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What Is Data Roaming, and How Can You Avoid Paying for It?


Phone roaming.
McLittle Stock/

“Roaming” is a term that often gets mentioned in data plans for smartphones. Aren’t you always technically “roaming” when you’re out and about? Well, that’s not exactly what it means in the eyes of your mobile carrier.

What Is Data Roaming?

Data roaming is actually a very simple concept. You have a mobile carrier that provides data to your smartphone when it’s not connected to Wi-Fi. However, as you know, your carrier’s network is not limitless.

So what happens when you go somewhere not covered by your carrier’s network? That’s where data roaming comes in. Roaming allows you to hop on another network so you can still make calls, send texts, and use wireless data when your carrier’s network is disconnected.

This typically works through agreements between your carrier and other networks. The most common scenario in which data roaming comes into play is traveling to a country where your carrier doesn’t have a presence. You can roam on the other network and not need to sign up for something new.

RELATED: Why Unlimited Mobile Data Isn’t Actually Unlimited

How Much Does Roaming Cost?

Unfortunately, data roaming is not usually included for free as part of your data plan. If you want unlimited roaming you’ll need to pay for one of the more expensive plans. Roaming charges vary from carrier to carrier.

In general, if you don’t pay extra for unlimited roaming, you’ll pay for how much you use. That could be around $0.25 per minute on calls, $0.10 per SMS, and $3 per MB of data. Needless to say, those numbers can add up quickly, so make sure to read the details of your data plan to find out what you could be charged.

RELATED: Do You Really Need Unlimited Data?

How to Avoid Roaming Charges

The good news is you probably don’t have to worry about roaming charges. Your carrier may not have 5G or LTE coverage in all places, but there is almost always some lower-speed coverage everywhere in the country. Data roaming is primarily for traveling internationally.

That being said, there are some things you can do to be absolutely sure you are never roaming and being charged for it.

On Android, go to Settings > Network & Internet > SIM > Toggle off “Roaming.” For Samsung phones, go to Settings > Connections > Mobile Networks > Toggle off “Data Roaming.”

Toggle off "Roaming."

On iPhone, go to Settings > Cellular > Cellular Data Options > Toggle off “Data Roaming.”

Toggle off "Data Roaming."

Tip: If you’re traveling internationally, you can also consider paying for an international data plan with your cellular carrier. You can also consider getting a SIM card and cellular data plan in the country you’ll be staying in. Both of these are good ways to avoid the usual pay-for-the-data-you-use roaming charges, which can be expensive.

That’s all there is to data roaming. It’s primarily a feature of mobile networks for traveling outside of your country of residence. In your day-to-day life, it’s not something to worry about. However, if you plan on traveling, you’ll want to see what your carrier has to offer.

RELATED: Which Mobile Carriers Have Truly Unlimited Plans in the U.S?


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