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Overseas Travel: How can I avoid incoming call costs but still use free text/data roaming while abroad?

  • 8 February 2018
  • 42 replies
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We're planning to travel to Europe later this year and would like to take advantage of T-Mobile's free international text/data roaming. However, I saw that incoming calls are charged at one minute even if you don't answer; per T-Mobile's website: "If your phone is on when you get an incoming call, even if you do not answer it, the call is charged one minute for delivery to the phone. (There are no charges if your phone is turned off.)" I get multiple robocalls/telemarketer calls per week, and I don't want to rack up charges for unwanted calls. Is there any way to temporarily turn off incoming calls or route them directly to voicemail to avoid charges? If so, what are the steps to do that?

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Best answer by tmo_chris 10 February 2018, 17:59

Great question. The easiest way to do this is to enable unconditional call forwarding. This will tell the network to immediately forward the call to a selected number without trying to pin you first which is where the charge comes from.

To enable unconditional call forwarding, you will need to follow these steps https://support.t-mobile.com/docs/DOC-4041#secondheading

Dial **21*18056377249# from your phone to enable CFU and ##21# to turn it off when you are back in the states and want to resume being able to get calls.

The 18056377249 number is the same number that your calls are forwarded to when you do not answer the phone so that the people calling you can leave a VM. Since we are enabling unconditional call forwarding, the call will be automatically routed there instead of ringing your phone first.

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Userlevel 5

Great question. The easiest way to do this is to enable unconditional call forwarding. This will tell the network to immediately forward the call to a selected number without trying to pin you first which is where the charge comes from.

To enable unconditional call forwarding, you will need to follow these steps https://support.t-mobile.com/docs/DOC-4041#secondheading

Dial **21*18056377249# from your phone to enable CFU and ##21# to turn it off when you are back in the states and want to resume being able to get calls.

The 18056377249 number is the same number that your calls are forwarded to when you do not answer the phone so that the people calling you can leave a VM. Since we are enabling unconditional call forwarding, the call will be automatically routed there instead of ringing your phone first.

You might also want to change your voicemail greeting to ask callers to send you a text message rather than leaving voicemail. Also, understand that unconditional forward to voicemail will also block your receiving calls when on WiFi (which are free). You may want to study up on how to easily suspend and resume unconditional forwarding.

@tmo_chris Thank you so much for responding to my question with detailed info on how I can push calls directly to voicemail when traveling so I won't get billed for unwanted "spam" calls. I appreciate the information!

And thank you, @drnewcomb2​, for the additional suggestions.

Thanks again for the help!

   As I recall, you will get notice (free) that you had an incoming call.  I haven't used "fwd all calls to VM" in a few years since I don't mind spending the 20 cents/min.  Because of time diff - turn off phone at bed time - don't want texts in middle of nite..   (Also, still in habit of fwd. all calls to VM when I do that because you might be charged for incoming calls that get routed back to VM when not answered.)   Don't know if that's still the case.

I have the **21*18056377249#  and the ##21#  as speed dial numbers.

Another detail; the **21 and ##21# codes are called GSM Service Codes (or Hash Codes). Your phone may have a specific forward menu that will accomplish the forwarding commands without having to enter a yard-long Service Code. In the example above the ##21# code actually says "deactivate and forget". Rather than using ##21#, you could use #21#, which says "deactivate but remember". Then when you want to reactivate forwarding, you'd enter *21#, which says "reactivate". All of the assumes T-Mobile hasn't monkeyed with the "Forward All" commands. They changed the conditional forward system so that if you try to deactivate conditional forwarding it will reset itself to voicemail (And a pox on their house for doing it.) BTW, there should never be any charge for using these codes.

P.S. It's a good idea to practice using these features before you travel.

Thank you for your sharing your experiences and suggestions, @miket and @drnewcomb2​ -- I appreciate it!

Hoping this works as 1) I've had exponential increases throughout this year in robo / scammer calls - i.e. ~10 per day and 2) I'll be traveling internationally so don't want to be incorrectly charged for these scam / robo calls that realistically the mobile networks (read T-Mobile) should be working harder to block / stop in the first place - cc @tmo_mike​ - please share any articles or support as to what's being done on this front to preserve the T-Mobile customer experience and if anything additional can be done on this front from the user perspective.

