Data roaming: A guide for travelling abroad

26 June 2023

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Summer has finally arrived, heralding warmer weather and longer days, so it’s time to pack your bags and explore new destinations. From getting directions to sharing your experiences on social media, staying connected while travelling internationally is essential, however, amidst the excitement of planning and packing, many often overlook a crucial aspect of their vacation – roaming and its associated costs which can sneak up on you.

By understanding how data roaming works, weighing the pros and cons and following the tips and tricks mentioned below, you can enjoy a seamless internet experience without breaking the bank.

What is data roaming and how does it work?

Data roaming refers to the use of your mobile phone’s internet connection while you’re in a country other than your home country. When you roam, your mobile network provider connects you to a local network in the country you’re visiting, allowing you to access the internet. This in turn enables you to continue using your phone and do things like browsing, messaging, sending and receiving emails, using social media and utilising any other data-driven activities like your favourite apps while abroad.

So imagine you are on vacation in Paris and you want to use Google Maps to navigate the city. With data roaming enabled, you can access the internet and use the app seamlessly. Then, once you’re at the top of the Eiffel Tower and snap a selfie, you can post it on your social media accounts.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of data roaming?

Using data roaming comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Let’s take a closer look.

Pros

Convenience: Data roaming allows you to stay connected and use your phone as you would at home, making it easy to navigate, communicate and share your experiences, not to mention accessing essential services like navigation and translation apps.

Coverage: Local networks usually have good coverage in the country you’re visiting, giving you a reliable internet connection.

Real-time Information: You can access up-to-date information about local attractions, restaurants, transportation and emergency services so you won’t miss the opening hours of that museum you’ve been longing to visit or miss the last train back to your accommodation after a night out.

Seamless Connectivity: With data roaming, you can easily stay connected without the hassle of purchasing local SIM cards or relying solely on public Wi-Fi networks.

Familiarity: Linked to the above advantage, by using your own mobile number and services, you retain a sense of familiarity and don’t need to inform everyone of a new temporary number.

Woman travelling on holidays

Cons

Cost: While convenient, data roaming comes at a cost. Mobile carriers often charge higher rates for data usage when travelling outside the EU and UK, which can lead to hefty bills if you’re not careful.

Data limits: Many carriers impose data caps or limits on roaming usage, which can restrict your internet access.

Network coverage and speed: The quality of the foreign network may vary, which means that you may have to deal with slower internet speeds and potential coverage gaps. When roaming in the EU and UK, our aim is to ensure that when similar quality or speeds are available in the visited network, it is provided. In other words, if you have access to 4G connectivity at home, you should not have 3G connectivity while roaming, as long as 4G is available at the visited location.

Battery drain: Roaming can consume more battery power as your phone constantly searches for available networks, so just bear this in mind when out and about exploring and perhaps consider carrying a power bank with you just in case.

Security risks: Using public Wi-Fi networks while roaming may expose you to potential security threats. To protect your device from viruses, phishing and malware attempts, as well as a score of other issues, consider activating Secure Net.

What is the difference between roaming within the EU and outside the EU?

Rates for roaming within the EU and outside the EU differ. In fact, when you’re vising an EU zone country, you can roam just like home and keep all your data bundles. But what happens if you’re travelling outside the EU? Say in Australia, China, Canada or the United States? If that’s where you’re heading, you can get our GO Travel bundle, which is exclusively available on our pay monthly Freedom Plan and includes 500MB data and 100mins calls to Malta and the country you are visiting.

Regardless of your destination, make sure you check specific roaming rates and packages before your departure and if you’re looking for the rates of a specific country, you may want to determine the destination’s roaming zone first. Alternatively, you may also head to our Travel page where you can find all sorts of information about using your phone while abroad. Alternatively, read through how roaming rates are charged.

Man looking at Google Maps

Is data roaming safe?

Generally speaking, the answer to this question is yes. Just bear in mind that roaming exposes you to the same security risks as when using mobile data at home. The security of your data depends on the network you connect to while roaming, so it is crucial to be cautious particularly when using public Wi-Fi networks, as they can be vulnerable to hackers and data breaches. To mitigate these risks, consider using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) while connected to public networks, since this will encrypt your data and provide a secure connection, protecting your information from any prying eyes.

What’s more, mobile networks generally encrypt data transmissions to ensure a level of security, but this may vary between networks and countries, so it’s best to use websites and apps that have secure HTTPS connections. How can you tell? Look for the padlock symbol in the address bar.

Tips and tricks to avoid extra charges while abroad

To help you make the most of data roaming, consider the following tips:

  • Monitor your data usage: Keep an eye on your data usage by using built-in or third-party apps. You can also set data usage alerts or limits to prevent exceeding your plan’s capacity.
  • Connect to Wi-Fi whenever possible: a no-brainer, but when possible, utilize Wi-Fi networks in hotels, cafes and other public places to reduce your reliance on mobile data.
  • Disable automatic app updates and background data: Prevent apps from consuming data in the background by disabling automatic updates and restricting data access for non-essential apps.
  • Turn off data roaming: To avoid accidental usage, consider disabling data roaming on your phone before you leave. You can usually find this option in your phone’s settings under “Mobile Data” or “Cellular”.
  • Read the roaming limit SMS: Make sure you manage the data cut-off mechanism which will protect you against any bill shocks that may occur due to mobile data service usage whilst roaming. You receive these details via an SMS.
  • Use offline features: Remember that you can download maps, translation apps and other essential tools before you travel, so you can use them offline when needed without using your data.

Before you travel, back up important data, photos and contacts to avoid any potential loss or damage and consider setting up a passcode on your device if you haven’t done so already. You can also enable remote wiping features to protect your data in case of theft or loss.

And with this, we’d like to bid you bon voyage and safe travels. Should you need to manage any of your GO services, have a look at this guide on how to do so from home or abroad. And remember that no matter what, we’re just a call or chat away, so feel free to get in touch.