Please sign in to post.

Can I ensure "zero" data usage on my trip?

We have 2 iPhones and will be on a 7 week trip through Europe. I just got off the phone with AT&T (our carrier) and it looks like it would cost us $180 to have both phones on their cheapest "plan" for the duration (which crosses 3 billing months) - ugh!

Our intended use is VERY minimal: a few texts exchanged with our host upon arrival at each stop, one phone call in Ireland when we arrive there, and any "emergency" calls between the two of us if we get separated or have an emergency. Even with a handful of 'surprises' (like incoming telemarker calls we didn't ask for), no usage on the "pay as you go" basis even begins to approach the monthly plan rate (times 3 for 2 phones).

EXCEPT... we were quoted $19.97 for a single MB of data if we have data usage on the phone(s). Yikes!!

Certainly it looks easy enough to turn the Settings button to "Off" for Roaming. But is that it? Do we need to turn off the "Cellular Data" button as well? (And why are there two buttons? )

Is it actually that easy to ensure that data usage is entirely blocked?

And, will we be sorry if we do that? What will we miss by going dataless? (We will be staying in places that provide WiFi.)

Posted by
244 posts

Yes, turn off cellular data. Use wifi in the hotel. We called home a few times and the cost was minimal. I do tend to text with our kids so I downloaded an app called WhatsApp. Our kids also downloaded the app. I could text and send pictures all the time using the hotel wifi. Make sure cellular data is turned off or you will be charged. But as long as the person you are texting also has the App it was free. Our son went to China last fall and it worked there too!

Posted by
2742 posts

Yes, roaming and cellular data OFF. I have no idea why there are two buttons, but just turn them both off and you will use no data.

To be sure, set your data to zero when you get on the plane - under settings/cellular you can reset your statistics, so that when you reset the data usage will say 0, then just double check to make sure it stays at 0 periodically. Peace of mind more than a necessity - turning data OFF will work. But this way if you absolutely need data at some point you can see how much you used. In this area you can also turn off data for specific apps. You don't want your email fetching everything for 7 weeks, so turn it off for email as well as any apps you don't plan on using. Then if you need one thing you can turn data on for that app, turn it back on using the cellular data button, do what you need, and turn everything back off.

You will find wi-fi in cafes and plenty of other places, as well as your hotels, so access won't be a problem. Data is very handy if you need to look something up on the fly, like an address. If you are used to traveling in the US with tons of data it will be an adjustment, plan ahead. Read any reviews you want ahead of time, make note of addresses so you don't need to look them up, that kind of thing. Find an offline map app if you are used to Google Maps - it requires data, and this is my biggest hurdle.

Posted by
9363 posts

Another app that you can use for texting over WiFi is HeyWire. It does not require both parties to have the app, only you. Anyone texting you will do so through your HeyWire number instead of your phone number.

Posted by
13206 posts

My husband has taken his iPhone on two month-plus trips to Europe. We have ATT. The first trip was fine--he turned off data, used wifi and the phone feature, and incurred no charges for data.

The second trip, we were five weeks into it when he got the dreaded "high data use" warning. They send it when the charge approaches $100. He checked and data was back on. It turns out that if you turn your phone off ( which he did at one point to save the battery), the phone defaults to data "on" when you turn the phone back on. At least that is the explanation he was given.

So be aware of that and keep checking that data stays off! Then you should be fine.

Posted by
408 posts

Wow, Lola, thanks for pointing that out. I wouldn't have expected to have to watch for that, after turning the phone off and on!!

FWIW, for the past couple of months I've tried turning each app "off" for usage of data. It's not too bad -- WiFi is fairly ubiquitous -- with the biggest bother being that many, many apps (including those you'd think didn't have any data component) will nag over and over and over to 'remind' me that data is turned off. And apparently there's no way to tell the app, "OK, I've got it -- lay off with the nagging already."

Posted by
31510 posts

keri,

I find it's also a good idea to make a note of the data usage meter in the phone at the start of the trip, as that will tell you if you're using any data.

As Lola mentioned, it's also prudent to check the phone from time-to-time, to ensure that the data hasn't inadvertently switched itself back on.

Posted by
726 posts

It's ridiculous that in 2015 we haven't found a way to make global data usage simple and affordable.

Posted by
703 posts

we are travelling at the moment and use the same process generally as mentioned by others. we buy a cheap sim card, for the iphone, with minimal pre pay but use the hotel free wifi and keep the sim for emergencies only.( we used it successfully last year for 9 weeks)
we have found that a lot of hotels have average wifi so sometimes VIBER may not work yet SKYPE without video will work better.
So I wouldn't just rely on one app for keeping in touch.