As I (and others) stated above - our method has worked for years.   TM is the only carrier that lets you roam in most intl. countries w.o. spending lot$ of $.

   One more tip (which I don't use myself) - you can make use of the free data by routing voice calls over data services.  (Skype etc.)

I agree that we need a way to block unwanted calls while abroad and still let people we need to have call us get through. Unfortunately, the only way I've found to do this is to either have them text you first, so you can call them back, or give them a back door, such as a Viber or SIP address.

I have an iPhone 6.  Can't I just disable incoming calls by using my phone's settings?

Settings > Phone > Call Forwarding > turn Call Forwarding "on" and then Forward To my cell number...which will then automatically go to Voice Mail?

Why won't that work instead of using long string commands on my phone?

Simply Forward directly to VM ----      805-637-7243

Even now that TM has had "free" intl. roaming the past several years - still make sure at night time calls are forwarded to VM so as not to be awaken  by calls when it's still daytime at home.

Can I listen to my voicemails on iPhone without getting charged? Or do I also have to turn off voicemail while traveling to avoid charges?

Visual VM should do this but if you let calls roll over to voicemail you will be charged for the call. You can forward all calls to voicemail and listen to them via Visual VM

@tmo_chris - I am right now on a call with T-mobile customer care and they can not confirm that I will not be charged if I follow the steps you provided above. They are saying that I will still be charged as the call will be redirected and that will be a charge on my account.

Userlevel 5

With unconditional call forwarding, the call is not routed to your primary number. when someone calls your number, the network will not try to ping your device but rather send it to the number you set as the UCF number. Normally the charge for the call being routed to the VM comes from when your phone has send the request back to the T-Mobile network to send it to voicemail. Since UCF bypasses the need to ping your device, the call never touches your physical phone/SIM card to be routed back.

  This has been proven by us in actual practice over the years  UCF to VM (or any U.S. number)  will NOT incur  a charge.

Miket and I are just relating what we do whenever we travel abroad and the results we get. I can't take any responsibility for what a CSR tells you. Make up your own mind and do what you think is best.

Thank you for posting your experiences. I am traveling overseas tomorrow and planning to forward unconditionally to a Talkatone number (free wifi calling app) while I am overseas. My phone will ring but it would be the talkatone app ringing. I hope that the minutes used while being on talkatone calls are not charged as international roaming minutes. I will find out soon enough when I test the call and check my usage! I will be sure to report back!

Going to Taiwan for a month so I will be trying this in a couple of months.  Called CS twice and got different answers each time.  So here is my plan:

1. Fwd all calls to VM

2. Add VM 2 TxT on my plan. $4 per month

3. Remove VM2TXT when I return.

"Yes I am here and actually, calls that went through the voicemail will be charg for the international calling rate. The only way to avoid callling charges that will went through the voicemail is by temporarily suspending the voicemail services and activating it back once you returned to US."

This is the message I received today...

This is not correct. You can go into your phone's call forwarding settings and forward all incoming calls to the voicemail number and you won't receive any calls or be billed for any calls. I've done it.

Like  you  - Have had NO trouble simply fwding calls to VM over the years.  The advice given by TM/Chris further up n this thread is correct. 

Can't you just set the phone to auto forward all calls using the setting feature (ios) and forward them to the voice mail #, 805-637-7243?

I don't know iOS but GSM has unconditional and conditional forwarding. With unconditional forwarding activ, no attempt is made to deliver the call to your phone, rather it is diverted at the switch to the target number. With most conditional forwarding (e.g. Busy, no answer). the call is sent to the roamed carrier for completion, this is where billing for roaming kicks in. The third condition (out-of-service) is not reliable as it depends on the roamed carrier updating T-Mobile if you are in or out of their service. Many roamed carriers are intentionally delinquent in doing this as it reduces their opportunities to generate revenue from your roaming. 

I'm heading to Spain next week, and was told by a TMobile rep that I could avoid unwanted inbound calls causing charges by simply setting my Do Not Disturb to fully on, and that would send all call directly to Voicemail, bypassing my phone entirely . Does anyone know if this has been tried and works? Seems like a much simpler way to handle this - IF it works!

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