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Avoiding small-to-medium bill shock

The last thing anyone wants to explain to their company accountant is how they managed to rack up a $3,500 phone bill while on a 10-day overseas business trip. Most people wouldn’t have an explanation other than the bill “just crept up” on them – it is standard business practice to check your emails throughout the day and make a few quick calls, but who could predict the great differences in cost between those activities in Australia and overseas.

As companies transition to a 24/7 business cycle, their leaders and employees must stay in contact no matter where they are in the world, and with that inevitable move comes an increase in “bill shock”; that feeling you experience when you return home and open your phone bill to see global roaming charges have driven it through the roof. For SMBs trying to adhere to a small budget, processing a huge bill can provide an enormous headache for the accounts team and your cashflow.

How to avoid bill shock

But what options are out there to combat bill shock? You could keep your phone turned off while abroad, but for many people this isn’t an option. You could also get a local SIM card from the country you are in, but what about when you are travelling to multiple countries?

Small and medium business employees not only need to save money while staying in touch abroad, they need the convenience of one number wherever they go. They also need to minimise bill shock by making expenditure more predictable.

Surfing Australia is one organisation that needed to find this balance of cost-effectiveness, convenience and predictability. The not-for-profit organisation was formed in 1963 to establish, guide and promote the development of surfing in Australia. Surfing Australia’s management team are regularly travelling abroad, delivering some of the world’s best surfing programs. Staff need to stay connected while abroad: their media officer needs to relay information to mainstream media, the event manager needs constant contact with local officials and staff back in Australia, and surfers simply want to stay in touch with their loved ones back home.

Like most travelling employees, Surfing Australia staff soon became victims of bill shock. In one instance, an employee returned from a high-performance coaching clinic in Peru, and had managed to accumulate $3,500 in global roaming charges over 10 days on their regular Australian mobile phone service. Another employee returned from Tahiti having racked up a $980 bill in just a week. These bills were simply a mixture of the employees calling home or the office, and not turning off their emails – which continually downloaded despite the employees not checking them.

Using pre-paid travel SIM cards

Having experienced bill shock, Surfing Australia attempted to cut its global roaming charges by using cost-effective tactics such as giving its staff the use of prepaid, dedicated travelling SIM cards. They found several benefits from this transition. For one, the call and SMS rates for travelling SIMs can be significantly lower than those of Australian telco providers, as are data rates. Secondly, most Australian telcos will charge customers to receive calls when they are abroad, but for calls to a travelling SIM, there is no cost to the recipient in certain countries.

These benefits were instantly measureable. On a trip to Portugal, Peru and Puerto Rico last year, all of their surfers were supplied with dedicated travelling SIMs. One surfer was constantly calling home to connect with friends and family. In one instance, she spent nine minutes and 11 seconds on a call from Portugal to Australia. If she had made this call on an Australian provider SIM with global roaming, the call could have cost as much as $62.70. With the dedicated travelling SIM card, the call cost $5.92. She also received a call while in Portugal which lasted two minutes and 40 seconds. This call could have cost her as much as $5.40 with an Australian provider. Instead, she incurred no charge. All up, her total expenditure came to $376 for a 31-day trip, spanning three countries. The same amount of calls would have cost her $1,099.98 with one of the leading Australian telco providers.

One number, multiple countries

Call savings are just one of many benefits that SMBs can take advantage of by switching to a prepaid travelling SIM card. For one, a prepaid SIM means the calls the traveller makes are limited to the credit they have purchased. Once that credit is used up, the traveller must top-up the credit again before he or she can use their phone’s voice and data services. This allows the business to control spending and minimise bill shock as the rate of expenditure is being measured in real time. The best travelling SIMs make top-ups hassle-free and can be completed securely from the handset.

For the employee visiting multiple countries, the prepaid travelling SIM provides the convenience of one phone number for the entire trip. This means not only can they call loved ones or colleagues at anytime, anywhere, but family and friends need only one number and format to keep in touch throughout the trips. Some travelling SIMs don’t just pin their hats to competitive call rates; they also provide value-added services such as free web-based SMS and broad coverage.

As the transition to the 24×7 business cycle continues, the last thing an SMB needs is bill shock. Prepaid, dedicated travelling SIMs offer the best opportunity to combat this growing issue by offering competitive call and data rates, providing the convenience of a single number, and ensuring costs are predictable.

Other ways to stretch your budget overseas

In addition to using special travel SIM cards there are other ways travellers can stretch their budget while abroad:

Use WiFi internet wherever possible

In most instances, global data roaming technology isn’t at the stage where it can be used as cost-effectively as calling. The best option is to use free WiFi at known hotspots, or purchase a data-specific SIM card from a local provider which offers lower data rates than those offered on global roaming. Regardless of the option used, data roaming should be turned off until it is needed to avoid any applications from updating automatically.

Don’t check your voicemail everyday

Many people think that quickly checking their regular Australian voicemails while overseas will incur the same cost as back home, which is a myth; global roaming rates will apply. The best bet is for travellers to change their voicemail message before they leave, with instructions on how callers can contact them on their travelling SIM number.

Jamien Zimmermann IS CEO of TravelSIM, a sponsor of Surfing Australia.