Posted by
1677 posts

This website has some tips about iPhone usage that may not have been mentioned before. There are also specific links for At&T and other carriers. I also forward my phone number to a family member when I'm on the road - if there's some sort of emergency (e.g., credit card company calls) then they can relay a message to me via email or text.

Posted by
408 posts

Thanks for all these suggestions. It helps me feel better about our strategy.

FWIW, last Europe trip I did just put my phone in Airplane mode (that was after I got a telemarketer call and had to pay for it!!) But this trip my husband will also have his phone and he feels the only reason for us both to carry phones is so that we can call each other if we need to. (And he's not fluent enough in 'phone' to be toggling settings, esp. if there's some problem.) It's my understanding that in Airplane mode we wouldn't be able to phone each other, yes? When we initially tested the 2 phones with Cellular Data in OFF we also could not connect for a call, but then I updated both phones to be current/the same iOS rev. and now all test calls seem to be working -- tho' it looks like to use (retrieve) voice mail that calls for 'data'. (?) I left him a test voicemail message and nothing showed up on his phone app for the message, just for the 'missed' call.

I do understand about the challenge of weak hotel WiFi. This trip we'll be in private homes/apartments so that aspect shouldn't be the problem. Getting connected through various instruction sets (in other languages) may be another matter.

There's no one back in the U.S. that we need to call (or expect to be calling us) so that's one simplification. And I haven't used texting before (another 'surprise' awaits?) but I've been contacting each of our hosts and they all seem to prefer that as an arrival contact. So hopefully all will be smooth on that front.

A final mystery for me is whether GPS works with 'data' turned off. I would thing not, but I use the Runkeeper app and have tested it over the last few months with data off and it does still seem to be able to show me maps and track my route. That seems counter-intuitive. It would be 'nice' to have maps working, but not at that high price for 'data' -- and, yes, I agree that in 2015 it's a pity that this all isn't more straightforward and manageable, at a reasonable price and convenience element!!

Posted by
1125 posts

I agree with Eric from Oregon. When T-Mobile provided free data and texting to its customers, and reduced the cost of calls from overseas to 20 cents a minute, I had hoped it would put pressure on the other carriers to match it or come close. Apparently not. Some day perhaps, but not now, not yet. Fortunately for me, T-Mobile is my carrier so I personally don't worry about this issue any more, but I'd like the other carriers to copy it so we all had some choice. (Note that the data T-Mobile gives you is at slow speeds; you can go faster if you pay extra. It is perfect for email, though.)

Posted by
4954 posts

Paul, not all countries are part of T-Mobile's international roaming plan. I have T-Mobile. On my recent trip, Slovenia, Montenegro, and Bosnia were not part of the roaming plan, so for the latter two I opted to buy local SIM cards (mostly for data) - cheap enough and my phone is unlocked.

Sometimes just buying a cheap phone in Europe can make the most sense. Obviously the prices depend on the country. In Bosnia - where EVERYTHING was cheap, at least for an American - my SIM card + recharge cost only about $3 USD total for 1GB of data and some calls. Cheap phones didn't look to cost much more.

Posted by
7689 posts

my phone's GPS/maps function also works with roaming and data off. Like you, i don't understand why, but it makes me really happy!

Posted by
31510 posts

I'm still testing various features of my phone, but I've found that it helps to have internet available when plotting a route on Google Maps, but once the address is locked-in it can operate with data "off" and will follow my progress nicely.

Posted by
4954 posts

It seems that phones and tablets use cell towers as their "GPS" system - even if you don't have data or any sort of local SIM card. (You can always make an emergency call without a local SIM card; if your phone is GSM and can pick up the local frequencies, it can still operate even without data or local calls). I think they use local WiFi signals too somehow; my phone kept telling me to enable WiFi for improved accuracy. Presumably the phone didn't assume I would have passwords for any of the local WiFi hotspots I might pass.

When I was in non-roaming T-Mobile countries recently (Slovenia, Montenegro, and Bosnia), before I bought local SIM cards, my Android-with-US-T-Mobile-SIM kept telling me to enable data roaming (but warned me of potential extra costs). I got the idea that unless I enabled roaming, I wouldn't incur any charges, though I always disabled data anyway. Perhaps it differs by the type of phone.

