If you're lucky enough to be planning a trip overseas and will be bringing your Apple iPhone 4 along, chances are that the moment you land in whatever country you're visiting, the iPhone 4 will automatically work perfectly. You'll be able to make and receive calls, surf the web, send/receive text messages, access your email, and use all your favorite apps.
In fact, the phone will work so well, chances are you'll want to use it a lot during your trip, which AT&T makes extremely easy to do with international roaming. What you'll experience between 30 and 60 days after you get home, however, is a whopping phone bill, typically adding up to hundreds of dollars extra for the period you were away. You'll face a similar situation if your iPhone service contract is with Verizon, which also charges hefty fees for international roaming.
As soon the your AT&T iPhone 4 begins roaming oversees for voice or data service, what you pay for that service will be a hefty premium, which will vary based on what country you're visiting. Separate international roaming rates apply for voice calls, text messages and wireless data usage.
For example, making and receiving calls while overseas will cost anywhere from $.99 to $4.99 per minute, depending on the country. All calls, including calls to access your voice mail messages, are charged based on a per-minute rate. Before leaving home, if you add AT&T's World Traveler plan to your regular service plan, you will automatically receive a slight discount off of the per-minute international roaming rate, but it will still be costly.
Based on the country you'll be visiting, prior to your departure visit AT&T's website to determine the per-minute international roaming rates for making and receiving voice calls.
Again, depending on the country, sending text messages from your iPhone will cost at least $.50 each (regardless of their length), although receiving text messages while overseas is typically free. What will really get expensive, however, is your wireless data usage for accessing the web and/or your email.
If you don't pre-purchase a international data roaming bundle before you depart, which AT&T offers for $24.99 for 20MB, $59.99 for 50MB, or $119.99 for 100MB, you will wind up paying upward of $.0195 per kilobyte (KB), which translates to about $20.00 per megabyte (MB) of data. In other words, without a pre-paid international data plan, simply accessing your email once could cost upwards of $40.00 to $100.00 in wireless data roaming fees, depending on the size of your email messages.
Should you opt to pay for international data roaming, turn off the iPhone's Fetch and Auto-Check features, so that the device doesn't automatically access the wireless web. Instead, check your email and sync your contacts and calendar manually, for example, to reduce your data usage. Also, refrain from using any apps that automatically access the web, such as Facebook, Weather, YouTube, or Maps.
To help you plan your international wireless data usage, the AT&T website offers an on-line based international data roaming cost calculator. To access it prior to your trip from a computer, visit: http://www.wireless.att.com/learn/international/roaming/international-roaming-data-calculator.jsp.
To actually track your international data usage while overseas and avoid costly surprises, reset the iPhone's tracker before you depart, and then be sure to refer to this tracker periodically during your travels to see how much data usage you've actually utilized.
To access the iPhone's data usage tracker, press the Home button on the phone and then tap on the Settings icon. Select the General option, followed by the Usage option. To reset the tracker, tap the Reset Statistics icon at the bottom of the screen.
Use Your iPhone Overseas Without Going Bankrupt
There are, however, ways of using your iPhone overseas without vastly overspending. First, as soon as you land in a foreign country, turn off your phone's international data roaming feature.
To turn this feature on or off, press the iPhone's Home button, and then tap the Settings icon. Next, access the General menu option, followed by the Network option. You can then toggle the Data Roaming feature on or off.
You can still access the web using your iPhone's Wi-Fi capabilities from airports, hotels, Internet cafes, and coffee shops (or any Wi-Fi hotspots, for example). In some cases, you may need to pay for Wi-Fi access, just as you would in America. However, you will not have to pay any data roaming charges for using your phone's Wi-Fi Internet capabilities.
If you do have access to unlimited free Wi-Fi Internet service from your hotel while overseas, for example, you can make and receive international phone calls using the Skype voice-over-IP app for the iPhone, as opposed to making calls using international wireless roaming. Using Skype, making calls is either free or costs just pennies per minute once you set up a Skype account.
To download the free Skype iPhone app, visit http://www.skype.com/intl/en-us/get-skype/on-your-mobile/download/iphone-for-skype.
To save money, you can choose to accept incoming calls (if you're willing to pay international roaming charges to do so), but immediately call people back using the Skype app for free (or for just pennies per minute).
However, you can also leave your iPhone in Airplane Mode while you're traveling abroad to avoid all international roaming charges, yet still be able to access the Internet via Wi-Fi and take advantage of your favorite apps while on-the-go.
Aside from using the Skype app from your iPhone to make and receive calls while overseas, you can often save a fortune by purchasing a pre-paid cellular phone and paying for minutes as you go. Or purchase an unlocked cell phone and then insert a pre-paid SIM card into the phone that is purchased in the country you're visiting. Using a pre-paid cell phone and/or SIM card, you can often make and receive international calls from overseas for less than $.99 per minute, plus have the ability to send/receive low-cost text messages.
Before leaving, you can also purchase an unlocked cell phone and/or prepaid SIM card from a company called Telestial (800-707-0031, http://www.telestial.com), which offers some of the most competitive international roaming and calling rates available (starting at $.49 per minute).
Unfortunately, using your iPhone 4 for any type of calls, text messages, or web access that involves international roaming is a costly proposition. Now that Verizon also offers the iPhone 4, perhaps the competition will drive international roaming rates down in the future, but for now, be prepared to pay a hefty premium to fully utilize your iPhone overseas. Make sure you understand all of the charges you'll be responsible for, based on how you use your iPhone 4 overseas.
To get your questions answered, call AT&T's International Roaming hotline at (800) 331-0500. Unfortunately, ignorance of the charges probably will not get you out of having to pay them once you rack them up while traveling, even if you attempt to dispute them after the fact.