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The Basics of Data Roaming (And How to Avoid It)

Learn everything you need to know about data roaming, including what it is, how it works, the cost, alternatives, and the best roaming plans.

We’ve all seen the cell network commercials where they tout their great plans and data roaming capabilities. But with all the unlimited data and nationwide plans being advertised, is data roaming still a thing? Get all the answers and details you need below.

What is Data Roaming & Is it Still a Thing?

Simply put, data roaming is when your mobile device connects to a network other than your carrier's while you're outside your home network's coverage area.

It seems complicated, but data roaming is very common. When you understand how data roaming works, you’ll have a better idea of how to get the most out of your phone.

If you have data roaming enabled on your phone, and it disconnects from your network and connects to another, you can still make calls, send texts, and use mobile data. Remember, using your phone while roaming may incur additional charges, depending on your phone plan.

What is Domestic/Regional Data Roaming?

Suppose you go to a remote area in the U.S. for an epic hike. The only problem is your network doesn’t have coverage in that area. If data roaming is turned on, your phone will connect to a partner network. However, we recommend checking with your carrier first before trying it.

What is International Data Roaming?

International data roaming simply means using cell phone data/services from your carrier in another country. Here’s how it works: Your phone, tablet, or smartwatch connects to a local carrier’s cellular network in the country you're visiting. This allows you to continue sending text messages, making phone calls, using data, etc.

International roaming might be convenient, but it can also be expensive. However, in some cases, U.S.-based carriers offer free or discounted international roaming packages because they have partnerships with major networks overseas.

These companies offer some of the best international data roaming plans:

Some plans for using data outside of the U.S. are as low as $5 per day, and others have much higher roaming fees. That said, you should do your own research to find the best international phone plan for your destination, budget, coverage, and data needs.

Should Data Roaming Be On or Off?

Whether you toggle data roaming on or off depends on your needs and the specifics of your mobile phone plan. If you're traveling and need access to mobile data, regardless of the potential extra charges, turn it on. However, if you won’t need to use mobile data while traveling and want to avoid any unexpected charges, it may be best to turn off data roaming.

How to Turn Data Roaming On or Off on iPhone

It’s pretty easy to turn your data roaming on or off on your iPhone or iPad. Here’s how:

  1. Go to Settings.
  2. Tap on Cellular, Cellular Data, or Mobile Data.
  3. Toggle the Data Roaming option on or off.

How to Turn Data Roaming On or Off on Android

It’s just as simple to turn your data roaming on or off if you have an Android phone. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Go to Settings.
  2. Tap on Connections and select Mobile Networks.
  3. Choose whether you want Data Roaming on or off.

Please note: These steps may differ slightly from phone to phone. However, most modern cell phones make it easy to turn your roaming on or off with a few simple finger taps.

How Much Does Data Roaming Cost?

It depends. Some carriers offer specific international plans or data allotments for traveling, while others may charge per minute, text, or MB of data used. The cost can vary greatly depending on your carrier and even your travel destination.

Is Data Roaming Free With Unlimited Data?

Data roaming isn’t usually free (even with the best unlimited data plans). However, certain carriers include specific roaming features in their unlimited plans. For example, some carriers may offer free data roaming when traveling to Mexico or Canada. Check with your carrier to understand the ins and outs of the roaming services available based on your plan.

Ways to Avoid Data Roaming Charges

Just because data roaming is available doesn’t mean you need to use it. If you want to be 100% sure you’ll avoid roaming charges, here are a few steps you can take:

  • Use The “Off” Button: Disable the data roaming feature on your phone. Doing so stops your phone from connecting with other networks.
  • Try WiFi Hotspots: Instead of using your data plan, use WiFi hotspots to access the Internet.
  • Look Into Travel Plans: Many carriers offer travel plans that allow you to use your phone abroad for a small fee. These plans sometimes come with text, call, and data caps, so it's not unlimited freedom, but it's a start.
  • Grab a Local or e-Sim Card: Possibly the easiest and cheapest way to sidestep roaming charges is to purchase a local or e-Sim card.

FAQs About Data Roaming

Is Data Roaming Good?

It depends on your needs and budget. It can be convenient if you’re traveling to a new area or country. However, be sure to keep an eye on the fees and manage your data usage accordingly.

Will Data Roaming Make My Internet Faster?

Your Internet speed depends on your phone and the network you connect to. For example, if you go to a country with a faster network, you can expect faster speeds. On the other hand, you can expect your Internet to be a bit more sluggish if you’re going somewhere with much slower networks or limited infrastructure.

Is it Okay to Turn Off Data Roaming?

Yes, it’s okay to turn off your data roaming. That’s especially true if you don’t want to be charged additional fees while streaming or using an Internet-intensive app.

What is Data Roaming as a Service?

Data roaming is a service that most major mobile carriers offer to their customers for an additional fee. It’s included in some unlimited data plans while others have pay-as-you-go roaming fees. Check with your carrier to learn how its roaming service works and whether it’s best for your situation.

How Do I Know if My Device is Roaming?

Most devices display a roaming icon or an “R” at the top of the screen when you're connected to a roaming network. However, every device works differently. One of the best ways to find out for sure is to go into your phone’s settings and look for the mobile network it’s connected to. If it’s not your own, you’re probably roaming.

Get Connected With Reliable Mobile Service Today

Data roaming can be handy if you need data while traveling outside of your network — just be sure you understand the fees before using it. If you’re looking for a wireless provider that offers data roaming, we can help. We’ll connect you with a reliable and affordable mobile plan that fits your needs.

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