That’s some wedding present from Verizon Wireless

Megan Murphy gets a huge phone bill from Verizon after her honeymoon in Europe, even though she signed up for its international plan. What went wrong — and how can she fix it?

Question: My husband and I recently got back from a honeymoon in Europe. Before we left, we called Verizon specifically to set up a global plan to avoid any overcharges or astronomical costs.

My husband asked a Verizon representative what plans were available and she informed him that there were only two options. He explained what he intended to use his phone for and she assured him that the greater of the two plans was more than enough for what he wanted to use the phone for.

I called soon afterwards and added the lesser of the two global plans to my Verizon plan/phone, with the intent that we would only use my phone for emergencies. Neither one of the representatives we spoke with outlined details of the plan or made mention of an email they sent, which I never received.

When we arrived in France, I posted 12 pictures to Facebook. A few days later, I received a notification that I had exceeded the 100MB limit and $25 had been added to my plan per the global plan agreement.

I don’t recall whether or not I was on Wi-Fi when I posted them. I thought perhaps it had been a mistake as it was only three days into our trip. Nonetheless, I avoided my phone and only briefly checked my email for any messages regarding my sick father at home, and only when I was certain Wi-Fi was available. Otherwise, I refrained from using the Internet.

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My husband essentially used Google Translate as the primary app for the length of the trip. We had “free” Wi-Fi in our hotels that we stayed in, and my husband – who is very meticulous and was consistently careful about limiting any use of his phone – was still charged over $300 extra on his recent bill.

Last night, we spent a total of 1½ hours on the phone with two different Verizon Wireless representatives. After much back-and-forth, they traced the charges to 10 minutes we’d spent watching a YouTube clip at the airport. We were using the airport’s Wi-Fi. The rep stated that since it was into the next billing cycle, she could not remove any charges.

After paying for a wedding on our own, returning from a honeymoon and attempting to start a future together, we are not in a good financial place at this moment to even pay this bill. Can you help? — Megan Murphy, Chicago

Answer: No one should have to pay a $400 phone bill, particularly if they went through the trouble of signing up for an international calling plan. And yet, they do.

Heck, I’ve had a similar bill with AT&T, my wireless carrier. I started getting the overage messages while I was in Italy, and no one could explain why. Turns out one of my apps — I’m not sure which one — was eating away my precious bandwidth.

The only way to avoid this is by leaving your phone home. You can get a new SIM card or you can get a new phone. (Or you could try something like Google Fi, which promises it has no roaming fees.)

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Roaming fees are a pure money grab, no two ways about it. They don’t reflect a carrier’s actual cost of providing the service, even when you split the fee two ways between the American carrier and the international wireless company and you factor in all the administrative costs. The fact that Verizon didn’t give you the necessary disclosure when you were running over your limit makes this even worse.

Not that you’re blameless. You should have read the fine print in the new wireless plan, and if Verizon didn’t send it to you, you should have asked. These plans are littered with clauses and “gotchas,” and you have to be extra vigilant.

Personally, I turn off my AT&T phone when I cross the border. It’s just not worth the risk.

Although you were responsible for your wireless usage, I think Verizon’s disclosure left something to be desired. I contacted the company on your behalf and it offered you a $125 refund. You and your husband say you’re happy with that resolution, and if you’re happy, then so am I.

This story first published on August 1, 2015.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at

  • Alyssa Bickler

    We have Sprint and when we went to Italy (with a layover in Dublin) last year my fiance arranged for International service. I was very skeptical and expected a “surprise” when we got home. We used my phone extensively, including Waze to navigate the Italian roads (definitely not on WiFi.) Imagine my surprise when we got home to NO overages, NO surprises! GREAT JOB, Sprint!

  • Barthel

    It seems Sprint is the way to go and dump Verizon.

  • Laura616

    I always use ATT global plan when I go to Europe – $30 for 200MB of data, unlimited text and $1 a min calls. It has worked well on a number of occasions. The data allowance isn’t much but it’s fine for the odd occasion. And there are more options.

  • BubbaJoe123

    “The only way to avoid this is by leaving your phone home.”
    That’s entirely untrue. It’s very easy to turn off mobile data on either an iPhone or Android phone. Take 5 seconds. That way, it won’t use any data in the background.


