What Is Data Roaming?

Data roaming occurs whenever your phone disconnects from your carrier’s network and hops on another network. Roaming allows you to make calls, send texts, and use wireless data even when you’re outside of your network’s boundaries. The downside, of course, is that roaming data usually comes with extra charges to your account.

For example, let’s say you take a trip across the pond to London. You get off the plane, and like magic, you have signal bars to call a Lyft driver to pick you up from old Heathrow airport. This happens because your wireless carrier has an agreement in place with a network in England to provide you with roaming service. If you have the roaming feature turned on, all of this will happen automatically.

How much does roaming cost?

What you pay for roaming charges will depend on your carrier, but plan for roaming charges to breakdown somewhat like this:

  • $0.25 per minute while talking on the phone.
  • $0.10 cents per text message.
  • $2-$5 per MB of data.

Needless to say, it is way too expensive to rely on roaming data during your, well, roaming. Seriously, no matter what carrier you use, those roaming rates will quickly add up and you might just rack up $13,000 in roaming fees without even knowing it.

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Wi-Fi is always your friend
No matter where you go, free Wi-Fi is always a thing you should use. You won’t need to use any roaming data whatsoever while connected to Wi-Fi.

How to avoid paying for roaming

Before you venture out into an area outside your coverage boundaries, make sure you know what your carrier offers for travel.

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Mexico and Canada usually don't incur roaming charges
Most cell phone providers have agreements in place to make sure you don’t have to pay extra while you’re still in North America.

Here’s what you need to know about traveling with the four major wireless carriers.

Verizon TravelPass

Verizon doesn’t come with any built-in international coverage, so we highly recommend purchasing the Verizon TravelPass before leaving town. Verizon’s TravelPass works in more than 185 countries. It costs $5 for TravelPass access in Mexico and Canada, and $10 for access in the other 185 countries. The TravelPass allows you to use your normal Verizon cell phone plan abroad without incurring any extra fees.

It’s just like your normal phone plan came with you on your trip. So, if you have unlimited data at home, you’ll continue to have unlimited data on your trip, and man, that will come in handy.

T-Mobile’s free international coverage

T-Mobile is the best wireless carrier for traveling perks. In fact, you might not need to buy a data pass at all. If you have T-Mobile’s Magenta unlimited plan, you get unlimited data (with 2G speeds) and texting in over 210 countries automatically included with your plan. You’ll still have to pay $0.25 per minute for making calls while roaming.

T-Mobile Magenta plans

For those of you who don’t have an unlimited plan with T-Mobile, you can opt for a data pass. Here’s how the pricing breaks down for the T-Mobile data pass.

  • $5 International 1 Day Pass
    • 512MB of data
    • Unlimited calling in 210+ locations
  • Smartphone Mobile Hotspot
    • $35 International Pass
    • Works for up to 10 days
    • 5 GB of data
    • Unlimited calling in 210+ locations
    • Smartphone Mobile Hotspot
  • $50 International Pass
    • Works for up to 30 days
    • 15 GB of data
    • Unlimited calling in 210+ locations
    • Smartphone Mobile Hotspot

Sprint’s free international coverage

All of Sprint’s data plans come with global roaming perks. You can text, use basic data (max 2G data speeds), and make calls for $0.25 while abroad with Sprint. Sprint currently covers more than 200 destinations around the world.

You can upgrade your data roaming speeds on a per-day or per-week basis if you’re fed up with 2G speeds barely being able to pull up Yelp. Here’s what the pricing looks like to upgrade your roaming data speeds with Sprint.

  • Canada & Mexico: $2/day or $10/week
  • Most destinations: $5/day or $25/week
  • Other destinations: $10/day or $50/week

AT&T International Day Pass℠

Like Verizon, AT&T doesn’t have any built-in perks for roaming, so you’ll need to buy a travel pass to avoid heavy roaming fees. The AT&T International Day Pass℠ costs you $10 per day and comes with these perks:

  • Access to your data
  • Unlimited texts to the world
  • Unlimited calls to the U.S.
  • Unlimited calls to 100+ destinations

I actually used the AT&T day pass while traveling to Europe and it worked beautifully. I was able to use my maps app everywhere and rely on Yelp for everything I ate.

How to make sure that your roaming is turned off

You can always turn off the roaming feature on your phone to make sure your phone doesn’t use any roaming data without you knowing about it.

How to turn off roaming data on your iPhone

  1. Go to your Settings.
  2. Tap the Cellular option.
Cellular Option on iPhones
  1. Tap Cellular Data Options.
  1. Toggle the Data Roaming option off.

How to turn off data roaming on an Android phone

  1. Tap Settings.
  2. Tap Connections.
  3. Tap Mobile Networks.
Mobile Networks on Android
  1. Toggle the switch to turn Data Roaming Access off.
Turn Off Roaming Access on Android

Now that you know about data roaming, here are your next steps

If your network coverage feels spotty, check out the best wireless networks out there.

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If you plan on traveling, T-Mobile is the best provider for traveling perks.

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