Posted by
31510 posts

Another note regarding GPS use and why this works with cellular data switched off.....

iPhones provide an assisted GPS system which uses a combination of a GPS receiver as well as Wi-Fi and cellular signals to determine location with a fair amount of precision. Dedicated GPS receivers are built into the phones which can receive both U.S. GPS signals as well as those from the GLONASS (Russian) GPS system. With cellular data off, phones can still determine location, but not as quickly or accurately. However, the limiting factor is that access to the internet is required to download maps, either from Wi-Fi or cellular data.

Posted by
2742 posts

yes, if you want to make calls, texts or use wi-fi, then airplane mode isn't a good choice. It basically turns off all communication between the phone and anything else. You can't contact anyone, even on wifi. So the data off buttons will be what you want. If your husband isn't great with phones, do it for him or help him do it and then just leave it.

Good info on why GPS works. I have an offline map app that I use this way - it updates my location even with no data usage. So yes, if GPS is running you are not using data, just enjoy it for free!. It does seem to work on airplane mode too (just tested it), which is a surprise to me.

If you're really concerned about the amount of your bill, texting may be cheaper than voice calls. Check your plan - so then if you and your husband get separated and need to meet up, a quick text saying "I got stuck in the museum, meet me in the hotel in 20 min" might be easier and cheaper than a call. Occasional calls shouldn't be too much, though.

Posted by
408 posts

Thanks, all , for the continuing support & info. We are now in France and I have two 'surprises'. First, tho', we've had the two iPhones each with both Cellular data settings set to OFF (except, of course while actually on the plane). And the monitored data usage numbers were staying at 0 ... EXCEPT until this morning when I tried to text our host from Nice airport. The text reported that it failed to be delivered so I did "Try Again" a couple of times (no go). Then I switched on the airport's WiFi and tried the text again a couple of times (still no go). Then to my shock I checked Settings and saw there was 133kb of data usage!!

I thought texting didn't use 'data'??? And why didn't the Cellular setting block the data usage as expected??

FWIW when I tried to phone the host that also failed. Then I noticed my phone shows 'NO SERVICE" which sounds like a good reason for my text & call to fail. My husband's (older) phone DOES show a carrier name so we have a 2nd mystery going there. I have powered my phone off and back on and still no carrier. (NO SERVICE).

This leaves me my scratching my head -- but my primary concern of the moment is why my (apparent) texting resulted in a data usage bump!! Before we left the U.S. I arranged with each host to make contact using text, specifically to avoid data usage. Do I need to rethink that??

Posted by
4954 posts

You may have to tell your phone to choose a different network provider. I found, with my T-Mobile phone, that sometimes it would automatically register on the correct provider and sometimes not - so I'd have to choose one. I don't know how you do this on an iPhone, probably in settings somewhere.

As for data usage: just keep data turned OFF. If AT&T charges you something, get them to remove any data charge after you get home.

Posted by
408 posts

Indeed, the iPhone has a Setting item for Carrier, just under the one for cellular. It was set to "Automatic" (which is the same as on my husband's phone) but, unlike my spouse's phone, the automatic option finds no carrier. And when I switch Automatic OFF then it just goes into an eternal 'Searching' mode, never listing anything. I powered the phone off & on but there's no change.

On the texting it should NOT incur any data charges, is that correct?

(Yes, I am screenshotting the settings and plan to take it up with ATT if there are charges when we're back home.)

Posted by
2742 posts

No, texting should not use data. It uses your plan charges - so you will be charged, like for a call, but at a different rate. On my plan it's cheaper than a 1 minute call.

I have no idea what could have happened with the data, if the data switches were off, then this makes no sense. Did you turn the phone all the way off, so that the data settings got re-set? If this happens, then the phone automatically does some things that use data, such as fetch emails. I'm grasping at straws here, no real idea.

Posted by
408 posts

Hi, Mira, While I have been powering my phone down as part of the testing to see if I can get a carrier to connect to, I also have immediately checked the Cellular settings when back on. (They have never reset -- always stayed on OFF.) Also, I had followed the tips at the link given earlier in this thread, including turning all apps to OFF for use of data and setting email to only retrieve on demand. I guess I'll need to try contacting AT&T to see what's up ... or not, recalling how I spent half a day looping through "support" before I left -- this forum has proved a much better resource for correct information. guess we'll try texting on the husband's phone and abandon the idea of using the phones between the two of us.

Posted by
4954 posts

Wow, Keri, that sounds very frustrating. I think at this point I'd try an Apple forum or maybe HowardForums - a forums dedicated almost exclusively to cell phones.

Posted by
31510 posts

keri,

"On the texting it should NOT incur any data charges, is that correct?"

