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Family’s overseas vacation ends with $13,000 phone bill

Nowadays, almost everyone relies on some sort of electronic gizmo to entertain themselves on a long trip. It could be a smartphone, a tablet, a portable gaming console or an ebook reader; we pack these gadgets along when we travel and use them extensively even while we’re on the road.

I know, I know, the internet is life. But here’s a big risk — consuming mobile data abroad can be a very costly affair! Remember the dad who got the shock of his life when his kid streamed YouTube videos while in Canada and he was hit with a $17,000 bill? Oops.

Hmm, don’t look now, but this type of expensive “accident” has made the news again! This time, it happened to a family on a vacation overseas, racking thousands of dollars in data roaming charges along the way.

Family vacation turned into a data disaster

A family returning from a vacation in Vietnam had the biggest sticker shock ever when they received a bill from their mobile carrier, T-Mobile, with thousands of dollars in data roaming fees, according to a report from the San Francisco ABC News station KGO.

Vivian Chung and her kids just arrived in their California home from a trip to Vietnam for her mother’s 84th birthday when she received the bill amounting to a staggering $13,740! Understandably, Chung told KGO that she “almost fainted” after seeing the ginormous charges.

The surge in data usage apparently originated from her son Nicholas’ iPhone during a half hour stretch. Nicholas said that he played video games on his iPhone during their flight to Vietnam but the games were offline and neither did he use the internet.

“I was confused and scared,” Nicholas told KGO. “Because $13,000 is a lot of money. I was like, ‘What? I didn’t do anything.'”

Vivian herself is baffled by the data charges. She said that the phone was always on Airplane Mode during the trip so how could this even happen?

The likely culprit

If Vivian’s son’s iPhone was always in Airplane Mode and he hardly used the internet during the trip, what could’ve caused the massive data usage? Something definitely doesn’t add up.

KGO’s investigative team, 7 On Your Side, may just have the answer.

After looking at the Chungs’ data usage, the team discovered that while some apps don’t necessarily require an internet connection to work, they still use data in the background to update themselves, refresh their data or send ads.

How come? According to Apple, when your iPhone’s cellular data is on, apps and services can still use your cellular connection for certain features when Wi-Fi isn’t available. And “as a result, you might be charged for using certain features and services with cellular data.”

This means, even though your phone’s Airplane Mode is on, some apps may still be actively using your cellular data connection to perform certain actions. Yep, that’s one very important sidenote to keep in mind while you’re traveling outside the U.S.

T-Mobile’s response

So what did T-Mobile do about the data charges? ABC reported that when Chung reached out to T-Mobile about the bill, the carrier agreed to cut down the charges to $3,800. That’s still an outrageous amount, so Chung asked ABC’s 7 On Your Side for help.

With the 7 On Your Side team’s assistance, T-Mobile agreed to cancel the charges altogether. All’s well that ends well, I guess?

Coincidentally, T-Mobile just updated its free roaming service Simple Global recently for its T-Mobile ONE subscribers. Perfect timing for this story, don’t you think?

Solution: Turn off data roaming and cellular data

To prevent these costly roaming data accidents from happening to you and your family, here’s what you can do — turn off “Cellular Data” and “Data Roaming” when you’re abroad.

Toggling “Cellular Data” to off will limit apps and services from using the cellular network to connect to the internet while turning off “Data Roaming” will help you avoid data roaming charges altogether.

Here’s how you turn off “Cellular Data” and “Data Roaming” for Apple

1. Open your Settings app.

2. Tap on Cellular.

3. In the next section, simply toggle “Cellular Data” to Off (toggle turns white).

4. On the same section, tap on “Cellular Data Options.”

5. Toggle “Data Roaming” to off.

Apple also said that “depending on your carrier, data roaming might be used if you travel domestically. Contact your carrier for more information about your data roaming policy or other cellular data settings.”

Bonus: Turn off data roaming on Android

Android users, here’s how you turn off data roaming on your smartphone.
1. Press the menu button on your phone (or open your App Drawer) then open your Settings app.

2. Tap “Network and Internet” (some phones have this as “Wireless & Networks“)

3. Scroll down and look for an option called “Mobile Networks.”

4. In this section, simply toggle “Data Roaming” to Off. That’s it! App background

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