Data roaming enables you to use mobile internet services when traveling outside your home network area. Without data roaming enabled, your smartphone would have limited connectivity abroad. 

In this guide, we will explain in detail about what is data roaming, how it works, roaming rates, and most importantly, the best alternative to roaming.

what is data roaming

I. Understanding Roaming – What is Data Roaming?

Roaming or data roaming is the capability of using your cellphone to connect to the Internet in places where your home network operator does not support. For travelers, this happens when you travel abroad. 

When your phone cannot find your usual network, it roams to find another one. 

Roaming allows you to call, text and use data as you normally would, but it can cost more.

The ability for a cell phone to roam in a certain country depends on the agreement between the operators of each country. 

What is a roaming plan?

Roaming plan allows you to use your cell phone abroad for a daily fee. This daily charge includes an allowance for calls, texts and data. On a roaming plan, you act as a guest operating on a foreign network. 

Insight: All big cell phone companies have deals with other networks so that their customers can still use their phones in places where their major network does not cover. 

II. How Does Roaming Work?

Roaming on a cell phone is as simple as the practice of switching on and off. But, behind that practice, there is more to get to know.

Roaming is divided into many types based on different criteria.

Based on coverage, there are 03 types of roaming : 

  • Land coverage roaming: allow people to use cell phones on land.
  • Maritime coverage roaming: allow people on ferry, cruise ship or boat to use cell phone
  • Air coverage roaming: allow people to connect during a flight

The most used roaming type is land coverage roaming. This service is set as default on cell phones.

Based on region, there are domestic/regional and international data roaming:

  • Domestic/regional roaming: allows you to use your cell phone and other mobile devices in locations within your country where your current carrier does not have coverage. They partner with other network carriers to provide Internet access across the country. 
  • International roaming: similar to domestic roaming, but allows you to use your cell phone and other mobile devices outside your home country or region on a foreign network.

Note: There is a policy of “roam like home” in Europe but it is a good idea to check roaming costs at your destination prior to traveling to avoid any unexpected costs.

Pro Tip: Using Virtual Private Network (VPN) Services for Data Roaming

III. How Much Does Roaming Cost? Roaming Rates

How much does data roaming cost - roaming rates

Cost of domestic roaming has largely been eliminated because many carriers, especially major ones now cover the whole country, even larger regions.

However, international roaming is totally different.

When roaming internationally, you are charged for each service you use

The roaming rates are determined by many factors, including the network carrier you choose, the country you visit, and the services you use. 

For example:

  • If you travel abroad and you want to make calls, you need to use voice roaming service.
  • If you want to use mobile data to browse the web, you need to use a data roaming service.

Nowadays, travelers majorly use data roaming because with mobile data, you can make calls, send text messages via apps, and get Internet access as well.

Normally, you will expect to pay more for consuming data outside the country. So you must be careful and attentive; otherwise, you may end up paying high fees for the services you use while overseas. 

To help you have an overview about data roaming rates in the world, here we gather some rates of big network carriers in different destinations:

Operator per CountryVodafone UKThree UKO2 UKAT&T USAVerizon USAT-Mobile USA
Canada$2/min, $0.05/text, $15/MB$2/min, $0.05/text, $15/MB$0.20/min, $0.20/text, $0.20/MB£1.50/min, £0.05/text, £3/MB£1.50/min, £0.10/text, £1/MB£1.50/min, £0.10/text, £3/MB
Mexico$2/min, $0.50/text, $15/MB$2/min, $0.50/text, $15/MB$0.20/min, $0.20/text, $0.20/MB£1.50/min, £0.05/text, £6/MB£1.50/min, £0.10/text, £6/MB£1.50/min, £0.10/text, £6/MB
France$2/min, $0.50/text, $15/MB$2/min, $0.50/text, $15/MB$0.20/min, $0.20/text, $0.20/MB£1.50/min, £0.05/text, £3/MB£1.50/min, £0.10/text, £1/MB£1.50/min, £0.10/text, £3/MB
Germany$2/min, $0.50/text, $15/MB$2/min, $0.50/text, $15/MB$0.20/min, $0.20/text, $0.20/MB£1.50/min, £0.05/text, £3/MB£1.50/min, £0.10/text, £1/MB£1.50/min, £0.10/text, £3/MB
Spain$2/min, $0.50/text, $15/MB$2/min, $0.50/text, $15/MB$0.20/min, $0.20/text, $0.20/MB£1.50/min, £0.05/text, £3/MB£1.50/min, £0.10/text, £1/MB£1.50/min, £0.10/text, £3/MB
Roaming rates by operator and country

Based on the table above, we can conclude that roaming rates are different by destination and plan type.

