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.
Now, 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):
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.
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:
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!
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.”