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What is data roaming, and how does it work?

Data Roaming: What is it? how does it work? when to activate it? These questions and everything you need to know about this service.

Leoneska R.

April 17, 2023

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In short, roaming or data roaming is the possibility you have to use your cellphone to connect to the Internet in places where your operator’s cellular network does not have coverage. Generally, this happens when you travel to other countries. Still, there are also cases in which you must use it nationally due to the large extension of the territory, as is the case of the European Union (EU) member countries. 

A more efficient alternative to roaming is to use international eSIMs.

This new technology, known as international eSIM, allows you to have internet abroad and avoid international roaming charges. With 5% OFF. Code: MYESIMNOW5

How does data roaming work?

Roaming offers you three types of coverage:

  • Roaming land coverage for you to use your cell phone on land.
  • Maritime coverage for ferry, boat, or cruise ship crossings
  • Air roaming coverage so you can connect during a flight.

In this post, we will focus on land coverage since it is a service that turns on by default on your cellphone and, in some cases, is included in your prepaid or contract tariff.

Therefore, if you have to roam actively with your operator, you can use your cellphone to stay connected online; use your favorite apps; make and receive calls; or send and receive text messages through other networks.

But be careful ⚠️. You must be very attentive because not all countries have this coverage available, as this depends on the agreement between the operators of each country. Therefore, before traveling, check whether the country you are going to is covered by roaming and the terms and conditions for providing this service.

How much does roaming cost?

Some factors influence how roaming rates vary depending on the operator you choose, the country you visit, and the services you need.

Data roaming
Women using roaming service

For example, if you need to make calls, you must activate the roaming or voice roaming service. On the other hand, if you need cellular data to surf the Internet, you must activate data roaming.

This is an essential point because one thing about roaming is that you are charged for each consumption you make, so you must be very careful and be a good administrator; otherwise, you will end up paying very high fees for the services you use while you are away.

What are the data roaming rates?

To give you an idea of how much roaming or data roaming could cost you with your domestic operator, we will present you the following comparison table with the rates of different English operators to different destinations. Of course, this is also related to how much data you need for your trip.

Operator/country of originDestination CountryData Roaming Rate per Contract
ATT&T USA 210 countries and destinations10$/Day
T-Mobile USA215 countries and destinations85$/5GB a month
Verizon USA210 countries and destinations10$/Day
Three UK89 countries and destinations6$/Day
O2 UK Mexico/ Brazil/ China 7$/Day
Rogers Canada Italy/ UK/ India/ Japan15$/Day
Telstra AustraliaGermany (Zone 2)10$/Day
Optus Australia100 countries and destinations5$/Day
Table 1: Data roaming plans and rates by the operator and by country

From the table above, we can analyze several aspects of data roaming:

  • Rates vary depending on the destination country and type of plan you have back home.
  • Roaming plans are activated by default on your cellphone.
  • You can activate or deactivate the data consumption from the cellphone settings
  • You will be charged a higher rate if you exceed the daily limit.
  • Crossing a border will immediately connect your cellphone to a cellular network.
  • If you do not deactivate data roaming, you will incur unexpected charges on your bill.

In the case of some European countries, users can use their cellular plan rate when traveling to any country in the European Union and associated countries without incurring additional fees; of course, roaming must be used reasonably. In case of exceeding the allowed consumption, the operator will send a message to the user informing him/her that there will be additional charges.

How are roaming zones grouped?

Operators are challenged to establish roaming costs according to the country of origin and the country visited. Many of them established the so-called “roaming zones” as an alternative to the group and standardized roaming costs for calls, data, and SMS consumption to make things easier.

To understand this, we will see, for example, how Telstra, an Australian operator, groups its services. As we know, this is a remote country, so they consider it as Zone 1 only New Zealand.

On the other hand, countries in the Americas and Europe are marked as Zone 2 as follows.

Depending on the country you visit and the plan you have, you will be able to get a series of benefits with more flexible rates or more data. Also, some operators, such as O2 in the UK or Rogers in Canada, allow you to check the roaming services available country by country.

How to activate the data roaming service?

The first step is always to get or activate the roaming service with your local operator. This may vary from carrier to carrier, but we will take the Verizon service in the USA as an example. This process is the same as the carrier offers for the United States eSIM.

Step 1: Visit the customer area of your operator’s website or access the app with your username and password. Once you are there, verify that you have the roaming service active in your SIM, according to the contracted plan. If you do not have a user yet, click on the option: Register.

Step 2: Go to your cellphone’s settings and check that the data roaming feature is active. You can activate or deactivate it at any time and thus have manual control of this service.

Steps to activate data roaming on your cellphone

How does data roaming work with an eSIM?

As you know, SIM technology is advancing by leaps and bounds, so today we can talk about eSIM. These virtual SIM cards are already integrated into the latest generation of smartphones. They are equivalent to the plastic chips or SIM cards you use on your cell phone.

