Verizon Doesn’t Want You To Travel Abroad… At Least Not With Your Mobile Device

 

The Verizon Global Network

Traveling internationally? Verizon customer? Excellent… I hope you brought your check book… this one’s gonna hurt!

I have an iPhone 5 and an iPad mini – Verizon has trained me to use them both with wild abandon. I have unlimited data on my grandfathered phone plan, unlimited txt messages and more voice minutes than I can use in a month. The iPad mini has a data cap, but I’ve never come close to it, so – as far as I’m concerned – it’s unlimited too. Browse the web here, txt there, make a voice call or two… I live in a practically unlimited connected world, brought to me by Verizon, for about $150 per month.

The Globetrotter

Austin PowersNow, as many of you know, I am also an International Man of Mystery. I spent last week at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and I’m spending next week in London for a client. I’ll be heading off to Okinawa in a few weeks to give a speech, etc. My usual trick is to use a local SIM card in an unlocked smartphone and live without email unless I can find a WiFi connection. But, now that I have become addicted to my iPad mini, I thought I would ask Verizon to hook me up.

So, a few days before my trip to Barcelona, I called Verizon and asked them about using my devices in Spain. I was told that for $25/month, I could have a 100MB data plan and for $4.95/month more, it would include voice and txt. There was a catch. Voice calls would be $1.29 per minute and txt messages would cost 5 cents to receive and 50 cents to send. Each additional 100MB of data would cost $25. The iPad was just going to cost me $25 per 100MB of data.

Welcome to 1990 pricing.

OK, forewarned is forearmed — I’ll use WiFi as much as possible, use Tango (excellent app, BTW) to save on voice calls and txts, closely monitor my usage – this should all work out.

A Little More Complicated Than That

Well… not exactly. I hit my 100MB on my iPad mini within a day of arriving in Spain. This was extremely sad, as it would not automatically charge me the next $25, rendering the iPad mini inert without a WiFi connection – which, even at Mobile World Congress, was hard to find.

Strangely, I was using the iPhone and the iPad in the exact same way and the iPhone had more than enough data left over to take me all the way through my trip. Why did the iPad use more data than the iPhone? Verizon has no explanation.

I tried to find data usage for both devices at verizonwireless.com – no luck. You can’t see your international data usage on your device or online, you have to call Verizon (on the phone… a voice call). We’re in the information age and Verizon is an all-digital company, but I guess the international charge-you-through-the-nose department didn’t get the memo.

Verizon to the Rescue! … Right?

I dashed off an email to Verizon customer service asking about the horrible service, remarkable expense and generally bad user experience. Here’s the exact text of the email I received from Verizon Customer Service (and yes, my given name is actually Shelton, but you can still call me Shelly):

Hello Shelton,

I hope your stay in Spain is going well! It must be nice to step away from the cold of New York – I’m in Chicago so I know the feeling! I understand you want us to look into your data usage as you received a notification that you’ve gone over your data allowance. My name is Adrian and I’ll be happy to look into this matter for you.

Shelton, in review of your account, I am showing that both your iPhone 5 and your iPad have crossed certain thresholds. Here is the breakdown:

Line ending in XXXX crossed the $25 threshold in overage charges on February 25, 2013

Line ending in XXXX crossed the $25 threshold in overage charges on Februrary 25, 2013

At this time, Shelton, I would recommend you turning your data roaming off the phone – I would turn data off completely to avoid any further charges. You can do this by going into the Settings of both your iPhone and your iPad; then go into General, Cellular to power off both. It is best to utilize Wi-Fi whenever possible.

Please let us know if there is anything else we can assist you with, Shelton. Have a wonderful stay in Spain.

Sincerely,

Adrian
Verizon Wireless
Customer Service

Well, there you have it. The answer is simple – turn off your data and don’t talk on the phone. Adrian didn’t even mention txt messages – that’s $100 I wish I had back.

‘The Most Important Part of Verizon’

I didn’t think this was an acceptable answer, so I took the liberty of writing back and telling Verizon that NOT to use my devices didn’t seem to be a great answer. Here’s what Verizon said:

Shelton, 

Thanks for getting back to me about your usage while out of the U.S. My name’s Tom, and I’m happy to reply to your email.

I agree that these charges can add up in a hurry. I wish I had better news for you, but these charges from roaming are created by the carrier on who’s network you are currently using, and they show up on your Verizon bill. Data roaming adds up much faster. In Spain, it gets billed at a rate of $20.48.

Adrian’s advice is good, and I also recommend that option. Verizon does offer a $25.00 global data package for 100MB that I also want you to be aware of. Please keep me posted if you’re interested. (Note: Tom wasn’t really paying attention, that’s the plan I was on.)

Thanks again for contacting me. I’m glad I could provide you with some good information. The way I see it, you’re the most important part of Verizon Wireless. I hope you have a great day! 

Sincerely,

Tom
Verizon 
Wireless
Customer Service

Well, at least the way Tom sees it; I’m “the most important part of Verizon.” I’m sure that will impress Telephonica next time it sends Verizon a data bill. In our next episode, I’ll show you how to jailbreak your iPhone 5, add an illegal SIM card and steal phone service worldwide. Actually, no I won’t … but considering the alternative, it would really be fun!

