New Australian rules for global roaming could mean higher bills

Angus Kidman 8 February 2016

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Travellers will receive fewer SMS warnings about overspending while roaming.

The rules for global roaming plans sold in Australia are being changed to cut down on the number of notifications travellers receive -- potentially bad news if you're planning an overseas trip.

Late last week, the federal Government announced that it was modifying the Telecommunications (International Mobile Roaming) Industry Standard 2013, which sets the rules around how providers let consumers opt in and out of roaming plans and how often they need to receive notifications indicating their potential costs and spending.

Under the new rules, customers will receive fewer SMS notifications while they're roaming, and can opt out of receiving those notifications altogether. Messages indicating that charges can be higher when overseas and the general rates that apply, as well as information on how to opt out, can now be combined into a single message, rather than having to be sent separately. That increases the odds of people ignoring them.

The rules around sending spend management notifications have applied to Telstra, Optus and Vodafone since September 2013. Originally, other resellers (MVNOs such as Amaysim, Boost and Vaya) were supposed to offer usage notifications for roaming by May 2016. That date has now been deferred to January 2019, after some providers expressed concerns over how much it would cost to implement them. That means if you're using any of those telcos, you won't necessarily receive notifications at all.

The government argues that since the roaming market has become more competitive, there's less need for oversight, and it's true that roaming complaints have fallen. In 2014-2015 the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman, which handles complaints about telco services, received 600 complaints about roaming, down from 4,000 in 2011-2012.

While the reduced notifications aren't particularly pleasing, in reality you'd be unwise to rely on usage notifications in any case. Data from them can be up to 48 hours out of date, which means by the time you receive a warning, you already could have spent far more.

Roaming using your existing number can be a very expensive business, even if you sign up for a roaming pack. While we've seen improvements in some areas (such as Vodafone's recent offer of free roaming in New Zealand on some plans), in many cases buying a SIM when you land, or a multi-country travel SIM before you leave, will still prove much cheaper. Whichever option you choose, following simple steps to cut down on data usage makes roaming much more affordable.

Picture: Shutterstock

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