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feb 25 2011

What's the biggest phone bill you've ever been socked with after returning from a trip?

iPhone 4 (Courtesy of Apple)

There are many enticing new travel apps to use while abroad, but beware, you may become afflicted with Bill Shock.

"Bill shock" is the sudden, unexpected increase in your mobile phone bill from one month to the next. If you've experienced it, you're not alone. According to an FCC survey, 30 million people—or one in six—experienced "bill shock" in just two months in 2010.

One of the biggest types of complaints the FCC received last year concerned international roaming charges consumers ran up while abroad without realizing it. We here at Budget Travel can attest to that: One of our editors returned from a trip to Turks & Caicos with a homecoming gift of a $900 phone bill. These bills happen because if you aren't using Wi-Fi to check your email, Internet, or your QR code app, you are therefore using your data roaming, and are charged a pretty penny—or just over a penny to be exact—at $.0195 per kilobyte. So if you're downloading a five megapixel picture from an email, that's about 2 megabytes of data, or an expensive $40. (Here are some handy tips on how to avoid these crazy charges.)

Of course we don't expect these services to be free while abroad, but do they have to be so much? According to the European Union, they don't. The EU has put an end to the "roaming rip-off" by creating blanket standards for all nations within the EU so Europeans who make calls or send texts can "experience the EU's single market without borders." There is a wholesale cap of €1 per megabyte downloaded so as to lesson those pesky data roaming charges, and no roamed call in another EU country can cost more than €0.43 per minute. Automatic alerts are now mandated when a consumer is about to approach the limits of their text, voice, and data plans, and when they are about to incur roaming charges.

Hopefully soon the US will follow suit. The FCC has been investigating phone-billing practices for more than a year now and often mediates between consumers and their carriers, helping the consumer achieve compensation. (You can file your bill shock complaint here.) The FCC acknowledges that alerts when consumers are nearing their text, voice, and data limits could help avoid bill shock, but so far, no strict rules have been passed.

The largest complaint the FCC received in the first half of 2010 was for $68,505!

What's the biggest phone bill you've ever been socked with when you returned home?

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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