Travel

Mobile data roaming: Your guide on the cheapest options when travelling

Covering your data roaming when you're roaming the world yourself can be tricky. Here's the ultimate guide to help you stay connected in the cheapest ways
 

Photo: 123rf

Let's face it: we'd be helpless without our phones, especially when travelling.

Imagine wandering the streets of a foreign land without Google Maps, WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook and Trip Advisor, without any way of looking up information or hailing a cab.

But without an internet connection, you might as well not have your phone - and the last thing you want to do is scurry around from place to place praying for a public Wi-Fi hotspot.

So mobile data is crucial when you travel. Unfortunately, horror stories abound of people who used their phones abroad and realised the resulting phone bill cost more than their vacation. To help you avoid bill shock, here are some smarter ways to stay connected on the road.

 

OPTION 1: BUY A LOCAL SIM CARD

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One simple way of saving on data roaming costs is to purchase a local SIM card. Data packs on prepaid plans are usually affordable, and there's the added benefit of having a local phone number to make and receive calls if needed.

However, SIM cards may not be available at every airport, or you might arrive at an odd hour when all the shops are closed. You could probably buy one outside the airport at a convenience store, but this may be tricky in a country where English is not widely spoken. Moreover, it's a bad idea to explore a foreign country without data, so do your research carefully if you intend to take this option.

 

OPTION 2: SUBSCRIBE TO A DATA ROAMING PLAN FROM YOUR TELCO

Your regular Singapore telco is likely to offer a data roaming plan which allows you to use your Singapore SIM card overseas for a fixed price. This means you can remain contactable at your local number, and although you won't want to be answering too many calls overseas, it's convenient to be able to receive SMS messages (e.g OTPs) for free.

Here are the plans offered by the Big 3 telcos:

SINGTEL READYROAM

Singtel offers four different ReadyRoam packages, offering between 1-3GB of data valid for 7 or 30 days.The multi-destination plans allow you to use your data in more than one country, making them ideal if you're travelling to more than one place in a 30 day period.

Photo: Asia One 

M1 DATA PASSPORT

M1's Data Passport works a bit differently from other providers. Instead of giving you additional data to use overseas, it instead allows you to utilise your local data allowance overseas for a 30-day period.

In other words, if my mobile plan comes with 6GB of data, I'll be able to use 6GB overseas with the Data Passport. You can activate the service in a single destination for $10-25, or pay $25-50 to cover multiple destinations (particularly useful when travelling in Europe).

Photo: Asia One

STARHUB DATA TRAVEL

StarHub's DataTravel plans come in two flavours - Asia Pacific, or Global. Validity can be as short as 3 days (ideal for day trips or quick getaways) or up to 30 days for longer vacations.

 

Photo: Asia One

OPTION 3: RENT A WI-FI ROUTER

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Instead of buying a separate SIM card or activating a special data plan, you can opt to rent a Wi-Fi router instead. The main benefit is that the connection can be shared with multiple users, and you can stay contactable on your Singapore number while overseas. The downside is that whoever carries the router effectively becomes the anchor- it's hard to split up and wander independently.

Changi Recommends offers the most convenient rental option, because you can pick up and return your router at the airport itself.

Photo: Asia One

Changi Recommends runs frequent sales, so pricing is subject to change. Always refer to changirecommends.com for the latest pricing

However, there are also alternative providers like Yourwifi or Y5Buddy, so it's always worth comparison shopping. These companies do not have airport locations, so you'll need to arrange for separate pickup and drop-off of your device.

 

OPTION 4: BUY A SPECIAL ROAMING SIM CARD

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It's possible to purchase a "roaming SIM" with generous data allowances and have it delivered to your home before you travel. Upon reaching your destination, simply pop it into your phone and enjoy data from the moment you land.

A simple search on Qoo10 will throw up numerous options, including WeFly and ICC. Prices change frequently due to sales, so always check for the most updated prices.

ICC cards, for example, start as low as $5 for 7 days of unlimited data in Thailand, $12.90 for 3.5GB/7 days in Europe, and $26.90 for 10 days of unlimited data in the USA.

Other popular destinations like Korea, Australia and New Zealand are also available, as well as more exotic places like South and Central America.

Starhub also offers a prepaid SIM called Happy Roam, which can be bought at the airport money changer outlets before flying. Coverage is limited to 17 countries, although most major Singaporean holiday destinations are available. Plans range from a $3 1GB/1 day option to a $25 4GB/4 week option with free data on Sundays.

 

CONCLUSION

Photo: Asia One

In general, the most convenient option would be to subscribe for a data package with your existing telco. This convenience comes at a price, however, as it can be expensive to roam in countries where your telco has less preferential rates.

Renting a Wi-Fi router is cheap and allows for multiple connections, but you could always do that with the hotspot function on your phone anyway, plus it limits the mobility of your group.

A roaming SIM can offer fantastic rates, but you'll need to invest some time doing research to find the best deal for your location.

Finally, buying a SIM card at the airport upon arrival needs no prior planning, but just be careful to check if it's even possible at your destination.

This article was first published in SingSaver.

ALSO READ: TIPS TO SAFEGUARD AGAINST ILLNESSES AND TRAVEL IN STYLE FOR FREQUENT TRAVELLERS

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