Need to know about roaming:

  • Roaming plans are set by default on your phone.
  • You can activate/deactivate data roaming from your phone’s settings
  • You will pay more if you use more than daily limit
  • When you go out of your country, your phone will immediately connect to a foreign cellular network (if there is an agreement between your home network and the other network in your destination country).
  • If you forget to turn off data roaming, you will have to pay unexpected fees. 

 

IV. Roaming Zones – What You Need to Know

Roaming zones are set up between mobile carriers to simplify roaming arrangements and pricing. 

There are major roaming zones which have standardized costs for roaming services (calls, SMS, and data consumption). Within a zone, roaming rates are much lower compared to outside the zone.

Here is an overview of common roaming zones and the countries within each zone: 

Roaming zonesCountries
European Union Roaming ZoneAustria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden
North American Roaming ZoneUnited States, Canada, Mexico
Asia Pacific Roaming ZoneAustralia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, India
Latin America Roaming ZoneArgentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela
Middle East & Africa Roaming ZoneBahrain, Israel, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, United Arab Emirates

Note: The exact list of countries in a roaming zone can vary by provider. 

Important Note: Some network operators like O2 UK or Rogers Canada allow customers to check roaming services available by country.

V. How to Activate Data Roaming Service?

How to activate data roaming

Steps to turn on data roaming service vary by phone and carrier.

Here we give general steps to turn on data roaming on different phone models:

1. How to turn on data roaming on iPhone

Remember the exact wording can be different among iOS version and models.

To enable data roaming in iOS devices (iPhone), take these steps:

  • Go to Settings > Cellular / Mobile Data
  • Tap Cellular Data Options, toggle on Data Roaming
how to turn on data roaming on iphone
Steps to turn on data roaming on iPhone

2. How to turn on data roaming on Android

Take the steps below to activate or deactivate data roaming on your Android device:

  • Go to Settings menu
  • Tap Connections > Mobile Networks
  • Toggle on or off to activate / deactivate Data Roaming

Note: If the Data Roaming switch button is greyed out, you should check whether or not Mobile data is activated. Go to Settings > Connections > Data usage > Mobile data.

how to turn on data roaming on Android
Steps to turn on data roaming on Android

In addition to the general steps above, consider these things when activating data roaming on your phone:

  • Contact carrier to confirm roaming is enabled. Most have it activated by default, but check for sure.
  • Enable international roaming data package. Some carriers require users to buy an international roaming package before using data abroad. Confirm the costs and data limits as well.
  • Enable Data Roaming Guard if any to limit mobile data use to avoid high bills.
  • Test with a web page or speed test.
  • Manually select a carrier if needed.
  • Disable roaming when back home to avoid roaming fees domestically.

VI. Should Data Roaming be On or Off?

Take these considerations to decide to toggle on or off your data roaming:

  • Location: If you travel abroad and do not have an international roaming package, it is recommended to turn off data roaming to avoid high roaming charges.
  • Roaming charges: Check the rates for roaming of your current mobile network operators.
  • Essentiality: If your phone is carrier-locked and you need continuous access to data services while maintaining contacts on your primary phone number to make calls/SMSs, keep roaming on. But if your phone is unlocked and eSIM-equipped, you can think of using an international eSIM which still allows you to use mobile data to access the Internet while keeping your primary phone number. This is much cheaper than roaming.
  • Wi-Fi availability: If you are in the area with reliable WiFi connection, you can turn off data roaming and use WiFi instead.

When in doubt, it is best to keep data roaming off. Just turn it on when you need, and make sure that you always control and manage your data usage and costs if turning it on.

VII. Data Roaming with an International eSIM – How Does it Work?

Data roaming with an international esim

eSIM is a virtual SIM card already installed into your smartphones. eSIMs function just like the physical SIM cards used for cellular service.

Only the latest generation of smartphones are equipped with an eSIM

People can add an eSIM plan to their cell phone by scanning a QR code. 

There are 2 common types of eSIM plan: eSIM plan with data only and eSIM plan with data + voice/text.

Using an eSIM with data specified for a certain country or region, you do not need to pay expensive roaming fees. 

You can buy eSIM from either mobile network operators with eSIM services or eSIM providers like Gigago. 

