Maui Business

BBB Cautions Travelers on Unexpected Cell Phone Charges

July 21, 2011, 1:41 PM HST
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Timothy Augustine, Director of Communications, Hawaii Better Business Bureau. Photo courtesy of Augustine.

By Sonia Isotov

The Hawaii Better Business Bureau (BBB) is cautioning cell phone users, when traveling abroad, to recognize that their data plan is constantly in use even when they think their phone is not.

Hawaii BBB is advising consumers to either turn off their phone or make the necessary data arrangements with their cell phone provider to avoid thousands of dollars worth of data charges while traveling abroad this summer.

There has been a recent uptick in the number of complaints against the cell phone industry in this regard. “There was in inquiry as to the amount that a consumer can be charged for international coverage. Though the consumer’s provider did cover the area, the consumer didn’t have international coverage. The consumer was charged 2-3 dollars a minute for usage and several hundred dollars for data on a ten day trip,” said Timonthy A. Caminos, Director of Communications, Hawaii BBB.

Last year alone, BBB received more than 27,000 complaints against the cell phone industry, some of which were from customers who were unaware that their data was still in use as they traveled outside of their coverage area or outside of the United States. One particular customer was charged more than $1,200 when his cell phone auto received his emails daily during a one week stay in Jamaica.


According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), “roaming” is the term that describes a wireless phone’s ability to make and receive calls outside the home calling area under your service plan. When your phone is roaming, an indicator light on your phone may display the word “roam.” On occasion, your handset will not display a roaming indicator, even though it is in a roaming area. Before traveling abroad or out of your coverage area, it’s important for consumers to be proactive and contact their provider for specific details regarding their individual data and roaming plan.


“Although international roaming charges vary from provider to provider, many travelers are unaware of the extra fees,” said Dwight Kealoha, president and CEO of Hawaii’s Better Business Bureaus. “To prevent the unexpected roaming charges, contact your cell phone provider to clarify where you are covered and the data plans that can be purchased when traveling abroad.”

BBB advises consumers to do the following with their cell phone and cell phone provider in preparation for a trip abroad this summer:

Turn off your phone. If you don’t need your phone and don’t plan on using it while traveling abroad, turn it off. Some travelers opt for renting or buying international cell phones. Many rental plans offer services that work in several countries and may provide free incoming calls.


Contact your cell phone provider. Many cell phone users know not to make calls or send text messages while out of their coverage area or abroad, but many fail to realize that their data is in use even when they don’t think it is. For the occasional traveler, who doesn’t talk on the phone that frequently, it may be worth looking into an international add-on plan. Your cell phone carrier can provide specific tips that cater to the roaming needs of your individual cell phone and data plan.

Another option, advises the BBB, is to invest in a prepaid SIM card. For the frequent, chatty travelers, or long-term travelers, investing in a prepaid SIM card may be the best way to cut costs. With access to a local phone number, you will be able to make phone calls at the country’s local rate. Always check with BBB before choosing an international service provider. Many companies offer SIM cards that can be purchased and can include free incoming calls originating from anywhere in the world.

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