Sail the world while avoiding roaming fees

From CNET Magazine: CNET's consumer advice columnist Marguerite Reardon serves up five tips for using your phones at sea and in port.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
3 min read
Jason Schneider

Dear Maggie,

My family is going on a cruise this summer. Do you have any tips for saving money while at sea and visiting multiple countries?


Tech-challenged Landlubber

Dear Landlubber,

Staying connected onboard a cruise ship is a costly luxury. In port, your phones will access the local wireless networks and be charged international roaming rates. And at sea, ships roam using satellite connections, which cost even more.

Depending on what your carrier charges for satellite roaming, you could spend $2.50 to $6 a minute for a voice call and $5 to $10 for each megabyte of internet data you consume. And while AT&T and Verizon offer special cruise packages, using your phone hundreds of miles from shore is pricey no matter how you slice it.

Still, what's the point of being on vacation if you can't post photos on Facebook and Instagram to make your friends jealous? Here's how to make them green with envy without destroying your bank account.

1. Use Wi-Fi

Put your phone in airplane mode and use Wi-Fi wherever you can. Remember, though, that it won't be cheap since the ship relies on satellite for its Wi-Fi service. Look for packages tailored to certain activities. Carnival's "social" plan, for instance, costs $5 a day and provides unlimited access to Facebook and other social media, but excludes email or web browsing.

2. Limit online time

Voice and texting at sea can be pricey, but the cost of data could send you into shock. That's why your best bet is to limit how much time you actually spend online. Compose emails in draft, then send them in a batch when you connect to the internet.

3. Send texts

Sure, 50 cents a text sounds expensive, but it's still less than what you'll pay in roaming charges from either your carrier or the cruise line. So it's a good idea to send texts whenever you can. You can even use text messages to update Facebook and Twitter.

4. Download a data-tracking manager

Apps like Onavo or DataMan Next will track how much data you're burning through and alert you when you're about to exceed a preset limit. This can do wonders for staving off that huge phone bill when you're back on land.


For more CNET Magazine stories, click here.

Mark Mann

5. Get a prepaid SIM card

These cards offer much cheaper rates than US carriers' international roaming charges while you're in port. The $49 Go-SIM International SIM, for example, comes with a preloaded $50 credit, works in more than 195 countries, and charges 20 cents per minute for each voice call, 15 cents for each text you send (receiving texts is free) and 35 cents for every megabyte of data you use. It also offers coverage on some cruise ships. Check their website for details. 

Marguerite Reardon (@maggie_reardon) answers readers' wireless and broadband questions. Email yours to maggie.reardon@cbsinteractive.com. Please put "Ask Maggie" in the subject header. Follow her "Ask Maggie" page on Facebook.

This edition of Ask Maggie appeared in the summer 2016 issue of CNET Magazine. For other magazine stories, click here.