Data roaming has, until recently, been pretty much the only option for using your phone abroad. Unless you had access to WiFi constantly, roaming cellular data was how you’d use the internet while traveling.
However, new options are popping up to reduce our need for data roaming. In this article, we’ll look at what we mean by roaming cellular data, and what other options you have.
Data roaming, also known as roaming cellular data, is the type of data your phone uses when it can’t connect to its native network. Although domestic data roaming is a thing (areas where your main carrier doesn’t have coverage), we’re focusing mainly on international data roaming here.
When you travel to a foreign country, you obviously can’t connect to your domestic cellular network. Instead, your phone roams between data providers that operate in that country.
Data roaming on iPhone and Android are the same thing, as it’s not specific to the operating system your phone is running. As should be fairly obvious, it’s based on the carrier and data plan you have – specifically, which country your phone is registered in.
To understand when to use roaming cellular data, we must first ask, what is data plan? A data plan is the network contract you pay to use your phone. For a set monthly price, you get a set amount of data. Some data plans also have limits on SMS and call minutes, but this is less common nowadays.
Your data plan includes domestic data use, meaning the data you use in your home country. This is what’s included in the plan, and most don’t have any kind of setup for travel data.
You therefore use roaming cellular data when you travel internationally. For example, you live in the USA and decide to travel to France. Because you’re in a different country, you’d need to use travel data to browse the internet and connect to apps. You might also find that your carrier has increased charges for SMS messages and calls, but this doesn’t count as data roaming.
To understand whether you should use data roaming while abroad, it’s necessary to look at how much it’ll cost. Depending on your data provider and the country you’re visiting, roaming cellular data can be pretty expensive. This is especially true when you consider that your domestic data is essentially free.
Let’s use roaming charges ATT as an example. ATT (or AT&T) is one of the largest network providers in the US, so its roaming charges are a good indication of the rest of the market. Here are some roaming charges ATT to help you understand the extra cost:
Bear in mind, these are just the network’s data roaming charges. Calls and texts have different prices, although these are pretty consistent at $0.50 per SMS and anywhere from $1-3 per minute of calls.
But AT&T also offers travel data plans for the more expensive situations. Specifically, you can get plan add-ons for worldwide and cruise ships. These cost $15/month per line for worldwide calling and $50 for its cruise ship plan. Considering the roaming cost on a cruise ship is $6.14 per MB, this’ll pay for itself pretty quickly.
A viable alternative to using roaming cellular data is to buy a specific travel data plan. AT&T’s cruise ship add-on is an example of this: it gives you access to mobile internet when you’re not connected to your domestic network.
Fast and affordable mobile internet is a must-have for pretty much all international travel these days. For example, you’d use it to stay in contact with people back home, run maps, check your flights, and more. Although you could travel internationally without fast mobile internet, it’s arguably much easier with it.
Carriers generally offer travel data plans. However, these are typically very expensive (as AT&T’s rates show) and have limited options for the kinds of plans you can actually buy. For example, they might include small amounts of data or have unnecessary increases (e.g., 10MB or 10GB with nothing in between).
Perhaps most importantly, main carriers often have poor international data connectivity. You might find in some countries that you have less than 4G. While this isn’t the end of the world, it’s the standard many of us have come to expect from our mobile data.
Finally, you’ll find these plans don’t come with great customer support. If you find yourself traveling internationally with data connection issues, the last thing you want is to not be able to contact the company offering you this service. Although a relatively minor issue, it’s not exactly what you want.
The best alternative to data roaming is to use Textr’s eSIM. Launched on 15 November, it covers more than 130 countries and will work out much cheaper than standard travel data plans. Also, the benefit of an eSIM is that you can switch networks and plans as needed without buying a physical SIM.
Convenience is one of the main draws of an eSIM service. It’s ideal for traveling to a single country but really comes into its own when you move between countries. As mentioned, you can just buy a new data plan as needed. Plus, you have plenty of flexibility for how much data you buy and how long you have to use it.
Textr’s eSIM connects to the fastest and most reliable local providers, so you don’t have to worry about dropped or slow connections while trying to get a map of the local area to load!
Textr has 24/7 premium customer support for its eSIM holders, meaning if you have any issues while traveling, we can be on hand to help you straight away.
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