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Being aware of your carrier's roaming packages is important to avoid sticker shock on your next cellphone bill after travelling abroad.

franz12/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

My wallet has been stung many times with hefty roaming charges, so I asked travel tech specialist Winston Sih for his advice.

“Before roaming became a little more affordable in the last few years, I had a good friend of mine go away for two weeks in the Bahamas and return to a $2,400 roaming bill from their carrier,” he recalls.

“It was a fight to get part of the bill reduced, but at the end of the day, it was due to [my friend] not checking their phone’s settings and making sure all the cellular functionality was turned off when not being used and, when data was on, monitoring how much was being consumed by which apps.”

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Sih says Canadians who want to stay connected abroad have to do the math.

For short trips, your carrier’s roaming option packages, which work on a 24-hour clock from the moment you access roaming, are the place to start.

“If it’s just for a long weekend, that may be your best bet as it allows you to stay connected to your phone number for texts and iMessages, as well as data,” Sih says.

For longer trips, consider purchasing a local SIM card. In that case you’ll need to take your SIM card out of your unlocked phone (and not lose it) and replace it with the local purchase. This is great if data in your destination is more affordable. The catch: You’ll have a different phone number. That means you’ll have to share the new number with friends back home, but it’s easy to stay in touch using messaging apps instead of texts. You may also both incur long distance charges when making calls. Still, says Sih, if you’re mainly interested in the data access it can be a great option.

Travellers who don’t want to rely on the hope of finding good WiFi might want to consider a personal hotspot purchase.

Options such as the Skyroam Solis X can fit in your pocket, be used with up to 10 devices and has features that include a remote camera and Global 4G LTE connectivity. It can be either purchased outright (US$179.99 + your preferred WiFi package) or rented (from US$8.99 a day, including unlimited Wi-Fi). A host of other models, brands and package options can be found at most places where cellphone accessories are sold.

“These also include a battery built in so you can charge your devices on the go,” Sih points out, but you’ll still need to bring a cord.

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Sih opts for a multiuse cord. “It’s one USB cable with multiple ends so no matter the device, I don’t have to stress about whether I remembered to bring the cord.”

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