Thanks to this technology, you can sign up for data plans and use them on your domestic or international trips. It even allows you to install several eSIM profiles simultaneously without paying expensive roaming fees.

With this in mind, eSIM card providers such as Holafly recommend leaving the “roaming” option active on your cellular to get better coverage. This function does not entail any extra charge or fee for you as long as you have configured the eSIM profile with your cellular data plan.

Data roaming vs. data eSIM: Which is better?

FeaturesCellular Data with eSIMCellular data with roaming
Fair price?YesNo
Quality of connection?YesYes/No
Unlimited internet?YesYes/No
Extra costs?NoYes
Does it share data with other devices?Yes/NoYes/No
Easy to use and install?YesYes

Using data roaming with an eSIM doesn’t cost you extra, nor is there a surprise bill. When you buy a data eSIM, you use data roaming to improve coverage and enjoy your data in the destinations you plan to visit.

In some cases, the data is unlimited, depending on the plan you choose, and in some cases, you can share your data with other devices. Still, both data roaming and eSIM are easy to use, but what differentiates them is the price you will pay, the ease of use, and the advantages that we will explain shortly.

Alternatives to avoid data roaming

There are different ways to have internet without having to pay roaming fees. You can choose between an eSIM card, prepaid SIM cards, renting a Pocket WiFi, or looking for free WiFi hotspots in the cities you will visit – you decide!

But, as a particular recommendation, we invite you to consider Holafly eSIMs as the best alternative. You will find data eSIMs for more than 160 destinations in the online store. With all the ease to buy, use, and portability, you can travel without complications, and above all, with the data you need at a fair and reasonable price.

Advantages of Holafly eSIMs for travelers

  • No matter where you are, you will always have an eSIM with data at your fingertips.
  • You will get internet in more than 160 destinations at standard rates.
  • Install the eSIM on your device without the need for a physical chip
  • Enjoy stable coverage, thanks to the eSIM’s connection to local networks
  • In some destinations, you have unlimited plans.
  • Some European destinations include a telephone number to make and receive international calls.
  • You can easily extend your plan by purchasing a top up.
  • You can buy it before you travel.
  • You have a 24/7 English-speaking customer service team

You don’t have to worry about anything!

Tips for making good use of data roaming on your trip

Before you travel

Check with your internet and cellular operator to see if data roaming is included in your plan and what rates apply, depending on the country you will be visiting. Also, check if you want your data plan with this service or prefer to enjoy the benefits of an eSIM data card.

Secondly, check in your cellphone settings that the roaming or data roaming function is active to ensure your internet connection once you have arrived at your destination.

During the trip

Manage your data plan very well, and avoid downloading updates, photos, or videos, as this consumes a good amount of data. Many contract plans include roaming with a consumption limit, but you should take control on your own if this is not the case.

Avoid Data Roaming with an eSIM or virtual SIM Card.

If your objective is to get internet on your cellphone while traveling to domestic or international destinations without having to pay exaggerated roaming charges with your cellular carrier, then Holafly’s eSIMs are the best choice because of the advantages we share with you below:

  • You stay connected without surprise bills
  • You keep your SIM card, and you keep your contacts
  • You can continue your regular WhatsApp conversations
  • Buy and set up the eSIM online
  • Get your data plan with multiple benefits
  • Choose a plan and pay a fixed rate

On top of this, you experience a new way to travel connected without paying shipping costs or waiting for a physical chip to arrive. You’re connected instantly, thanks to eSIM technology.

Frequently Asked Questions about data roaming

What roaming fee do I have to pay to have internet?

This depends on the operator you sign up for as your provider back home to get your cellular services and the place you visit. Normally, operators group countries by coverage zones and establish a rate accordingly.

Is there domestic roaming and international roaming?

The answer is YES. Although we are talking about the same service, the difference is when your cellphone connects to a network other than your operator in your country of origin or residence; or when you travel abroad and connect to a local network to enjoy your internet connection.


What is the difference between data roaming and voice roaming?

If you sign up for data roaming, you will have cellular data to surf the web while traveling. Meanwhile, if you choose voice roaming, you will only have minutes and text messages to call international destinations.

Can I control roaming from my cellphone?

Yes, you can. In fact, this is a great advantage because, from the settings of your cellphone or cellular device, you can activate or deactivate roaming or data roaming to avoid surprise bills when you return from your trip.

How do I activate roaming or data roaming?

The first thing to do is to verify that you have the service active according to the plan you have signed up for with an operator. Then check your cellphone settings to see if this option is activated. When you arrive at your destination, you can immediately connect to the Internet from your cellphone.

How to avoid roaming with an eSIM?

eSIMs or virtual SIM cards allow you to set up a data plan with internet on your cellphone without paying roaming fees. They work without a plastic chip, but your smartphone must be compatible with eSIM technology to enjoy this service.