On the whole, residents of Switzerland make frequent use of their smartphones while traveling abroad – whether for sharing photographs with friends and acquaintances via Facebook or Whatsapp, using apps like Google Maps or Uber, or simply for checking their email.
Unfortunately, there are still many mobile phone users who simply make calls and use the Internet abroad without getting informed about roaming costs. This continually results in many consumers being unpleasantly surprised after trips abroad. Ralf Beyeler, telecom expert at independent online comparison service moneyland.ch, is convinced that “telecom companies are ripping consumers off with exorbitant standard roaming rates.”
Lower rates with roaming options
Lower roaming rates are typically only enjoyed by mobile device users who buy suitable call and data roaming options ahead of their trip. In many cases, costs can be reduced by as much as 90 percent compared to standard rates by using a call roaming or data roaming option.
But a new study by moneyland.ch shows that even with options, roaming costs can still be very high depending on the mobile service provider and the travel destination. Using its own specially programmed mobile roaming calculator, moneyland.ch calculated the most affordable rates from all Swiss mobile service providers for roaming in Spain, the United States, Cuba, South Africa and Thailand.
The calculation was based on a two-week stay, with the traveler using 1 gigabyte of roaming data and making 60 2-minute calls during their stay. As a next step, moneyland.ch selected the most affordable roaming combination of mobile roaming options, but not accounting for the roaming allowances included in some mobile plans. The verdict: While various Swiss service providers have further lowered their roaming rates this year, roaming charges can still hit your wallet hard.
Roaming charges for Spain compared
Travelers to Spain who match the user profile used in the calculation would spend the least by using a prepaid offer from KOKO, at 25.95 Swiss francs. On the other end of the scale, users of TalkEasy and ok.- would spend the most at 22,605.50 francs. In practice, it is unlikely that a customer would pay such exorbitant roaming charges because service providers generally cut connections before this can happen. The big mobile service providers are average – at least for mobile plan users. Salt’s most affordable combination for Spain based on the user profile costs 58.95 francs, while Swisscom’s costs 64.90 francs and Sunrise customers would pay 69 francs using the cheapest combination. Typically, the rate schedules used for roaming in European Union member countries are identical to those used in Spain. You can find the exact rates using the mobile roaming calculator.
Roaming charges for the U.S. compared
The rates used by many Swiss telecom service providers for roaming in the U.S. are either identical or somewhat higher than those used for roaming in European countries. Users of prepaid offers from KOKO matching the user profile employed in the calculation would spend the least, at 28.90 francs. TalkEasy and ok.- users would spend the most, at 45,325 francs. Here too, users of mobile plans from the big players come out average, with the cheapest combination from Salt costing 58.95 francs, the cheapest from Sunrise costing 69 francs, and the cheapest from Swisscom costing 104.90 francs.
Roaming costs for Thailand compared
Travelers to Thailand matching the user profile will spend the least by using a prepaid offer from KOKO, at 66.90 francs. TalkEasy and ok.- are the most expensive, at 45,000 francs as per the published rates. Of the major service providers, Swisscom is the most affordable at 164.90 francs, followed by Salt at 289.95 francs and Sunrise at 313 francs. Even the budget service providers still charge fairly high rates. Telecom expert Ralf Beyeler recommends using the free WLAN services offered by hotels or buying a local SIM card at your destination rather than relying on mobile roaming.
Roaming costs for South Africa compared
For travelers to South Africa matching the calculated user profile, prepaid offers from KOKO are the most affordable, at 38.40 francs. ok.- is the most expensive, at 45,000 francs as per its published price list. Of the major service providers, Swisscom is the most affordable at 164.90 francs, followed by Salt at 289.95 francs and Sunrise at 313 francs.
