June 28, 2013–I am in UK with my good old iPhone 4 and no one covering my roaming charges. I have been trying to balance the high cost of roaming charges and the need to be in touch with people, which is why I have the iPhone.
The key to controlling vulnerability to roaming charges overseas is the "Settings" icon. Under "General" settings, go to the "Cellular" and then "Data Roaming" setting. Keeping this set to "Off" means you won't get roaming charges. You also won't get emails and phone calls unless you are in a WiFi zone.
If you really need to be accessible and you aren't near a WiFi hotspot, I am aware of just three options (assuming you aren't a frequent user and have a roaming plan). The ATT representative I spoke with had no additional options to suggest:
1. Find a WiFi hotspot and stay in it. WiFi provides access to all Internet and phone features with no roaming charges. But you usually need a password and when you get out of range you lose access.
2. Turn on the "Data Roaming" setting and set yourself up to incur charges at the rate of about $20 a minute (based on my experience). The good news, which I am sharing, is that it is then possible to call ATT at 1-916-843-4685 and retroactively purchase blocks of data - think of it as blocks of time - at a much lower rate. By calling ATT I reduced roaming charges from $220 to $30, i.e., from exorbitant to manageable given the emergency need.
3. "Unlock" the iPhone and buy a local Sim card. Information on this for ATT phones is at att.com/deviceunblock. I did this for my iPhone 3, but have not felt it necessary to do this for my iPhone 4 given the availability of the Data Roaming option.
Please comment if you know of other options and I will amend this post.