Recently, an Australian citizen traveling abroad in Europe had his cell phone stolen from his pocket - an all too common occurrence for tourists - and subsequently his phone was used to make international calls to Somalia. The victim immediately reported the theft to local authorities, as well as his cellular company, but returned home to find a phone bill was pending with $500,000 in roaming charges.
Because of time-zone differences between Western Europe and Australia, the cellular company made the incorrect assumption that the theft had occurred a day later than it actually had, and remained firm that the victim pay the charges. Fortunately, the Australian government stepped in, and the customer's ridiculous bill was waived.
This story brings to light an issue that has been plaguing the travel industry since the inception of commercially available cell phones: international roaming charges.
Roaming charges for overseas calls and data usage still remain a point of contention for many travelers, and under most circumstances force those touring abroad to abandon their domestic cell phones in fear of incurring massive charges. Despite outcries from European telecom lobbyists, stating that excessive roaming fees exist to maintain strong mobile networks, the European Union has begun to effectively put in place a cap for roaming charges, limiting the fees that tourists face when traveling within the borders of the European Union.
Technology evolves quickly to accommodate the needs of the consumer, and the commercial availability of personal WiFi (or MiFi) devices now provide savvy travelers with a more economically viable alternative to international cell phone usage, a trend that is steadily growing each year.
A portable MiFi device coupled with online call apps like Skype, Google Voice, or Mumble (among a myriad of others) allow you to place and receive calls, texts, or emails for free once you're connected to a secure wireless network through your personal MiFi device, sidestepping hefty roaming charges altogether.
Next time you find yourself traveling abroad, needing to use your phone, make sure to pick up a portable MiFi device from Auto Europe, and avoid the many hassles of negotiating an international roaming data plan.