The days of travelling overseas and being unreachable are long gone. Nowadays, we like to stay in touch with friends and family via text message, phone calls and social media. But using your phone without a roaming package can cost.

Here’s a guide to roaming and how to ensure your holiday is not ruined by your mobile phone bill.

What is roaming?

By definition, roaming means the use of a mobile phone outside of its local area. That means the moment you step off Saudi Arabia’s soil, you are officially roaming and you will be charged extra, on top of your regular call charges, for every call or message that you send or that comes to you as your phone has to connect to a local network carrier.

For example, if a friend calls you from home while you are travelling, they will pay the local rate and you will pay the tariff of that call being routed from your home network to an international network. So you are paying the extra to receive the call, not your friend.

What are my options besides roaming?

Change the settings on your phone to Wi-Fi. If you don’t, your phone will also continue to update all your applications on your phone, incurring charges all the time. It means you will be charged extra for every MB of data you use whether it is on WhatsApp, social media or downloading files.

You could also buy a local number with data services from the country you are travelling to. And, if you have no time to subscribe because of last minute travel plans, setup a roaming package over the phone.

Selecting a roaming package

To enjoy the same access to your smartphone that you do at home, then you need to sign up for a roaming package.

You can sign up for an add-on roaming package to suit the length of your trip from daily to monthly and the amount of data you are likely to use. And, remember, roaming doesn’t need to be excessively expensive.

While you can pay SR 50/month for Mobily’s BlackBerry Roaming Package that allows roaming usage of 10 email accounts and blackberry messenger, the provider’s new summer roaming plans, enables you to pick what is most important to you.  For example, for SR 50 a month, you can get free unlimited Whatsapp access, and for SR100 a month, you can get unlimited SMS while travelling.

[Compare mobile plans in Saudi Arabia]

Check whether providers offer roaming packages in the country you are travelling to. It is also wise to see which local telecom provider partners up with STC, Zain or Mobily, and has a good connection to that provider.

All of the three telecom providers have a handy roaming table that lets you see exactly how much you will pay for calls and messages for both post and pre-paid plans in the country you are travelling to. They also alert you to the fact roaming rates can vary depending on the local provider you tie up with so be aware.

Remember, even if you have a roaming package, it is still worth switching to Wi-Fi whenever you can. Most hotels offer Wi-Fi and there are numerous hotspots you can tap into which will save on roaming charges.

Those on a pay-as-you-go package that relies on Wi-Fi to download data, could save by trying to avoid using their phone to make calls or send text messages, as the charges will be much higher. However, when they are in a Wi-Fi zone, they can continue to use the Internet as normal.

Regular travelers, might benefit from having a roaming option as part of their post-paid package with their network provider rather than just as an add-on.  But make sure you pick a cost-effective option that makes sense locally as well as overseas.

If you aren’t a frequent traveler, it would be much cheaper to upgrade just during the period of travel than having it as part of your current package and not use it.