iPhone owners: Beware the BVIs

It's not unusual to see people on the St. John Travel forums (TripAdvisor , Virgin-Islands-On-Line , VI Now) asking about cell phone coverage.  Generally, for AT&T and Verizon, the advice is 'Good luck!' if you're in Coral Bay with either service. Verizon's OK, but AT&T seems best and its VI usage is not roaming.

However, there's something else.

We met a couple who live near Francis Bay, in a beautiful property with a breathtaking view of the BVI's. 

Donna and I were greeted at their front door, then brought onto that great outdoor living area. Our hostess said, "And there's England."  She was pointing at the BVIs.  Little did we know how right she was!

We all went to dinner at Concordia.  While there, I got a text message on my iPhone telling me that my "all-you-can-eat-data-plan" did not include international service and roaming.

Hmmm ….

I got the same message the next day when we were at Lameshur Bay, watching the pelicans and soaking up some sun.  There on the beach, AT&T says, my data plan doesn't include what I'm doing.
So, I figured I'd better solve this. I called AT&T.  

Well, turns out, they think that I'd been to the BVIs.  My iPhone, absent a clean signal out there, had locked on to a BVI service's cell signal.  The only thing I could figure is that when our hostess said, "Welcome to London," she meant it.

So … the moral of the story … I'll be shutting down my phone when I'm on the east end and any further along the north shore than Shipwreck Landing.  And I'll pay ayttention to the carrier name on the ioPhone screen, too, to make sure I don't accdientally use BVI cell service.

But wait, there's more.  While the AT&T bill says I used the BVI service on Saturday evening, Jan 29, the fact is we weren't on the east end then.  We were in Cruz Bay, having a fabulous dinner at La Plancha del Mar.  Who knows what really happened but it's still good advice – when you're in sktechy cell phone coverage on the island, be cautious about the iPhone.

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15 thoughts on “iPhone owners: Beware the BVIs”

  1. Those cell signals are famous! When we are on the island we putnout phones on airplane mode, and turn on any connection to the wifi. You can cal AT & T and they willmtake the charges off the bill.

  2. Cindy, I think it’s more like they’re “infamous”. Too bad this wasn’t posted a month ago before I was there. I had the same problem with my bill. I’ll have to call AT&T to see if they will take the charges off.

  3. In addition to always looking for the carrier name in the upper left, if you go into Settings -> Network and Turn “Data Roaming” off, the phone will not let any apps pull data while you’re not hooked up to an AT&T tower.

  4. Same thing happened to us in January staying in Coral Bay. We were there for 10 days and on 1 day we somehow got the service from the BVI with some major roaming charges. Beware.

  5. Check the carrier on your phone. The signal can switch from AT&T to a BVI carrier (LIME has a very strong signal these days) in the same location from one minute to the next. It’s called fringe roaming. The problem occurs on the north side of St. Thomas too.

  6. Yep, what Tom said, we keep Data Roaming turned off all of the time, even in McLean. ATT has a few dead spots and you may roam to carrier du jour. No thanks, unless I REALLY mean to and then I’ll turn the roaming on manually.
    Cheers, RickG

  7. My phone bill was $528 one year when I was down there for 11 days. I ignored the messages about roaming in the BVI’s – lots of times we were right by Peter Bay. Learn from me – call your carrier before visting SJ.

  8. I was even getting a “LIME’ signal at trunk bay, I alerted them before I moved there that I was moving to St John.. and even tho I got charged I only had to call to have them removed.. Att’s service extends to all USVI they NEVER have a prob removing the charges.. also In PR I got some roaming too, those came off also… all in all I got about an 80 credit…

  9. Just do like you said and check the carrier name on the iPhone screen before making calls — then TURN DATA ROAMING OFF. I leave mine off all the time. That way if I’m roaming I won’t get email at my expense. Simple really. The big surprise in the USVI is Verizon that says it’s not roaming (because the San Juan carrier isn’t in PR, but is in the USVI) and actually is. Year’s ago I got my money back because the phone didn’t indicate that it was roaming i the USVI.. Now I know better amnd have AT&T.

  10. Good advice – we got the surprise of our life after our 3 week stay a couple of years ago. We brought our 17 year old son for a last family vacation before school began and specifically asked him to be careful with his iPhone calls – well he did not listen and our AT&T bill amounted to $1100! All his calls picked up the BVI tower and were charged at international rates – AT&T did not honor our request for credit. If you bring a teenager, take their phone!

  11. This has happened to us with both AT&T and Verizon (and not just on I-Phones) for some years now, particularly at the north end of Caneel Bay. Doesn’t seem there’s a way to stop it, but as many have posted here, the charges are easily reversed…call or use the customer service e-mail.

  12. Thanks for the heads up!! I had a 485.00 ATT roaming
    charge from 12/2010 which I thought was over, but this article caused me to call and ATT gave me a 485.00 credit….Wahoooo….They applied a one time $24.95/mo
    internation roamimg charge to cover….I to had LIME
    on my phone and didnt know it was BVI cell. thanks again…love http://www.stjohnspicecam.com

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