Anders Brownworth

Technology and Disruption

International Roaming iPhone Bill

UPDATE: Apple has since added the ability to switch off "Data Roaming" for International travelers. See Settings -> General -> Network -> Data Roaming.

Over a month after returning from a trip to Argentina, I finally got my bill from AT&T for iPhone voice and data service. I was happy with my iPhone as an International phone but of course I was waiting to see what the bill would look like when all was said and done. Well, at long last, here is my iPhone bill including International Roaming charges.

I left for the trip on July 31, 2007 and when the iPhone was not authorized for International Roaming. I was able to use the WiFi feature for Internet access but of course all outgoing calls failed. People calling my number from the States went directly to voicemail as if my phone was off.

I called AT&T's 800 number with my Belkin WiFi Skype Phone and got them to turn on International Roaming for my iPhone. It was activated as of roughly 6:00pm on August 4, 2007, 5 days into the trip. I got several incoming calls and seem to remember that I placed at least a few more than the one outgoing call listed on the bill. (I'm not complaining!) I was charged the standard highway-robbery rates of $.50 per SMS, $.0195 per KB for data and $2.29 per minute for voice calls per AT&T's International Roaming Rates. I returned to the States on August 9, 2007 where you can see domestic data charges resuming.

While the bill was largely what I expected, several items did pop out. The total for what amounted to 5 days of light International use was $148.77. Of that, $98.39 was for data which was a much higher number than I expected. I attribute this mostly to the fact that iPhone data plans in the U.S. are unmetered ($20 per month gives you all you can eat) so the iPhone makes liberal use of the EDGE network. There is no way that I could find to stop the iPhone from using the EDGE network short of going into Airplane mode which means no voice service either. At $.0195 per KB Internationally, the numbers can quickly spiral out of control. Just checking my email several times and looking at a web page or two ran me into a charge that was quite a bit more than I would consider "reasonable". These have to be some of the most expensive bits I've ever purchased!

I knew what the charges were going in, but I wish there was some way to switch off the EDGE network. While I was generally around a WiFi access point which the phone would opt for if it was in range, had I set my email to check every 15 minutes and gone away from that access point, I would be looking at a far higher bill. I think AT&T and Apple are going to see some very unhappy customers because of high data charges stemming from the fact that you can't selectively turn off EDGE access. I'd guess we'll see a lawsuit on this one in the future.

UPDATE: Apple has since added the ability to switch off "Data Roaming" for International travelers. See Settings -> General -> Network -> Data Roaming.

Comments (16)

Anders from RTP

Carl Howe points out how Apple should get ahead of this with a software update before it becomes a class-action lawsuit.

Tom Lurres from NY,NY, USA

I turned my off, but not before I got a huge bill, I did find a way to call back to Europe for Free, I found it surfing my iphone,, you call them and they connect no bill!

Anders from RTP

Apple just released iPhone software version 1.1.1 which now supports the ability to turn off Data Roaming. See Settings -> General -> Network -> Data Roaming.

Gals' Guide from Chicago/IL/USA

Hi Anders,

Love this. I am in the process of both buying a 2nd gen iPhone (trying to sell my Tmobile contract) and planning my Argentinian honeymoon. This post comes in handy, as I was researching tips and tricks for iPhone use in South America. Thanks for the details.

Grace Suarez from San Francisco CA USA

So what's the bottom line? Would you do it again, Anders? We're going to Argentina in February and trying to decide what to do.

Anders from RTP

Grace - Well, I'm in Istanbul, Turkey right now with my iPhone. I have to say there is nothing as convenient as having my iPhone with all my contacts right with me no matter where I am. The prices are high, but I turned off data roaming so it is just the per-minute cost of calls I make. To date I've made 2 in 5 days so I would say this is very worth it at this point. I did need to make a few U.S. 800 number calls but I Skyped that for free. I'd say go with the iPhone if you don't intend on making many calls. If you are more of a heavy phone user, AT&T has a monthly international plan that makes the per-minute lower but it would probably be more cost effective to get a SIM card and a cheap GSM phone at that point.

Grace Suarez from San Francisco

I just ordered the Skype phone you mentioned. Sounds like you're pretty happy with it, right?

Anders from RTP

Grace - Well, I wouldn't say I'm very happy with the Belkin Skype phone but it does work. The interface is somewhat kludgy (a far cry from the iPhone) and it can be a little work to get the phone to register with an access point. If you suffer through the interface and get a call going, it is very handy though. Calls don't drop, the sound quality is good and it recharges like your iPhone or iPod does through the USB port on any computer. I get the idea that it is the best of all mediocre options around (nobody seems to love ANY of the all-in-one Skype phones) but when I was in a pinch on more than one occasion and I just needed to make a call as if I were in the US (to say an 800 number) and I had access to wireless Internet, the Belkin Skype phone bailed me out. I don't think I'd travel without it as a backup. (or a better one like it if I could find one)

Lucia from Los Angeles/U.S

I have a question about the iphone. I am planning on moving to South American and wanted to purchase the iphone. If I also purchase sim card with an unlocked iphone would I be able to use the phone with the sim card? How does that work?

Anders from RTP

Lucia - While unlocking the iPhone isn't supported, it can be done. There are no other options in South America for the iPhone though so unlocking would be your only way to get a local account on an iPhone. I hear a number of gray market companies offer unlocked iPhones but I have no experience in that area.

Paul from Atlanta

How did you charge your iPhone? Can you elaborate on electric current in Chile? Do you need to use a converter? Will any of the plugs in the world travel adapter kit?

Anders from RTP

Paul: The simplest way to charge my iPhone was through my computer but of course the charge adapter works fine as well. The iPhone adapters (as well as the charging brick for my MacBook Pro) work on 110v to 240v from 50Hz to 60Hz so it was simply a matter of getting the proper plug. (no transformer necessary) Additionally, you will notice that the iPod / iPhone / Mac charge adapter plugs can be swapped out for other plug types. You can get a plug set from Apple for most electrical systems in the world which makes things a little less "ghetto" and has you using one less adapter. In Chile I think it was 220v at 50Hz and if memory serves, I used my European adapter for both my iPhone and laptop. All in all, very "International" friendly.

Paul from Atlanta

Thanks, easy enough. I own the international plug set (which I purchased about four years ago). It covers most continents, except South America - at least according to the instructions. More specifically, I was wondering if any of the plugs that come standard in this old set is a "Type C" (which is Chilean standard supposedly - or if I will require a "Type L") or if the newer Intl sets include a plug for South America?

Anders from RTP

Paul: I didn't have to buy anything for Chile though of course I was only in Santiago. Also, I've found this site to be very helpful because it has pictures of each of the plugs:

Cath from In Belgium but lives in Louisiana

I'm actually in Belgium for vacations... it's a 220v over here... can I charge my Iphone using any computer working on 220v? Is it gonna work or burn it?

Anders from RTP

Cath: All iPhone chargers work on both 110 and 220 volts so it will work. You don't need a transformer because the adapters "auto switch" so all you might need is a plug adapter to make it fit. Apple also sells swappable plug adapters as well if you are staying there more permanently.

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