The high price of staying in touch

The world might be a global village but use your mobile phone the way you do at home and your next bill might contain a nasty surprise. Worse still, if you use data services to upload images to Facebook, check emails and bank statements and maybe download city guides, you could end up with a $1000-plus bill. But if you're smart, you can pay next to nothing for the same services.

When you want to talk to the wider world without breaking the bank, the winner by a country mile is Skype (www.skype.com). Skype is free to download to your laptop or smartphone and you need only an internet connection to talk to anyone with Skype installed on their computer, free of charge. Sign up for a prepaid account with Skype and you can call landlines or mobile phones and send messages anywhere for just a few cents. If you are not travelling with a laptop or smartphone, just about every internet cafe has Skype installed.

GO-SIM (www.gosim.com) is a great way to stay in touch using your mobile phone. This prepaid service gives you a new SIM card that allows you to make low-cost calls in 175 countries and receive calls free in 75 of those. You can also receive SMS messages for free everywhere and you get GPRS data services in 75 countries.

GO-SIM also has micro SIM cards for an iPad or iPhone 4. If you call Australia from Britain using GO-SIM, it will cost you 37¢ a minute, incoming calls are free and GPRS data costs 34¢ per 100Kb. By contrast, Telstra would charge you $2.95 a minute for that same call, 70¢ a minute to receive a call and $1.50 for that same 100Kb of GPRS data, plus a 50¢ flag fall for each data session.

OneSimCard (www.onesimcard.com) and TravelSIM (www.travelsim.net.au) offer a similar service. Since these are all prepaid, there's no chance of coming home to a mammoth bill from your service provider. You'll be replacing your usual SIM card and you need to contact your service provider to make sure your phone is unlocked.