VIII. Data Roaming Plan vs. Data eSIM Plan: Which Option to Choose?

You can use an eSIM or a roaming plan to stay connected. But, which one is better?

Your home mobile network operator may offer you data roaming services while you travel, but the fees can be high and there is likely to be limitations on what you can do with data roaming. 

Data eSIM, on the other hand, gives you a chance to enjoy lower costs with better flexibility. 

Here we make a comparison table between data roaming and data eSIM:

CriteriaData roaming planData eSIM plan
FeatureAn add-on to your current mobileaccess a global marketplace for mobile data plans tailored to their trips.
Set upImmediateImmediate
ConvenienceYesYes
PriceVery highAffordable
Sharing InternetYes/NYes/No by plan
Extra feeYesNo
Connection qualityYes/NoYes

IX. Best Alternative to Avoid Data Roaming Charges

Gigago eSIM - alternative to dat roaming

Data roaming is an old-fashioned but expensive way to stay connected while being abroad. Nowadays, there are many alternatives to data roaming, such as using a travel SIM card, eSIM, pocket wifi, and free Wifi, etc.

However, if your phone is unlocked and works with eSIM, it is highly recommended to use eSIM instead. With a data eSIM, you can stay connected almost everywhere in the world, no matter where you are now. 

As a specific recommendation, we would like to suggest you to consider Gigago eSIM as the eSIM provider – alternative to data roaming. 

Why?

What Gigago can offer you are:

  • We offer eSIM plans for more than 200 countries and regions in the world.
  • With each country/region, we are the provider with the most varied options to choose from
  • You can buy, install an eSIM on your phone within 5 minutes
  • You can stay connected without surprise bills
  • You can continue to use your WhatsApp
  • You can remain your primary SIM card, keep all contacts.
  • Some plans even include a phone number allowing you to make calls/text messages.
  • You can easily top up if necessary, also online.

▶ See how to check if your phone supports eSIM.

X. How to Fix Data Roaming Problems?

What to do if your data roaming does not work? If you cannot get connected to the local mobile network instantly, consider this checklist before doing anything further:

  • Check if the option “data roaming” is activated in your phone settings. Visit the “Mobile networks” menu to see this option.
  • Restart your phone right after you arrive in your destination.
  • Establish manually the connection with a different local network by Settings. Problems may just happen with one network, not others.
    • For iOS (iPhone): Go to Settings > Cellular > Network Selection > tap on the toggle to change the status from “automatic” to “manual“. It takes 1-2 minutes to search for the available networks. Choose one of the local providers.
    • For Android, take these steps: Go to Settings > Connections > Mobile Networks > Network Operators > choose “Select Manually“. This takes 1-2 minutes to search for the available networks. Then, choose one of the local providers

XI. Tips to Manage Data Roaming Usage Abroad

  • Disable data roaming on your phone before leaving your home country. This prevents accidental usage on foreign networks.
  • Get a local SIM card or eSIM plan at your destination. This gives you affordable data on a local network.
  • Download maps and translations offline before your trip. Use WiFi instead of cellular data when abroad.
  • Enable airplane mode and only turn data on when you have WiFi access.
  • Set a data limit or cap on your phone to stop data if you exceed it. Learn tips to know how much data you need for international travel so you can set the right limit.
  • Check if your home carrier offers an international roaming package or travel pass. These provide blocks of data at lower rates.
  • Use apps like WhatsApp and FaceTime Audio to make calls and messages over WiFi. Avoid bandwidth-heavy streaming.
  • Configure your smartphone settings to disable background data and auto-updates. Monitor your usage closely.
  • Consider purchasing a portable WiFi hotspot to conveniently access data through local SIMs.
  • Ask your carrier to send notifications when you hit a certain percentage of your data roaming limit.

XII. FAQs

Can I regulate roaming from my phone?

Yes, you can. You can turn on or off the roaming function to avoid being charged when coming back home.

What is difference between data roaming and voice roaming

Data roaming gives you mobile data to browse the web, stay online on social media, or make calls, text messages via apps. Voice roaming gives you minutes and text messages to make calls and SMSs when being internationally. 

How to activate data roaming?

First, make sure that your network operator offers you roaming service. Then, on your phone, go to Settings to check if this function is switched on. After arriving at your destination, you can stay connected with your cell phone as long as roaming is enabled.

How to avoid roaming with an eSIM?

An eSIM allows you to install a data plan without charging roaming fees. You can buy a data plan for eSIM with data only to stay connected. However, to enjoy the services of an eSIM, your phone must be equipped with eSIM technology.