Roaming costs for Cuba compared
Using prepaid offers from Salt and its subsidiary Das PREPAY works out cheapest for mobile roaming in Cuba, at 784.95 francs. At 45,000 francs, TalkEasy and ok.- are the most expensive options. Salt is among the most affordable solutions for mobile plan users, at 848.45 francs. Swisscom is nearly 10 times more expensive at 10,065 francs. According to published price lists from Sunrise, customers would pay nearly 16,000 francs in roaming charges. It is important to note that these prices are theoretical, because in practice service providers cut connections early on. It is also worth noting that Swisscom and Sunrise customers must first purchase a data bundle before they can use data roaming in Cuba at all. However, the example of Cuba shows that even the most affordable roaming solution from a Swiss provider is still far too high. Another mitigating factor is that hotels in Cuba do not generally offer free wireless Internet connectivity.
Beware of roaming pitfalls
The terms and conditions used by Swiss telecom service providers present a number of pitfalls for customers. Almost all telecom service providers place expiry dates on data roaming bundles. Many data options are only valid for 30 days after activation. “It is high time for the telecom sector to recognize this problem and begin offering roaming bundles without expiry dates,” says telecom expert Ralf Beyeler. Up until now, only the minor telecom service provider SimplyMobile (a Swisscom subsidiary) offers data bundles which do not expire.
Salt employs a particularly user-unfriendly model. The fine print for the Talk Europe/World and Internet Europe/World roaming bundles reveals that the bundles expire on the ninth day of each calendar month. Customers who buy a 100-megabyte Internet World bundle for 29.95 francs on June 6, for example, must use the full 100 megabytes within just 3 days because any remaining data will expire on June 9. The customer must pay another 29.95 francs for a new bundle to continue roaming after that.
Another pitfall is presented by the fact that many roaming options are automatically extended for another month if the customer does not give notice on time. This leads to mobile users being billed for roaming services long after returning to Switzerland simply because they failed to terminate the roaming option.
Mobile phone customers must be particularly wary of the exorbitant roaming rates which apply to certain countries. While rates on islands like Mallorca, the Canaries and Madeira are identical to those applicable to Spain or Portugal, special terms and conditions apply to many other islands. For example, most Swiss telecom service providers charge higher rates for roaming in Hawaii (USA), Puerto Rico (USA), Réunion (France) and Aruba (The Netherlands) than they charge in the continental United States, France and The Netherlands respectively. But there are exceptions to this rule. For example, Sunrise charges continental U.S. rates for roaming in Hawaii and Puerto Rico, while UPC uses the same rates for Réunion that it uses in continental France.
Roaming allowances included in mobile plans typically are not the cheapest solution
Various telecom service providers advertise “carefree” plans which include roaming allowances. But the included roaming only applies to some countries. Most of these plans only include roaming allowances for (some) European countries and provide limited roaming data.
For typical vacationers who spend 2 weeks out of each year by the seaside or exploring a foreign country, plans which include roaming allowances are not the best solution. These plans are significantly more expensive than plans which do not include roaming. Unless you travel abroad and make use of roaming allowances on a frequent basis – as a business traveler, for example – you are simply paying month over month for a service that you are not using. Adding suitable roaming options for the length of your stay abroad to a plan which does not include roaming allowances generally works out cheaper.
Use the roaming calculator to compare solutions based on your specific needs
The only way to find the roaming solution that is best suited to your specific needs is to perform a custom calculation. Many Swiss telecom service providers offer a number of different roaming options. The one thing that does hold true in almost every case is that using roaming options generally works out cheaper than roaming at the exorbitant standard rates. Which roaming option would work best for you depends on a number of factors. In order to find the optimal roaming solution, it is important to account for any roaming allowances for your destination country which are already included in your plan. The exact rates, performance, validity period and compatibility of individual data and call options must also be accounted for. Some service providers divide countries into more than one roaming area. All of these factors make it almost impossible for a regular mobile phone user to find the optimal solution.
That is why moneyland.ch created the comprehensive roaming calculator in Switzerland. It is easy to use and helps consumers to find the most affordable roaming solutions,” says Ralf Beyeler from moneyland.ch. The calculator helps consumers quickly and simply find their way through the maze of rates and save a lot of money.