What is Data Roaming? A Guide for International Travel

What is data roaming

What is Data Roaming?

While the interconnectivity of cell phones and data networks can seem like magic, not all cellular networks are available everywhere. As a result, if your phone is in a dead zone or outside of your network, it will roam to find coverage elsewhere. Roaming allows you to text, call, or use data as you usually would, but it comes at a price.

So, what is data roaming?

When your smartphone or mobile device leaves the carrier's coverage area and is no longer connected to your home network service, it looks for a different network to use in the interim.

All the major cell phone carriers (AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile) have cellular roaming agreements with other networks to ensure that their subscribers are covered in areas where primary coverage is unavailable. This convenience encourages their customers to chat, text, and consume data in new ways.

What is Domestic Data Roaming?

Domestic data roaming refers to using your phone outside of your provider’s U.S. network. In locations throughout the U.S. where your carrier doesn’t yet have coverage, they’ll often partner with other networks to ensure you have access to data across the nation. Most carriers don't charge additional data roaming, meaning if your phone goes off-network while you're in the region, you can still access the internet as usual. Roaming encourages consumers to use their cell phones or other mobile devices outside their usual network operator's geographical coverage area.

What is International Data Roaming?

International roaming occurs when consumers fly overseas and use their phones or computers on a foreign ("visited") network. SMS roaming is the practice of sending and receiving text messages while traveling abroad. When you're overseas, and your carrier doesn't have coverage to call, email, or use mobile data, you'll need to roam between various mobile networks. Carriers frequently have international data roaming arrangements that permit you to use your device outside of the United States to access the internet.

The disadvantage is that international roaming data typically entails additional charges to your account that can quickly add up. Roaming on cell phones is simple to switch on and off, and it's always a good idea to double-check roaming costs at your destination before traveling to avoid an unexpected charge.

Should Roaming Be On or Off?

To roam or not to roam? There are lots of different situations where you’ll need to adjust your data roaming. Perhaps your phone's battery is depleting because it's constantly looking for new networks, or you're traveling abroad without a set itinerary and don't want to pay high foreign roaming rates. No matter what situation you find yourself in, it can be hard to know when to roam.

Should Data Roaming Be On?

You've most likely heard horror stories of exorbitant mobile data roaming rates, where inexperienced users have racked up thousands of dollars on their phone bills simply by surfing the internet or uploading a few files or email attachments. In that case, you may be hesitant to use your smartphone abroad. While switching off your roaming entirely can save you from this financial nightmare, you may find yourself in circumstances that require you to connect to a foreign network.

One instance where you may want to switch on roaming is to check your email.

Generally, it's fine to check your email because your phone won't download attachments unless you choose to do so. However, since the text in the email is downloaded, long lists of messages can end up costing more than you anticipate.

You may also want to consider briefly switching your roaming on to access your preferred ride-sharing app. While this can cause a hit to your phone bill, it can be worth it to get to your destination quickly and safely.

In general, consider data roaming on a case-by-case basis and keep it turned off until you absolutely need to use it.

How Much Does Roaming Cost?

The cost of domestic roaming has been nullified for the most part as many carriers have established coverage areas in most parts of the continental US. However, international data roaming is another thing entirely.

Unless your home network is based in the EU and you're traveling within Europe (where they've established their "roam like at home" policy, effectively making it similar to being with a US carrier and traveling within the country), you're going to have to pay for roaming costs.

While each carrier will offer different international roaming rates, you can typically expect to pay around $2.00 per MB for consuming data outside the country. This hefty fee means that you need to be conscious of every bit of data transmitted while overseas. If you plan to pay as you go, bear in mind that a single app could potentially cost hundreds of dollars.

Data Roaming FAQs:

What is Data Roaming as a Service?

Roaming is a service provided by carriers to enable you to access data networks when you are temporarily out of range of your home network. Keep in mind that most carriers don't assume roaming to be your primary source of coverage.

How Do I Know if My Device is Roaming?

Most devices have a visual indication to let you know that you're roaming. However, each device will have its own specifications, so it's best to refer to the user guide for more details.

Are there Any Data Restrictions?

Depending on your plan allowance, the amount of data you can use while roaming can be restricted. The MB size of the data sent or received is used to measure data consumption.

How do I Turn Off Data Roaming on My iPhone?

Apple switches off mobile roaming by default to ensure that iPhone users do not incur unintended data charges. This convenient feature means that none of the iPhone apps that use data (maps, email, web browser, etc.) can use a data link when traveling abroad. The user must actively turn this on, and the user is warned that they can incur costs at that time. However, it's worth double-checking that this has occurred. Make sure the