AFAIK, that's true. However, I've noticed on a few occasions during travels that I'm not able to receive texts when data is switched off and Wi-Fi in not available. I'm still trying to pin down a reason for that, and will experiment with it further on my next trip.

If using a texting app such as Viber, whether I'm able to receive or send texts will depend on whether that option is switched on in the "Use Cellular For" menus. If the Viber button is switched "off", it will only be able to send and receive texts when in a Wi-Fi area.

Posted by
408 posts

In spite of what I said yesterday, while on the AT&T site (investigating these matters) I saw "CHAT" offered so I thought I'd give that a go. It turns out that my phone (the 2nd on our ATT acct.) was not 'activated' for international use.

After a short set of exchanges (where the rep. tried to tell me my phone could not connect to a carrier because I had not signed up for one of their international plans -- with a lot of pasted boilerplate thrust in my face as options for purchase) I told her she was WRONG (what's the point of a "pay as you go" option if I cannot get a carrier; my spouse is connected with no plan; etc., etc.) and I'd been through that boilerplate before leaving the US (thank you very much). To that she quickly shifted her stance and said, "Oh, yes, I can just send a code and get you set up for a carrier." And, indeed, she did that and, voila, after a power off/on I was showing a carrier.

On a roll I asked her about that 'mystery' data usage amount but, alas, she (as others) could not explain the data usage. She first replied that "It's under $1 so don't worry" but I persisted (that wasn't my question -- me, the person who had our WA cable arbitrator investigate a 10-cent mystery charge by Comcast) saying that "0 usage" should be zero usage, no matter the billing. She could not explain it.

And after making a connection to the French phone carrier, on my phone I now see that my data usage is at 137 kb (up 4kb) and I also now have a small data roaming amount as well. (!!) I assume this has to have something to do with establishing the carrier connection. (??) But I also have her chat log repeating that my data usage will be zero as long as I keep the two Cellular buttons set to OFF.

Posted by
408 posts

Ken, Thanks for mentioning Viber. I have a friend in NZ who swears by it. However, this trip I'd hoped to keep things basic and straightforward (ha!) meaning, Plan-A was to just use plain old texting, at the pay-per-use basis, with the half dozen hosts in various countries. If the next stop (Paris) doesn't work out with texting to contact him, we may need to pop into a Starbucks and try WiFi. Hopefully we'll have this figured out before we get to really 'foreign' turf -- Croatia. I wonder if my phone will need to be 'activated' in each country. Hmmm....

Posted by
7689 posts

Yes, I would imagine your phone will need to be activated/find a new carrier in each country.

For all this trouble, you might have done better to buy a cheap local pay-as-you-go phone with a local SIM in your first country and then use it to text your hosts. Or just use WIFI when you're in a Starbucks or whatever and get a connection. You seem to be spending a lot of your vacation time going back and forth with AT&T, which is a shame.

Posted by
408 posts

Thanks for the good thoughts, Kim. We'd considered the cheap phone options but since our hosts already have my contact phone number, and because my spouse & I would each need a cheap phone for our other intended use, I decided to plow through and just get things working!!

The good news is that now that things are set up, all is working as it should. We've traveled from Nice to Paris, contacted our host here without a hitch, and even learned to use Google Maps (preloading the day's maps in our apt. on WiFi) to confirm our location while walking the city streets. Amazing!! And the data usage is sitting firm at that initial ("mystery") amount. So that's good.

FWIW, for anyone interested in the earlier bits about maps and data usage, in addition to Google Maps and Trip Advisor both offering handy offline capabilities (and FREE!) I use the RunKeeper app (data set to OFF) to track our route each day. I start it tracking while in the room (on WiFi) and then leave it running in the background, then do the SAVE in the evening. It's interesting to see the route we've walked (generally accurate) on a map. Of course, we need to disregard anomalies like: I left it on during the train ride from Nice to Antibes and back, which made it appear that I'm a really fast walker!!

Posted by
9 posts

Switch to Tmobile. Included in their plans are unlimited data service in 120 countries. I even had service out in the savanna in Kenya. Careful though. Slovenia is not one of the countries so check before you go to make sure your destinations are included. Leaving an android phone on without a plan in those countries could cost about $45 hour. Tmobile data is free but it does have a 20 cents a minute charge for out of country calls but you can avoid that by using a Skype app or connecting to wifi. You can text, use apps like for GPS, translators, hotel/train/plane reservation sites, weather, maps, tourist info,games, bans, shopping, books, etc., just like you do here in the USA without additional charge.