Should voice and data roaming be on or off?

What is voice and data roaming?

Voice roaming refers to making and receiving phone calls while outside of your carrier’s native coverage area. When voice roaming, your phone connects to another available carrier’s network in order to provide voice services. This allows you to continue making calls even when traveling internationally or outside of your provider’s domestic network coverage. Data roaming works similarly – it allows you to access mobile data services when traveling outside of your carrier’s coverage. Your phone will connect to a local carrier’s mobile data network in the area you are visiting.

The key difference between voice and data roaming is that voice roaming only provides the ability to make calls over another carrier’s network, while data roaming allows using the full range of mobile data services – web browsing, streaming, social media, email etc. Both voice and data roaming allow your phone to switch between different carriers’ networks as you travel in order to maintain connectivity.

When traveling internationally, your phone will typically connect to local carrier networks in the countries you visit for both voice and data roaming. Domestically, your phone may connect to alternate regional or national carrier networks within your home country if you travel outside of your provider’s native coverage zone. This network switching process happens automatically based on roaming agreements between carriers, allowing seamless voice and data connectivity.

Pros of keeping voice and data roaming on

Keeping voice and data roaming enabled allows you to stay connected even when traveling outside of your carrier’s network coverage area. Here are some of the main benefits of leaving roaming on:

Avoid missing important calls and messages. With voice roaming, you can receive incoming calls and text messages regardless of where you are, preventing you from missing anything urgent while traveling (Exploring the Benefits of Roaming Data Plans). This can provide peace of mind.

Stay connected while traveling. Data roaming gives you access to mobile internet, email, apps, maps and more while out of your home network area (What is Data Roaming? A Guide to Managing Cellular Data When Traveling | T-Mobile). This keeps you conveniently connected on the go.

Use maps/navigation and travel apps. With data roaming enabled, you can use Google Maps, Apple Maps, travel booking and transit apps, rideshares, and other location-based services wherever you are (What is Data Roaming | WhistleOut). This makes navigating foreign places much easier.

Cons of Keeping Voice and Data Roaming On

One of the biggest downsides of using voice and data roaming is the potential for ‘bill shock’ from unexpectedly high roaming charges. International roaming rates are often much higher than standard domestic rates. Using data or making calls while roaming can quickly add up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars in fees. According to one source, roaming charges can be up to 100 times more expensive than local rates (

There are also potential security risks associated with using unknown cellular networks while roaming internationally. Networks in other countries may not have the same cybersecurity standards, making devices more vulnerable to hacking or surveillance. Users connecting through foreign networks should be cautious about accessing sensitive accounts or information.

Finally, constantly searching for roaming networks can drain a device’s battery life much faster. Phones will consume more power as they hunt for available networks, meaning more frequent charging may be required.

Tips for minimizing roaming charges

There are several ways to avoid or minimize expensive roaming charges when traveling internationally:

Use WiFi calling and messaging apps when possible. Apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and FaceTime Audio allow you to call and text over WiFi without racking up roaming charges. Just connect to local WiFi and use these apps to communicate instead of regular voice and SMS.1

Enable airplane mode when you don’t need to actively use your phone. Airplane mode disconnects you from cellular networks so you avoid passive data usage that could incur roaming fees. Only turn cellular data back on when you need to access the internet.2

Use a local SIM card for affordable local service. Purchasing a local SIM card in your destination country gives you a temporary phone number and cellular plan with discounted local rates. This is often much cheaper than relying on roaming through your regular carrier.3

Roaming policies of major carriers

When traveling internationally, most major carriers in the U.S. offer daily fees, monthly packages, or pay-as-you-go rates for voice and data roaming. Here are some key details on international roaming policies:

Verizon offers TravelPass, which provides unlimited talk, text and data in over 185 countries for $10/day per line. You can also purchase monthly packages or pay-as-you-go rates. Verizon suspends service after $100 of roaming charges in a month unless you enroll in a monthly plan.

AT&T offers Day Pass for $10/day with unlimited high-speed data and calling in over 185 countries. You can also purchase monthly packages or pay by the minute, text or MB. AT&T suspends data roaming after $100 of charges in a month.

T-Mobile offers Simple Global with unlimited 2G data and texting and low flat-rate calling in over 210 countries at no extra charge (with most plans). You can purchase high-speed LTE data passes. Data roaming may be slowed after 5GB of monthly use.