Author’s Note: Shortly after this article was published, I was contacted by a representative from the executive offices at Verizon who verified this written account of my experience and wanted to help me understand the issue Verizon has with its international plans. Subsequently, Esmeralda Diaz Cameron, Public Relations Manager, NY Metro Region Verizon Wireless offered this written response: “Our current plan is designed to meet the needs of the vast majority of our customers who travel overseas and we encourage use of WiFi whenever possible, especially customers with high data needs.”

 

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Author:

Shelly Palmer

Shelly Palmer is Managing Director, Digital Media Group at Landmark Ventures/ShellyPalmer a technology focused Investment Banking & Advisory practice specializing in M&A, Financings, Strategic Partnerships and Innovation Access. He is Fox 5 New York's On-air Tech Expert and well known for his work on Fox Television's Shelly Palmer Digital Living as well as his daily radio report on United Stations Radio Networks. For more information, visit shellypalmer.com.

Comments

  1. paula lynn says:

    I may be the last person on earth who could tell anyone anything about phones, but from what I understand the best thing to do when abroad is to buy another phone and use SIM cards when Verizonized although you already know that. (I am the last person because this includes driving 2 different times in 2 different countries, have a little international phone with a SIM card for both in case of emergency and never used it in 2.5 weeks in Ireland and a month in Spain.) Barcelona I don’t know, but in Andalusia the hotels had free WiFi in the lobby/business area and more conveniently many had free WiFi in the rooms which of course doesn’t help when having to work outside that area. My less than 2 cents.

  2. I had the a similar experience last summer. We were taking a cruise in the eastern Mediterranean, and Verizon set me up with their roaming data plan. After getting hit with a $150 charge the first day, $25/Mb seemed like a good deal. It did seem to “renew” automatically, although that might have had more to do with arriving at different ports with different carriers. By the end of the week my bill was still $300.

    I would love to go back to a GSM phone, but like you I have the grandfathered data plan. Isn’t it funny how, in a world of evermore connectivity and shrinking operating costs, we are offered less data at higher expense. Not exactly the neoliberal ideal that we have been promised.

  3. Doug Cole says:

    Keep up the good work Shelly! Gotta love the CSR’s sticking with the corporate script…

  4. KathieG says:

    Sounds like the experience I had with AT&T, traveling in Latin America. But even WiFi didn’t work on my phone so I had to use a local phone (no internet). Is it this way with all (international) providers?

  5. Rob L says:

    Shelly, I travel extensively and to different countries, and have had both Verizon (now) and AT&T (previously, when I was less tech savvy). In both cases, the charges for international travel roaming services were exactly the same regardless of what country we visited. I don’t really believe Telephonica charges exactly $20.48 per 100mb, nor do I believe other countries charge anywhere near that amount. Oddly enough, foreign countries seem to have much lower rates for “bundled” services than we have, but that’s neither here nor there.

    We have come to the conclusion that paying for the convenience of using tablets is simply a way AT&T and Verizon have of soaking the business traveler who doesn’t pay careful attention.

    Therefore, we’ve come to the realization we can’t have the freedom to roam we enjoy in the US at a reasonable price, and we’ve adjusted our procedures accordingly. You learn!

  6. Why didn’t you just get a SIM card in Spain and pop it into your iPhone 5, maybe get another for your iPad.

    It would have been a lot cheaper. Your iPhone is already unlocked.

  7. William Cowger says:

    I could not agree more. Verizon has opted out of supporting global
    services. They charged me $20 / MB in Tanzania on my last trip. That
    is over $100 / day just for email. AT&T… $24.99 for 120MB. It
    will pay for the switch to ATT in 3 days.

  8. John Smith says:

    How did your iPhone fare? Did 100Mb keep you going for a few days? Did it renew automatically if you ran out? And finally, did you get charge for incoming calls that you did not answer/declined?

  9. ahp999 says:

    This is the worst and least inefficient way to have a phone and data plan overseas. I travel a lot all over the middle east and south asian countries. Most countries now have plenty of prepaid options that include 3G data for very reasonable prices. I have been with AT&T and I have had my iphones unlocked by them for this very reason. I just arrive into a country and look into whats the most popular prepaid service that allows 3G data. Pay for sim, pay for data plan and put sim into the phone. Most of the time I get depending on how long I will be there, I’ll get data with at least 1gb for a month, lesser if I am there for only a week or two. All in all costs any where around 15 to 35 US dollars and usually have more data and minutes than I’ll even use up. Buying these international plans from AT&T or Verizon are the biggest rip offs around and are not any better in terms of service or coverage. Remember you are roaming on another net work, why pay roaming when you can just buy the locals sim carrier and use. I have also done the same for my iPad 4th Generation, although this is not always necessary as I can tether from my iphone to the ipad or just swap out sims.

  10. ahp999 says:

    I understand most Verizon phones are not GSM, i believe the iphone 5 might be. Either case instead of paying hundreds of dollars in roaming plans, your better off finding a used iphone 4/4S that is unlocked for about 200 to 300 dollars on Ebay. Or buy a iphone 5 unlocked from apple for a new price of about 650 dollars. Then just use local sim carriers when arriving into a foreign country. I have noticed most airports when you arrive into, have local phone carrier booths to buy the sim and a plan. So before leaving an airport you’ll be setup with whatever you need.

  11. Luis says:

    Call Verizon and ask for an ‘International Unlock’. This enables you to use any non-US SIM. I’ve used this in UK, FR, Caribbean & South America. Technically, you can use a non-US SIM in the US, but you would then be roaming relative to the provider!

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