You’ve packed your bags, you’re on your way to the airport, and you’ve even remembered your passport.
But what about your phone?
How are you going to talk to everyone and tell them how great your trip is?
That’s one thing you don’t want to worry about.
What Is International Roaming?
In a nutshell, international roaming lets the customer continue to use their phone as they normally would while traveling in another country: calls, texts, internet, etc. When you’re traveling abroad and your usual network isn’t available, your phone will connect to another partner network that has an agreement with your provider. If you have data roaming turned on, this will happen automatically.
What’s The Difference Between International Roaming And Domestic Roaming?
The difference between international roaming and domestic roaming is quite simply where the roaming takes place.
International roaming is when your phone connects to a partner network that is outside of the United States. For example, if you’re a T-Mobile customer traveling to the U.K., your phone may roam on the Vodafone network while you are there.
Domestic roaming refers to any off-network use that takes place within the United States. For example, if you’re a T-Mobile customer in northern Vermont, your phone may roam on the AT&T network for coverage. That’s because T-Mobile doesn’t have towers in some sections of Vermont, and they have reached an agreement with AT&T, who does have towers in those locations, to provide coverage to T-Mobile customers.
Check out our guide on domestic roaming to learn more.
What Plans Support International Data Roaming?
International data roaming is available as a separate plan add-on for plans from the major carriers, Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile, as well as from some of the more established MVNOs.
Here’s a look at what the international roaming options are from popular carriers:
- Verizon: No built-in coverage for international roaming, but you can purchase the Verizon TravelPass for $5 a day in Mexico and Canada or $10 a day for access in other countries. In addition to the TravelPass, they offer an International Travel Plan for $100 a month and Pay-As-You-Go. Verizon makes it especially easy with their online trip planner. Just tell them where you want to go, when you’re going, and what device you have. They’ll give you the rates specific to where you’re going, and you can set everything up through your account.
- T-Mobile: If you have the Magenta or Magenta MAX unlimited plans, you’ll have unlimited data (2G speeds) and texting in more than 210 countries. Calls are still an additional $0.25 a minute. Like Verizon, T-Mobile also has an online planning option. You can enter your destination, view the international data roaming plans available, and see if your device will be compatible.
- AT&T: AT&T also offers a day pass for international data roaming. For $10 a day, you can access data, texting, and make unlimited calls to over 100 destinations. If you already have a domestic wireless plan with AT&T, they also offer an international calling plan. You can make unlimited calls to over 85 countries and get discounted rates on calls to over 140.
- Xfinity Mobile: Offers talk, text, and data roaming in over 200 countries. You can add a global travel pass to any line and pay a flat rate for calls, texts, and data while abroad. There’s also a pay-as-you-go plan for traveling abroad, and a plan for customers in the US who want to call and text residents in other countries. Simply enter the country you’re traveling to or want to contact, and Xfinity will give you the rates.
- Mint Mobile: Mint offers UpRoam, which lets users add to their international roaming credit in $5, $10, or $20 increments. International usage for minutes, texts, and data are then deducted from your international credit on a pay-per-use basis. For example, in Canada you are charged $0.06 per minute, $0.02 per text, and $0.06 per MB of data. International credits are applied at purchase, and they don’t expire. You can also check your balance anytime by texting “ROAM” to 6700.
- US Mobile: International roaming options are available in over 150 countries at affordable rates. Your international data plans begin as soon as you arrive at your destination, and customers on the Unlimited All plan get free international data in all countries. No options for international calling or texting are available at this time, so you’ll want to use apps like iMessage, WhatsApp, Telegram, Signal, or Facebook Messenger to chat with friends and locals.
How Much Does International Roaming Cost?
Prices vary by carrier, but international data roaming fees can add up quickly. It’s best to connect to Wi-Fi whenever possible and familiarize yourself with what your carrier offers.
Here are some examples of how much international data roaming costs across different companies:
- The TravelPass $5 per day in Canada and Mexico and includes 0.5GB of high-speed data per day
- The TravelPass is $10 per day in 185+ countries and destinations and includes 0.5GB of high-speed data
- The International Monthly Plan is $100 per 30 days and includes 5GB of high-speed data. Works in 185+ countries
- Canada and Mexico roaming is included for free in all plans
- The International Day Pass is $10 per day for unlimited data. It supports 210+ countries and territories. The International Day Pass is free for the rest of the month after you pay for 10 days
- The Global Travel Pass is $10 a day per line in over 170 countries
- In Mexico and Canada, the rate is $5 a day
- The pay-as-you-go plan differs by country
- Users can add international credits to their wallet in $5, $10, or $20 increments
- Credits are then applied on a pay-per-use basis for minutes, texts, and megabytes (MB) of data
- Example rates for the U.K.: $0.25 per minute, $0.05 per text, and $0.20 per MB
- All plans include free calling to Mexico and Canada
- Free international data to customers on the Unlimited All plan
- Users on other plans can look up rates by country and select how much data they want to use. Typical plans include 1GB, 3GB, 5GB, or 10GB of data that’s valid for 30 days. Rates and options differ by country
Are There Cheaper International Data Roaming Alternatives?
You can always connect to Wi-Fi if you’re staying somewhere that offers it, or find somewhere nearby. You could also go old school and find an internet cafe. Apps like Skype or WhatsApp are a convenient alternative to get in touch.
Another option is to buy a local SIM card that can provide you with calling and data, or to consider an international eSIM plan.
International eSIM plans are data-only plans that you can install on your phone by scanning a QR code. Carriers like Airalo, Simtex, and US Mobile offer affordable international eSIM plans to a wide variety of countries. Newer phones, like the iPhone XS and newer, Pixel 3 and newer, and Galaxy S20 and newer, support adding eSIM profiles for data.
Compare options for international eSIM plans here.
Does My Phone Support International Roaming?
Rules vary from one carrier to the next, so it’s important to read up on international roaming before you leave on your trip. Networks differ from country to country, and you’ll need to find out if your phone is compatible with the network where you’re traveling (as previously mentioned, your phone will most likely find a partner network to connect to).
Thankfully, most modern phones these days do support roaming on different networks internationally. iPhones are especially great for this.
The biggest factor is what radio frequencies your phone connects to. The most likely scenario is that your phone will support some frequencies, but not others, used by the networks in other countries. You’ll still be able to connect for calls, texts, and data, but your coverage or experience may be worse than some of the locals who have properly compatible phones.
If you’re willing to pay the international data roaming charges, just make sure roaming is turned on before you leave. You can see how to do that below.
How Do I Turn International Roaming On Or Off?
You can easily turn international roaming on or off in your phone’s settings. If you’re leaving for a trip and have a compatible plan, you’ll want to switch roaming on. But if you don’t have a compatible plan, you’ll probably want to turn roaming off! Those fees add up quickly.
iPhone users can turn off data roaming by following these four steps:
- Open the Settings app
- Tap on “Cellular”
- Tap on “Cellular Data Options”
- Set data roaming to “on” or “off”
Android users can turn off data roaming by following these steps:
- Open the Settings app
- Tap on “Network & internet”
- Tap on “Mobile network”
- Set data roaming to “on” or “off”