Tips to avoid expensive roaming charges when travelling abroad

Those days where you can turn off your phone and rely on a good paper map to go places have long gone. Nowadays mobile phone and a good internet connection is a basic need every traveller needs. You need to access apps such as google map, metro map, currency converter, weather forecast etc to make your trip easier and enjoyable.

Here, we’re outlining options you can choose to remain connected below:

1. Buy a roaming package data from your phone provider

This is the easiest option but not always the cheapest. If you’re based in Indonesia, Telkomsel has a decent package for 15 days and 30 days. Dial in *266# to check. For Europe dataroaming Telkomsel charges IDR 375K for 5GB data for 15 days or IDR 475K for 10GB data for 30 days. And IDR 500K for combo 10GB data, 50 minutes phone and 50 sms for 30 days. If you will need to make local calls get the combo package.

Indosat and XL most of the time offer more expensive roaming package so if you’re not with Telkomsel I suggest to skip this option.

Pros: The easiest option and you can still use your mobile banking or paying things with credit card from your phone at ease as you keep your number which is needed to deliver OTP.
Cons: It may not always the cheapest so you need to compare. And if you plan to use hail rider apps such as Uber, Free Now, G7 etc the driver will be hesitant to call your number if it is not local number.

2. Get local sim card

This is almost always the cheapest option if you buy local sim card when you land. Normally you can buy local sim card at the airport: at the money exchange counter or the Relay shop inside airport. London Heathrow airport even has a SIM card dispenser machine – I got mine there on my last trip. Your best bet to buy a local SIM card is usually at the Money Exchange Counter at the airport.

Always do your research beforehand on whether you can buy one at the airport where you land. I made a mistake twice in Iceland and Oslo where I thought I could buy one at the airport and was disappointed to find out I couldn’t. In Oslo I finally resorted to buy the roaming package from Telkomsel as I need internet connection to buy train ticket and open google map to explore Oslo. It is good to know your phone provider roaming package as a fall-back plan if you can’t find a local sim card to purchase. Another alternative is to pre-purchase local sim card and have it delivered to your home. You can find one in Tokopedia or Javamifi Shop.

Pros: If you purchase in the destination country it will be almost always be the cheapest option and you can do local calls and accept calls
Cons: May not be available at the airport. You need to pre-purchase at a more expensive price if you want to eliminate the risk

You can replace your existing sim card in your mobile phone with local sim card or insert if in your own portable wifi device. In the past not many people own portable wifi device, but since covid and WFH gains popularity a lot of people now have one. If you happen to own one, after you activate local sim card in your mobile phone you can insert it into the wifi device.

Pros: You can share internet connection from your wifi with other people
Cons: You will need to insert the sim again to your phone if you need to make local calls

3. Rent a Portable Wifi

If you want to share wifi access with your travel partner and you don’t own a portable wifi device you can always rent one in either the destination country or locally in your own country. Indonesian can rent portable wifi from Java Mifi Shop or if you prefer to pick up one at the destination country you can rent one from Klook. If you’re going to Korea you can rent one from Trazy and pick it up at Incheon airport. When I went to Iceland I rented the portable wifi from our rental car provider.

Pros: You can share the wifi with other people
Cons: You cannot make local calls or accept calls

4. eSim card

The last option and I think is the best one, thanks to technology, is pre-purchasing eSim card before you fly. What is eSim card? It is an industry-standard digital SIM that allows you to activate a cellular plan from your carrier without having to use a physical SIM. You can install eight or more eSIMs on your phone and use two phone numbers at the same time.

If you’re an iPhone user you can use eSim card for these type of Iphone: iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, iPhone XR, or later. It is not yet widely accepted by android phone except the latest premium one.

I bought eSim card (Holiday Zen eSIM) for my recent Europe trip from SimOption Shop but if you prefer to purchase one locally you can get one from Java Mifi. I bought eSIM card for Singapore from them. They offer 3 days package for 3GB at IDR 69K.

Activating eSim card is very easy. After your purchase you will receive instruction on your email with a QR code you need to scan. Install the eSim card before you travel but only activate it when you land in the destination country.

Pros: You don’t have to take our your existing Sim card and risk losing it. You can chose to still receive sms/call from your existing Sim card and use eSim for internet connection only or use both with eSim and it is easy to interchange. Purchasing eSim is also very easy and fast. You will get your eSim delivered to your inbox within one hour.
Cons: Only available to certain mobile phone for now

I have used all four options during my travel and recently used the eSim card option which now become my new favourite way of getting connected. I hope this article is useful and do share your experience as well in the comment box!

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