During trips abroad, using your mobile phone to make or receive calls, to send or receive text (SMS) or media (MMS) messages, or to access the internet could cost you dearly.
What does international roaming mean?
International roaming means using a device with a SIM card when abroad. In this way, a customer can therefore make calls, send and receive SMS messages and access the internet using their phone (terminal device) when abroad. Depending on the country, contract and use of the device, the customer could come home to a nasty surprise in the form of a high bill.
Why is roaming so expensive?
Swiss mobile telephony providers only have their own mobile network in Switzerland. In order for customers to be able to use their equipment abroad, the Swiss mobile telephony providers must conclude roaming agreements with foreign mobile operators. Prices for use of the foreign network is often very high for the Swiss mobile operators. These costs are passed on to their customers by the Swiss mobile telephony providers in the form of roaming charges. Sometimes the margins of mobile operators are simply higher.
Why do EU and EEA citizens pay less?
When EU/EEA citizens travel within EU/EEA countries, the "Roam-like-at-home" (RLAH) rules apply. This rule means that since 15 June 2017, EU/EEA citizens can use their phone (mobile terminal) in EU/EEA countries under the same conditions as they do at home. For details:
https://europa.eu/youreurope/citizens/consumers/internet-telecoms/mobile-roaming-costs/index_en.htm (last visited on 10.03.2021).
What applies to Switzerland?
Since the revised Telecommunications Act came into force on 1 January 2021, Switzerland has a new statutory basis for roaming services. The Ordinance on Telecommunications Services states in detail that:
- roaming services must be billed by the exact second or kilobyte,
- a cost limit for roaming must be set when the contract is concluded (to avoid so-called ‘bill shocks’),
- credit for a purchased roaming option may not expire during 12 months,
- the customer can freely select when a roaming option starts.
These provisions apply from (1 July 2021).
Retail prices can now also be regulated if wholesale prices are regulated by an international agreement. However, there are currently no agreements that would allow such regulation.
- For mobile telephones with a Swiss SIM card, set to airplane mode. Make calls via WLAN using applications such as Threema, Telegram, Whatsapp or Skype.
- Before heading abroad, download offline maps of your destination when in Switzerland or when abroad using a WLAN connection. When abroad, use the downloaded maps with GPS in flight mode.
- Use alternatives (e.g. prepaid SIM cards from a local provider).
- Take advantage of providers' optional offers, so-called roaming packages (obtain information from the provider, preferably before travelling).
- Use bundled products, such as In One or Go World, with inclusive units.
- Make telephone calls via WLAN
Charges for voicemail
When listening to voicemail (e.g. Swisscom Mobile’s Combox, Salt Box or Sunrise Mailbox) from a location abroad, roaming charges could be incurred. If you do not switch off the diversion of calls to your voicemail before setting off on your trip, there is a danger that, in the event of calls going to your voicemail, you will also be charged for diverting the call abroad. All Swiss mobile telephony providers can provide information on the options for configuring your voicemail or on charges.
How to prevent roaming in the border regions
Because of the physical propagation characteristics of radio frequencies, which do not respect national frontiers, it is possible that in the border regions of Switzerland, mobile equipment with a Swiss SIM card (smartphone, tablet, laptop, etc.) may switch to a foreign mobile telephone network. In order to avoid high costs as a result of this type of involuntary roaming on foreign networks, customers should switch off the “Roaming” function in their settings.
Involuntary roaming can essentially be prevented by blocking the roaming function. Depending on the specific operator, for example, data roaming can be blocked as standard when taking out a contract or buying a pay-as-you-go product.
If, despite exercising caution, a nasty surprise comes through the letter box in the form of a high bill, it is advisable to contact the respective operator or to initiate an arbitration procedure with Ombudscom (https://de.ombudscom.ch/ [Only available in German, French and Italian]).
A simple tool to find out whether one should book options for an upcoming trip abroad, or which ones, is offered by moneyland.ch and dschungelkompass.ch (only available in German).
Other comparison services around telecom services can be found on the internet.
Last modification 04.05.2022