Sprint offers Global Roaming for $5/day per line including unlimited text/data and calls at $0.20/minute. You can also purchase data passes, monthly packages, or pay-as-you-go rates. Sprint reserves the right to suspend service after excessive roaming.

It’s important to understand restrictions and fine print for each carrier. Policies are subject to change, so check carrier websites before traveling internationally.

Solutions beyond disabling roaming

While simply turning off voice and data roaming is one option, there are some alternatives worth considering that allow you to stay connected internationally without racking up huge roaming fees:

International SIM cards

Purchasing a local SIM card when you travel internationally allows you to access local provider rates, which are usually much cheaper than roaming rates from your home provider. However, this does mean you’ll have a separate phone number in each country you visit. Popular options for international SIM cards include GOO Roam and KnowRoaming.

Unlocked devices

Having an unlocked phone or mobile hotspot gives you the flexibility to simply switch in local SIM cards as you travel. Just be sure your device is compatible with the wireless networks in the countries you’re visiting. You can often check this ahead of time online.

Alternatives like Google Fi

Services like Google Fi provide international coverage in many countries at rates much lower than standard roaming. While not as cheap as local SIM cards, these alternatives give you more continuity and convenience.

When you should keep roaming on

There are some situations when it makes sense to keep your voice and data roaming turned on:

  • Short essential trips where connectivity is important – If you are taking a short trip and need to stay connected for things like navigation, ride shares, messaging, or voice calls, it can be helpful to keep roaming on. Just be sure to monitor your data usage and turn roaming off when the trip is over.
  • Ability to monitor data usage – Most phones and carriers now provide tools to monitor your data usage in real time. As long as you can actively monitor usage, you can turn roaming off if you notice excessive charges.
  • Confirm no excessive charges – Before an international trip, check with your carrier to understand roaming rates and policies. Confirm there are no unexpected charges or fees, so you aren’t caught off guard.

The key is to be intentional about when you enable roaming, monitor your usage and charges, and limit roaming to essential usage only. Turn it off when the short trip is over to avoid unintended charges.

When you should turn roaming off

Turning off voice and data roaming can be a smart option in certain situations, especially to avoid unwanted roaming charges when traveling abroad for extended periods:

For extended non-essential trips, disabling roaming will prevent accrual of hefty roaming fees from casual usage. You can selectively enable roaming temporarily when needed, such as for an important call or lookup. Just remember to disable again after.

If you have limited ability to check data usage during your trip, keeping roaming off ensures charges won’t sneak up on you from excessive unintended usage. Wait until you can monitor usage more closely before enabling roaming.

When you don’t need constant connectivity, such as while attending a conference or relaxing on vacation, you can safely turn roaming off without missing important communications. Enable selectively for essential tasks requiring internet access.

The key is being on a trip where lack of continuous access isn’t detrimental and monitoring usage closely when enabled. For non-urgent travel, keeping roaming disabled avoids surprise bills.1

Summary tips for managing roaming

Here are some final tips for managing voice and data roaming when traveling internationally:

  • Understand your carrier’s roaming policies and rates. Make sure you know what you’ll be charged for voice, text, and data usage when roaming.[1]
  • Leverage WiFi connections whenever possible to minimize roaming charges.[2] Turn on WiFi calling if your phone supports it.
  • Use airplane mode judiciously and disable cellular data roaming to prevent background app usage.
  • Consider purchasing a local SIM card if you’ll be in one place for an extended time.
  • Monitor your usage closely so you don’t get sticker shock when your bill arrives.
  • Weigh the value of connectivity vs. the roaming costs you’ll incur. It may make sense to stay disconnected for your trip.

Finding the right balance between staying connected and avoiding exorbitant roaming charges requires planning ahead and making smart choices while traveling.


In summary, mobile voice and data roaming provides convenience for connectivity when traveling outside a carrier’s coverage area, but can potentially incur significant charges if not managed properly. While completely disabling roaming ensures no surprises on your phone bill, you may miss important calls, messages or data services while traveling. With some thoughtful planning and smart settings adjustments, it’s possible to optimize roaming to maintain connectivity when you need it, while avoiding excessive charges.

Mobile roaming is a useful but potentially costly convenience. By understanding your carrier’s policies, monitoring your usage, and implementing selective roaming controls, you can develop strategies that provide the connectivity you need while controlling expenses.

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