How to avoid costly iPhone data roaming charges

Recently the Los Angeles Times showcased a problem that more and more iPhone users are running into when they travel; expensive data roaming charges. The article profiles the plight of Nathan Oventhal to get a $550 data charge removed from his AT&T bill after his iPhone connected to the Internet while traveling in Paris.

According to Oventhal, when he turned his iPhone on in Paris he didn't make any calls or use the Internet; opting only to take some pictures, but when he got home he found a bill for 20 MB worth of data. In the States 20MB of data wouldn't make a difference, but the exchange rate for data use is incredibly high, which resulted in his $550 welcome home gift.
Oventhal expressed his bewilderment with the charge to David Lazarus of the LA Times, "How on God's green earth did I use 20 megabytes? All I did was use the camera."

When he asked AT&T to explain the charge he was incorrectly told that it was an iPhone update and he was offered a special deal to upgrade his data plan for $59.99 and the $550 charge would be removed. He jumped at the deal. But he still didn't understand how this happened.

According to the LA Times ,the default setting for data roaming on the iPhone is off, but several users, Oventhal included, found that their switch had been flipped to "On", leading to the big bill when the iPhone connected on its own to check email. While some users have reported that data roaming has been turned on without their doing so, it's not likely that an App downloaded from iTunes would be able to make the switch.

Matthew Braun, an iPhone developer of the popular MASH App, told WalletPop that, "It's conceivable that an App could toggle it; but the function is part of a private API, which would typically cause an app to be rejected by Apple." When Braun recently traveled overseas, he turned his phone to airplane mode and then turned on Wi-Fi to avoid any issues like this. It's much more likely that a clumsy finger bumped the data roaming setting while changing another setting on the Network settings page.

If you want to make sure that you don't end up with a huge data bill from your next trip overseas, you can turn on airplane mode like Braun or you can follow the simple steps in the video below to make sure that data roaming is off. The process takes a few seconds and is incredibly simple. If you have an iPhone and you travel internationally, you should really add "checking that data roaming has been turned off" to your packing list.


If you missed it in the video, here's how turn off data roaming straight from AT&T. "To turn data roaming "ON/OFF", tap on Settings>General>Network>Data Roaming"

Oventhal isn't the only traveler to get hit with huge charges for data usage. He joins Adam Savage of Mythbusters fame who received an $11,000 bill for data use in Canada. On the flip side, a Canadian Student racked up an $18,000 bill when he turned data roaming on during a trip to New York and Trinidad.

Thankfully, this story has a happy ending. AT&T reversed Oventhal's charges and now he knows how to make sure that it doesn't happen again; and in their defense, AT&T did send him a text message alerting him to high international data use.
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