Tourists taking Toronto skyline photos on the ferry heading to the Toronto Islands during sunset in March 2016
Tourists take sunset photos on the ferry heading to the Toronto Islands.
Photo: Sightseeing Guy

You are roaming when you use your phone overseas to access the Internet, make phone calls, or send text messages.

Do you need roaming?

Roaming allows you to stay connected and get information you needed when Wi-Fi is unavailable.

Walking alone to Miradouro da Senhora do Monte
I took this photo when walking alone to Miradouro da Senhora do Monte, a viewpoint at the top of the hill. With data roaming, I could get directions from Google Map whenever needed. Get this photo

A key benefit of roaming is to know your real-time location. For example, when you are lost on the street in a foreign country, Google Map can save the day by showing you the directions to the hotel. Certainly, you can also get the directions by asking people nearby, if you are able to speak the local language. Still, the information they pass to you may be inaccurate. And they can’t draw a map.

In addition, with a roaming package, you can stay in touch with your family and friends anytime and anywhere.

Roaming, while convenient, can be expensive. Here are my tips on reducing roaming costs.

How to minimize roaming costs?

Get a roaming add-on

To avoid hefty roaming fees, make sure you have a roaming plan before you travel. Some wireless carriers, such as Verizon and T-Mobile US, already incorporate roaming programs in selected main plans.

Most wireless carriers offer monthly roaming add-ons, which are activated the moment your phone is first turned on overseas. More and more wireless carriers also offer daily roaming plans.

A typical roaming add-on covers voice, text, and data. Some packages include only voice and text; some include only data. If you don’t expect to call or text someone while you are travelling aboard, simply get a data package.

Keep track of data usage

Unless your wireless carrier offers unlimited data roaming, you want to keep track of your data usage to avoid a shock later.

A simple way of monitoring your roaming usage is to reset cellular statistics on your smartphone before your flight takes off. When your flight lands, turn your phone on; it will start to record cellular usage statistics that occurred overseas.

For more precise and detailed tracking, you can download data tracking apps, such as My Data Manager.

Use roaming only needed

Free Wi-Fi services could be available at your hotel or a coffee shop. Only turn roaming on when Wi-Fi is unavailable.

Avoid watching videos while roaming. Also, refrain from downloading or sending large photos. A photo you take with your smartphone can be as large as 4MB. If your data plan allows 100MB data per month, 25 photos would eat all of your data allowance.

Do you know...

Google Map blue dot indicator
Even if you turn off Wi-Fi and data roaming, the blue dot on Google Map would still move as you move.

While Google Map might be your favorite app on the road, often you don’t need roaming or Wi-Fi to view your real-time position on the map. Because your smartphone’s built-in GPS can still function without a data or Wi-Fi connection. Also, Google Map stores cached map data. Therefore, even if you turn the roaming off, Google Map, using a cached map and your phone’s GPS, can still show where you are as you move.

On the other hand, if you keep data roaming always on, Google Map can be a big data consumer. That's why you should take advantage of free Wi-Fi to cache data whenever possible. For example, at the hotel where free Wi-Fi is available, you can cache map data by drag the map around the area you will visit. When you will walk outside later, only turn data roaming on when the area map needs to be updated.