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Taking your cellphone abroad? How to avoid bill shock

Bill shock is common with travellers who take their cellphones on vacation without a travel plan. Tears, a possible snap, and painful conversations with customer service usually follow.

Even if you assume you won't use your phone much while away, you should call your provider to ask for special rates on international travel. If you're a Bell user, for example, you can get a call bundle for talk, text and data usage for $100 that would cost you close to $500 otherwise.

You can add on a plan at any point in your trip, so get the rate info to compare with the alternatives.

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Additional options include buying a cheap prepaid cellphone when you arrive at your destination or from a carrier's store before you go.

T-Mobile offers a prepaid pay-by-the-day plan for just $2 a day with unlimited voice, text and data, against a prepaid balance of $50. You'll receive a new U.S. number, but you can forward your Canadian cell.

Double-check your coverage with your Canadian carrier before forwarding calls for forwarding rates. In some plans, calls to the United States are included at no extra cost.

Similarly, purchasing a SIM card for your phone when you arrive at your destination, from a kiosk or a provider, allows you to pay local rates. Call your carrier to see if your phone is already unlocked (and can accommodate a new SIM) or get it unlocked at an independent cellphone provider.

If you travel frequently or make regular international calls to family or friends, then switching carriers altogether could be a smart move.

Anna Marie Garcia, a credit-union account manager in North Vancouver, says she made the switch to Mobilicity after paying close to $2,000 in roaming and long-distance charges from trips. Her new plan offers flat North American travel rates at 20 cents a minute, seven times less expensive than her previous carrier.

One of the best features of a Mobilicity account is that if you run over your allotted minutes, you can't actually make another call until you add more money to your online account.

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There is less chance of bill shock with these plans. Further, some smart hotels are starting to offer local prepaid cellphones for guests (you leave a passport or credit card as security).

Bringing your laptop to use Skype, or taking incoming calls to your hotel are two additional free options, because it's unlikely you'll leave your phone behind. As long as you set up a smart plan, they come in handy to check-in with home, make reservations and snap envy-inducing poolside shots to post on profiles.

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