    I am with T-Mobile. Domestic service is so-so, but no roaming fees in around 120 countries and 20 cents a minute to call home from most countries. Free texting most of the time. I have only been to one place so fare not included in this plan—Gibraltar. But before that I switched to airplane mode and only used WiFi–including phone calls home. As I seldom use the phone in the states it works well for me.

  • VoR61

    For Android phones, the Power Toggles app will setup icons for phone settings as well as apps. We use this to easily switch WiFi and 4G (data) on and off (“one-click”).

    In addition, check your apps to ensure that Auto Refresh and Auto Update are off, especially for Google Play. Alternatively, many apps have a setting to refresh/update “only on wireless”.

    Doing these will not only eliminate similar surprises, but will save GB on your data plan every day. Our daughter did all this and saved about 3 GB in the first month.

    The “auto” settings are a default that I think should be turned off “out of the box”.

  • PolishKnightUSA

    Yes, but with this caveat. A recent feature in IO 9 is “WiFI Assist” (google it). Many users think they’re on WIFI when the iphone sneaks into celluar data because it appears more reliable. Disable it. If your wifi is shaky, then you have the option to either disable it manually or switch to a better wifi connection (I often have a few choices in different locations.)

    When traveling, the safe thing to do is disable cellular data and/or go into airplane mode and then turn on wifi manually. WIFI will then work and route calls via such systems as skype or google voice.

  • James

    Last trip to Europe I tried some group that offered international cellular service. No overage bills — because the technology was so old it never found a signal in the middle of London, Berlin, etc….

  • BubbaJoe123

    Yes, I should have mentioned wifi assist. Boggles the mind that Apple shipped iOS 9 with that turned on by default.

  • Jason Hanna

    There are plenty of solutions. In two clicks on my phone.. Settings->Data Usage, I have the ability to turn off Cellular Data. Then, you never have to worry about whether you’re on Wi-Fi or cellular for data.

  • NotThatBrooklynGuy

    Another workaround: When I get on a plane to an international flight it is in airplane mode like it is supposed to be. Sometime after takeoff, I turn the phone off, take the back off, pull out the SIM card, and put it back in upside down. Then I can turn the phone back on with no chance of the phone connecting to cell towers.

  • When you roam internationally, never use cellular data! Go into your Settings and turn off data while you are out of the country. That way, you are assured of using only WiFi, which is ubiquitous these days, when you watch that video clip or send those pictures to Facebook. Even if you have to pay for WiFi, it’s a charge paid right at the time you use it. No giant bill waiting when you get back home.

    As a Verizon customer, I added their Global Voice roaming plan to my account on my last visit to Europe. The problem I had is that when I got there, it didn’t work. Though I have a GSM-equipped iPhone, I just got No Service everywhere I went. So on that trip I did all my talking on Skype when I had WiFi available, and saved a bundle.

  • MF

    Alternatively, buy another phone when you reach your destination. I bought a vanilla $35 Nokia in Manila, a simm card, and used prepaid ‘load’ cards. It was cheaper to call the US than it was to call from the US…

  • BMG4ME

    Just make sure you don’t have an app like Ring Scheduler set to turn airplane mode off!

  • BMG4ME

    I get SIM cards to go in my Droid Turbo when I go overseas. Verizon’s $25 plan is the worse value around. 100MB? That’s good for about half a day if you are lucky.

  • jm71

    Every phone I’ve had has a simple option to disable roaming data use — on my current Droid Turbo it’s under :Settings/Cellular networks; setting “Data roaming access” to “Deny data roaming access” (which I believe is default) works for me. I’ve never had surprise data charges with that set and can use WiFi just fine.

    That way I can have the phone out of airplane mode able to receive emergency calls or texts from family; I don’t get many others. For the few times it gets used the pay-per-use roaming (on Verizon generally $2/minute, $0.20/outgoing text and $.05/incoming text) aren’t too bad. If I got a lot of unimportant calls/texts I’d leave it in airplane mode instead.

    This trip I’m trying out the new $10/day TravelPass, which lets me use my home plan (unlimited calls/texts, including to the country I’m in, and shared 10GB of data). The cost would be too high for a multi-week trip, but for 3-4 days it’s a manageable cost, and the convenience of being able to use maps etc as I walk around is huge.

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