Any time you use your iPhone or Android device in an area where your carrier’s network isn’t available, you’ll likely see additional charges on your monthly bill. While many carriers allow you to use other voice networks without penalty, that’s not always the case with data roaming. In both cases (voice and data), you are also likely to incur roaming charges if you travel outside of the United States.
So, how can you avoid these charges when you’re traveling in an area that isn’t covered by your home network? Here’s everything you need to know about data roaming, and how to avoid any surprise charges on your next bill.
Data roaming meaning
The term “data roaming” refers to any time your phone connects to the Internet on any network other than your home network. It’s also one of the leading causes of bill shock — a lot of phones are set up to allow roaming by default, so many people don’t realize they’re racking up roaming charges until they’re hit with a staggering bill after an out-of-town trip.
While roaming typically occurs while traveling, “home network” refers to your carrier’s coverage and not to a geographical location. Regardless of where you are, you won’t be roaming if your carrier has service in that area. Check your carrier’s coverage map to see what places are (and aren’t) in your home network.
Should data roaming be on or off?
The easiest way to ensure that you never get hit with unexpected data roaming or data plan charges on your mobile phone is to disable the “data roaming” option using your device’s “Settings” menu. Disabling this option keeps your phone from connecting to data networks outside of your home network. If you’re ever outside your home network and need access to the Internet, you can always turn this option back on, but at least you’ll be prepared for the charges you’re incurring.
It’s important to note the difference between mobile data versus roaming (and international roaming) — mobile data is your phone’s ability to connect to any data services, including your home network. Using WiFi doesn’t count as data usage no matter where you are, so when you don’t have access to your home network, log on via WiFi to avoid roaming charges. Alternatively, airplane mode will turn off both data and WiFi options off when traveling away from your home network.
Finally, the price details of data roaming (and the way it is measured) vary from plan to plan, so if you are planning a trip where you won’t have coverage on your home network, check the roaming charges detailed in your contract to determine your best course of action. Carriers typically offer special packages for international roaming when traveling abroad. Depending on your usage habits and WiFi access, these plans may be cheaper than paying the fee for international data roaming.
Data roaming can be convenient if you’re outside of your home network and need to access the Internet, but the charges on your next bill can be an unpleasant surprise if you aren’t prepared. Before your next trip, check your carrier’s coverage and use these tips to avoid any unwanted fees when using your cell phone.