What is data roaming?

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A definition of data roaming

Data roaming refers to continued data service your phone receives when you go outside of your mobile operator’s cellular network (coverage area). For example, you’re able to make calls or access the Internet when you travel internationally due to agreements between your provider and other network operators. However, be warned that there’ll be roaming fees for that international data usage.

Data roaming fees may even be charged traveling domestically. You may think you are in the clear when it comes to roaming charges domestically, but in some instances you may be surprised with roaming charges on your bill. For instance, if you go to Alaska, you may be charged roaming fees if there are no cell towers there. Another example is cruise ships. They use their own cellular antennas, so you could be charged as much as $5 per minute by your provider for any data or voice usage while you’re onboard a cruise ship.

Travel couple selife self portrait, Berlin Germany by TCC

How data roaming works
When you’re outside of your cellular network, you’re roaming. There are also some common services that will be counted as data roaming if you do it over your phone’s data card instead of a Wi-Fi network such as:
• Sending, reading, and receiving email
• Searching for an address on Google Maps app or another online map
• Completing a web search
• Visiting any web page
• Viewing an online video
• “Opening an app that connects to the Internet.” Remember that you may not realize when the app is trying to connect.

Avoiding data roaming charges
Roaming charges are the biggest challenge of data roaming in users’ eyes; no one wants to pay more for a service they’re used to getting at a certain monthly fee. Data roaming is very convenient, but will involve an often hefty surcharge when you’re out of network. These surcharges are even higher when traveling internationally or on a cruise ship. Annoyed young woman using smartphone with dollar bills flying away by TCCLuckily Android phones do alert you when they’re roaming; there will be a roaming icon in the status area at the top of the screen when you are outside of your network. The icon looks different from phone to phone, but the letter “R” generally appears somewhere in the icon.

To avoid roaming charges when out of your cellular network, you can manually change the settings on your phone to avoid using another network’s services. This, of course, means your device will have less functionality while you’re out-of-network. But if cost is more important to you than being able to make or receive calls or text messages (depending where you are and how long you’ll be there), this is a viable option for saving a few bucks. Check your device’s manual to see how to make this change, as it can vary from phone to phone.

There are several other things you can do to avoid data roaming – and avoiding the fees that come with it:
• If possible, use a Wi-Fi connection in place of a cellular data connection. This will minimize your cellular data usage when outside of your network.
• When you’re roaming, try to help conserve your cellular data by restricting your background data.
• Forward your calls to another phone number when you’re roaming, or if you believe that you’ll be roaming.

For more information on any of these options check with your provider. You can also check to get details about what you’re able to do when data roaming is turned off on your phone.

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