DennisBeaverJanuary 08, 2011 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver

Planning a trip out of the country and want to use your cell or smartphone?

Then, today’s story will help you from feeling pickpocketed by your wireless provider, potentially saving from several hundred to several thousand dollars in completely unexpected voice, data and roaming charges, even if you never make a single call or send an e-mail or photo to friends back home.

That’s right. You can be charged hundreds, even thousands of dollars without ever using your cell phone, simply because it was turned on. More on that in a moment.

But if you do intend on using your cell phone and send the occasional e-mail or photo, by following Ken Grunski’s suggestions, your own cell provider won’t slap you with ulcer-producing bills.

As president of San Diego-based Telestial, Inc., Grunski is one of those people who turned an “ah haw” moment into a business which has saved its customers millions of dollars in what would have otherwise been, in many cases, unbelievably high per-minute charges.

That moment came shortly after he had just returned home from an overseas trip and opened his T-Mobile cell phone bill.

“It was just a brief call to California from Tanzania using my T-Mobile phone. I was charged almost $4.00 per minute. At first I thought it was a mistake, but it was no mistake. When I asked friends who lived there what they pay for a call to the U.S., I had to reach for the Rolaids. It was just a few cents a minute.”

“It was an example of cell providers taking advantage of customers with exorbitant overseas roaming charges. But then the light went on: Why not make foreign SIM cards available in the USA, giving travelers a real cell number for that country and paying inexpensive local rates? That’s what Telestial does.”

More to worry about than expensive calls

“It’s bad enough getting soaked, on average, two dollars a minute to make or receive calls when abroad. But what about data use? At home, data plans are very inexpensive, with some carriers offering virtually unlimited use. We can e-mail, send texts, photos, watch streaming video, use GPS, Facebook and access over 200,000 apps inexpensively.”

“But your data plan rates do not apply when leaving the U.S. Less than five pages of text could cost you $10 in most countries. Surf the net for about 10 minutes and you could be out well over $150 easy,” Grunski points out.

“Imagine, getting a bill for several thousand dollars for data use after your European vacation? Just Google ‘data roaming nightmares’ for real- life examples. We are accustomed to data being part of our lives, constantly updating friends on where we are, what we are doing. If you never get motion sickness, I guarantee you’ll have it, while sitting at your kitchen table, looking at that bill, and the scary thing is that you do not even have to use the data portion of your phone to be in trouble,” he warns.

Roaming overseas = running up a huge bill

“Cellphones are constantly looking for a compatible network to latch onto. In the United States, you are still on the same network – AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, etc. – anywhere you go, but not when you travel overseas. If the phone can connect with a network, it will, and you are now in roaming mode, no longer on your own, very inexpensive rate plan.”

“Even simply leaving the phone turned on or using the alarm clock function means that you could easily be running up hundreds of dollars a day in roaming charges. You do not have to answer the phone in order to be hit with roaming charges,” Grunski stressed, adding, “if your phone is set to automatically receive SMS or text messages, you are at risk for an enormous bill.”

Specific advice

“Regardless of which phone you own, to avoid expensive roaming and data charges while overseas, begin by turning both Fetch Data and Data Roaming off. Likewise for Voice Mail Auto Check. Read your local cell provider’s warnings for overseas use of the phone. Be aware that apps, such as stock quotes and weather, will continue to stream even while roaming – they do not know that your data is no longer free.”

Read the phone’s instruction manual and be sure that what you want off is in fact off,” Telestial’s president recommends.

You can use a cell phone overseas inexpensively, not for just staying in touch, but even allowing your friends to follow your journey online, in real time, seeing where you are. It is completely free, incredibly cool, and we’ll tell you how next week.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.