The Innocents Abroad: Text Messaging+Parents Overseas=Disaster Incoming?
March 25, 2013 8:01 AM   Subscribe

My elderly parents are currently traveling in Europe (Greece, specifically) accompanied by their first smartphones (which are on a T-Mobile family plan that I pay for). Before they left, I repeatedly emphasized that they needed to install new microsims from a Greek telecom before they'd be able to use voice, messaging and data in Greece. I did not go into the concept of international roaming (primarily because it's extremely expensive, they would find it confusing, and I don't want them to use it). They said they'd get new microsims when they arrived. However, my mother's text messages from Greece still look like they're being sent from her U.S. number.

To go into more detail: my mother has fallen in love with text messages and has continued to send me and my brother text messages from Greece. These are showing up on my phone and my brother's phone as having been sent by my mother's U.S. phone number. Assuming that my parents have indeed replaced their U.S. T-Mobile microsims with microsims from a Greek telecom, why do my mom's text messages appear as though they are coming from my mom's U.S. phone number on both my phone (Galaxy Note 2) and my brother's (Iphone 4S)? Wouldn't her text messages appear to be coming from a new number (whichever is associated with the Greek microsim)?

I've been checking the daily usage on our family plan over at T-Mobile's site and I'm not seeing any indication that my mom is sending international text messages on our shared account, so I think (hope) that I won't be facing a gigantic phone bill next month. But I'm still curious about why the text messages that my mother is sending my brother and me still look as though they are being sent from my mother's U.S. number on both of our phones. I always thought text messages were linked to the microsim and not to the phone. But that doesn't seem to be the case in this instance. (For what it's worth, my mom's phone is also a Galaxy Note 2.) Do I just not understand how text messaging works or am I really on the hook for a ton of text messages sent from Greece next month?
posted by longdaysjourney to Technology (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You might be on the hook. Call your telecom company!
posted by oceanjesse at 8:02 AM on March 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

Ok, will do, but for what it's worth, all the messages that she's been sending me while she's been in Greece are showing up on our account activity log as having been sent from Fairfax, Virginia. (I live in Alexandria, VA, but she and my father live in Toledo, OH.)
posted by longdaysjourney at 8:09 AM on March 25, 2013

Text her and ask her straight-up. Even better, scare her (a little) into telling you the truth!

'Mom, did you and dad physically go to a shop in Greece and buy a new SIM card and put it in the phone? If not, don't text me again 'til you have, or it's gonna cost me $100 per message!' (Or something suitably outrageous.)
posted by Salamander at 8:12 AM on March 25, 2013

Are they staying at a nice hotel with an English-speaking concierge? Maybe the concierge could check, if your parents wouldn't mind.
posted by amtho at 8:13 AM on March 25, 2013

Wouldn't her text messages appear to be coming from a new number

I think they would, yes. A different SIM with a different network will have a different number. Given that you seem to have missed out on explaining to your parents why they needed to get new SIMs, is it possible that they thought that their existing SIMs wouldn't work in Greece, but then got there and found that they did and thought "hey I don't need to change it after all!".

Can you call up T-Mobile and have them turn off international roaming for your parents' phones?
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:18 AM on March 25, 2013 [9 favorites]

First of all, if it says the texts are coming from your mom's number then she hasn't changed her SIM. If they are on T-Mobile then thats GSM and so their phones would start roaming in Europe.

Second, I dont know why they're not showing up on your family plan usage but my best guess is that is because they are out of bounds of whats included in your family plan and are being charged separately.

Thirdly, it might not be as bad as you think. If your mom has been ONLY using text messages and not voice or data then the cost will still be reasonably high but more like tens of dollars a day rather than hundreds...

Yeah, you better let her know: "Hey Mom, it looks like you got text messages working. Great! Did you buy a new SIM card. Because if you didn''t these text messages you're sending could be costing an enormous amount of money"
posted by vacapinta at 8:26 AM on March 25, 2013

I'm probably missing the point, but are the charges that bad?
posted by Segundus at 8:32 AM on March 25, 2013

Mystery-explained, I think: My mother just text messaged me back. She's still using her U.S. sim. She's only been texting from their house in Greece though (which has wifi) and she has her phone's wifi internet calling functionality (T-Mobile offers this for free) turned on. I'm only guessing here, but that must be why the text looks like it's coming from a U.S.-based location - her texts are being transmitted using the internet.

