12/17/2014 07:12 EST | Updated 02/16/2015 05:59 EST

How to avoid cellphone “bill shock”

Quebec City mayor RégisLabeaume​ was far from the first person to suffer from "bill shock" when he opened his phone bill after returning from a trip to Italy.

Régis Labeaume, Quebec City mayor, racks up $20K in roaming charges

Granted, the almost $20,000 in roaming fees is exceptional -- though even that is not unheard of.

A Wireless Code came into force in Canada earlier this year that protects consumers from inflated phone bills. Here are a few surefire ways to ensure your phone is not roaming while you're travelling.

1. Check your settings

Your phone's settings have a few options that will block your device from using data.

- Airplane Mode, most useful for when you're flying, is one way to turn off the connections to data and location services. It also turns off your phone and text messages.


- Turning off Cellular Data in your settings will stop data usage but allow voice and text.

Wi-Fi and Bluetooth can be turned on in either case and are always a data-free option.

2. Remove the SIM card

Taking out the SIM card will make sure you aren't using any data at all. If your phone permissions allow you to interchange SIM cards - that is, if it's "unlocked" - you can buy a SIM card in the country you're visiting. That would provide inexpensive access to a 3G network.

Some phones won't work at all without a SIM card, others will allow you to use the phone and connect to the Internet using Wi-Fi.

3. Talk to your provider

Chances are, your wireless provider will be able to offer a travel package for the country you're planning to visit. Plans often are not cheap, though knowing in advance what kind of plan you want - more talk and text or lots of data - will help you decide if it's the right fit. This is also your chance to ask how much you will have to pay for data and other mobile services if you do decide to use your phone while travelling. That information is also available on wireless providers' websites.

4. Check the bottom line

If everything has gone according to plan, you should open your phone bill and see a number that makes sense. If it does not make sense to you, now is the time to contact your provider. In the past, companies were often willing to offer reduced rates on roaming charges. This is less likely given the "opt-in" roaming fees in the Wireless Code.

The safest way to avoid roaming fees entirely is just to leave your phone at home and to fully enjoy a distraction-free holiday. As the devices get better and better, it's becoming harder and harder not to have them close at hand.