling

When travelling abroad, there are many apps that can help you save time and money on your trip.

Some of the most popular international travel apps include:

Remember to switch off automatic updates for apps – they only drain data. Change your settings so these only happen when you’re connected over wi-fi.


Insuring your phone and gadgets

You should insure your phone and gadgets before travelling abroad, in case they get lost, damaged or stolen.

But first, check to make sure that you’re not already covered by your home insurance, travel insurance or bank account.

Some banks and premium credit card companies offer this type of cover with certain accounts. They require you to register your devices with them for valid coverage, and they also sometimes charge a monthly user fee.


What to do if your mobile data is not working abroad

First, check your phone settings. If the device has connected to a different network (which happens when you’re abroad), make sure data roaming is switched on. This should let you start using mobile internet again.

Another possibility is the SIM card. If you’ve bought a brand new SIM for your travels, check that it fits into the card slot properly. After a little tinkering, your mobile data should come back.

If you’ve tried everything and still can’t get connected, phone your network and confirm with them whether international roaming is active for your account.


What to do if you lose your device on holiday

If your phone is stolen or goes missing abroad, ring your insurer and network provider to avoid being held liable for calls, as well as any other mobile-related charges.

Five of the biggest phone networks - EE, Three, Vodafone, Virgin Mobile and O2 - will automatically cap spend if you report your phone as missing within 24 hours. After this, you’re only responsible for paying up to £100 in unauthorised use beyond your allowance.

As an added precaution, backup any personal data and media – photos, videos, documents and other info. – before your trip.


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