In any case, Segundus is right, the charges are not horrible (although I'd rather not pay them if I don't have to). I was just confused about the microsim business. Given that she hasn't switched to a Greek sim, that would seem to confirm that her texts are being sent using the phone's internet calling functionality, which is why they appear to be sent from a U.S. location.

Thanks for all the feedback/comments - I really appreciate it!
posted by longdaysjourney at 8:44 AM on March 25, 2013

FYI: international roaming charges could take a while to appear on your account (in my experience, between 1 and 2 months). Also, unless they have a specific app for internet-only messaging, I highly doubt there's a way for text messages to go through internet. (Something to do with different protocols.)

I'd just warn your parents to turn off the data functionality (that one's the most expensive while roaming) and not to overdo text messaging and then pay the bill when it comes.
posted by gakiko at 9:34 AM on March 25, 2013

Ok, will do, but for what it's worth, all the messages that she's been sending me while she's been in Greece are showing up on our account activity log as having been sent from Fairfax, Virginia. (I live in Alexandria, VA, but she and my father live in Toledo, OH.)

This is the normal behaviour. I'm on a T-Mobile family plan with my mother and brother and none of us actually live anywhere near where our phone numbers are. But if we phone each other, we show up on the list included with the bill as Oakland/Berkeley, even though we're not there. (This happens across plans/carriers. My best friend (who isn't on T-Mobile) shows up on my bill as a call from Fresno, despite not (usually) being in Fresno.)
posted by hoyland at 9:35 AM on March 25, 2013

Oh, and I think (pull out your last bill to check) there's a column on the bill that indicates international roaming charges for a given call, but it might just show up in the summary for each line on the account. As I recall, calls made overseas do show up on the next bill, but I don't think any of us have ever sent a text while overseas.

You can disable international roaming via the website. I don't know if that includes texts or not. Though obviously you'd want to warn your parents before doing this.
posted by hoyland at 9:39 AM on March 25, 2013

Thanks, hoyland. I was misreading the activity log (my messages to her show up on the log as coming from Fairfax, VA; her messages to me show up on the log as coming from Sandusky, OH (guess that must be the local switching office (do they still have those?) near Toledo).

My mom hasn't placed any calls yet (I told her she shouldn't do this until she gets a Greek sim). She's only been texting from her phone when it's been connected to the wifi hot spot at their home in Greece. I checked and international roaming is turned off on all phones on our account, so my guess is that the only way those texts are getting here is via the internet.
posted by longdaysjourney at 10:11 AM on March 25, 2013

If international roaming is disabled, then you are safe. They can continue to use their phones with their US SIMs via the Internet Calling functionality and you will not be charged for roaming.

So if they are content to use their phones only from the house where there's WiFi available, then there is no need for them to go out and buy a new SIM.

For those who are not familiar, T-Mobile offers a feature on some Android handsets that will route both voice calls and text messages over the Internet (using the phone's WiFi connection) when it is enabled. Calls and texts made this way use up your minutes — which is admittedly shitty and why lots of people just disable the feature — but never incur roaming charges, and let you make calls from places where there isn't cell service.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:39 PM on March 25, 2013

Thanks Kadin2048! I also confirmed this with T-Mobile. Calls or texts sent to a U.S. number using a phone via Wi-Fi calling, even if it's overseas, are considered "domestic" and will not be charged any additional international roaming fees. (However, if you make a call/text to a number that's not located in the U.S., even if it's to the house next door, you will be charged as though it were an international call.)

For anyone who is curious about how to set their T-Mobile phone to only accept/make calls or texts via a wifi hotspot, you can find directions for the Galaxy Note 2 (and most other Android phones, probably) here:
posted by longdaysjourney at 10:26 AM on March 27, 2013

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