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Cellphone Travel Tips: Matt Buie Faced $22,000 Phone Charge After Family Trip To Mexico

03/05/2013 03:03 EST | Updated 03/06/2013 09:44 EST

A Burnaby, B.C. man's family vacation nearly cost him an extra $22,000 after his son unknowingly racked up thousands of dollars in roaming fees during a trip down south.

Matt Buie and his family travelled to Mexico in January. As Buie told CBC in an exclusive interview, he was was well aware of the roaming charges — the extra fees that cellphone companies charge users for services outside of their coverage area — and had his iPhone set to airplane mode to prevent any accidental data usage while on vacation. But during a family outing, Buie's 11-year-old son got sunburned and decided to go inside the hotel room with his father's phone to keep him entertained.

Unbeknownst to Buie, his son had turned off airplane mode and then proceeded to watch 12 hours of YouTube videos over a span of three days. Buie later received a text message from Fido, his service provider and a subsidiary of Rogers Communication, notifying him that his phone was shut down for “excessively high” data charges (his son had gone through 700 megabytes), reports the Globe And Mail.

“When I heard $22,000 and my son happened to hear $22,000, he went into a fetal position and was crying,” Buie said. “It was just mind boggling for him,” according to Yahoo.

Since then, Buie has negotiated to get the bill dropped down to $500.

His story, however, isn't unique. In the past, other Canadians have come home to cellphone bills ranging from $8,000 to $37,000 in extra charges, notes Mobile Syrup.

Their stories paint a pattern: Canadian travelers accidentally or unknowingly using data services while abroad and returning home to face the 'bill shock' of thousands of dollars in roaming fees. What follows is usually a tug-of-war between consumers and companies, with the end result usually being a middle ground with the customer accepting to pay a fee in the hundreds — with notable exceptions where a carrier waives the roaming charges all together.

Now the easiest solution for travelers would be leave the phone at home but in a age where smartphones double as itineraries, boarding passes and maps, the phone is just as important as your carry-on bag. Carriers do offer specific add-ons for text, airtime and data for users travelling outside of the country but the responsibility to add on such options falls to the user.

For those who'd rather opt for the do-it-yourself method of curtailing "bill shock", Budget Travel suggests buying a local SIM card as it will switch your phone to a local service provider and avoid the surcharges from using Canadian service overseas.

Alternatively, buying a disposable phone will be a more viable option for those who still use their phone for calls. A phone and packaged pre-paid minutes typically cost consumers $75. Finally, a good practice is to keep your phone set to Wi-Fi and shut down mobile data as the former can be found in many shops, hotels and restaurants either at no charge or for a fee.

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