Before you zip up your luggage, grab your passport, and leave for the airport, you might want to ask a few questions about carrier travel data plans and what to expect on your next bill.
Otherwise, you’ll arrive in a new place and probably receive a little warning text: “You are now roaming! Roaming rates are as follows …”
That’s the carrier’s way of saying “You’ve been warned, pal! Be careful, or your next bill might be a doozy.”
This sneak-attack approach can be avoided if you talk with your carrier before your trip. Then you’ll fully understand:
(A) How much your carrier charges for roaming
(B) What travel data packages your carrier offers
(C) Whether it makes sense to use an eSIM instead
Every carrier is different, and every destination is different, so this is one of those situations where Googling, chatting with friends, and word-of-mouth advice just isn’t going to cut it. Just because your friend used their phone for two weeks in Greece and “barely paid anything extra” on their next bill doesn’t mean it will be the same with your carrier.
Carriers understand that NO ONE likes the uncertainty of roaming charges, because roaming charges make people nervous. We’re only human, and we like to know what to expect — especially when it comes to how much we’re going to pay for something.
It’s why stores have price tags (well, except the really fancy stores). No one would buy a car if the dealership only told them their monthly payment would fluctuate wildly, depending on how much they drove it.
So while you’re planning your next vacation, add this to your list: “Ask cell provider about travel plan options.”
Talk to your carrier about travel data
Whether you reach out to your carrier over the phone or via online chat, here’s what you’re going to want to discuss:
1. Tell them where you’ll be traveling.
If you’re only going to one city, tell them that. If you’ll likely be visiting multiple countries, that’s important to mention. (Data plans can be grouped by country or by region.)
2. Ask them about their data plan options.
Since carriers know people are scared of roaming charges (for good reason!), they almost always offer travel plans in an attempt to give their customers the comfort of knowing exactly how much it’s going to cost them to use their phone outside of their normal coverage area.
Your carrier’s travel plan might be $15 or $20 a day to roam in that new location, and that fee might be charged automatically on every day that your phone connects to a local network (whether you use it). Cruises, in particular, tend to have expensive travel plan packages because they’re so far off-shore.
Once your carrier gives you the travel plan price for the location you’ll be visiting, ask them how much data is included. This will be important when you’re comparing the price to an eSIM data plan. (More on that in a minute.)
3. Ask your carrier how much they charge for phone calls and texts, if you DON’T purchase a travel plan.
Your carrier may not volunteer this information because they would prefer you’d just buy a travel package. But it’s important to know how much you’d be charged per minute for phone calls (accepting a phone call or making a phone call), for each text message, and for multimedia text messages (i.e. texting a photo, which takes more data than just words).
You need to know these costs because if you decide to go with an eSIM data plan instead, you’ll only pay for phone calls and texts. (It’s usually pretty cheap, especially because you likely won’t need to make that many phone calls, and iMessages can be sent and received over Wi-Fi or eSIM data.)
Compare carrier travel plan with an eSIM data package
Now that you know what your carrier is going to charge you for using your phone on vacation, you have a decision to make:
* Set up a carrier travel plan, and pay them a daily rate?
* Don’t set up a carrier travel plan, and pay roaming charges?
* Turn off your carrier data, and use an eSIM data package?
Unlike a carrier data package, an eSIM data package offers prepaid flexibility.
You pre-pay for local data (maybe 1 GB to be used over seven days) and it’s yours to use however you’d like. Maybe you rely on Wi-Fi most days, and use your travel data here and there, while you’re touring around. Perfect! If you use up your 1 GB package and decide you need a little more data, you can easily buy more. But you’re always in control.
So if you’d rather skip the travel data conversation with your carrier entirely, you can.
The easiest option is simply to buy a prepaid travel data package from an eSIM retailer (like aloSIM) and rely on that for your roaming data instead. Then you can switch your primary account roaming off, and your monthly mobile bill will be *identical* to what it always is, unless you choose to call/text while you’re away (and then your carrier will charge per minute and per text).
Savvy travelers appreciate being able to stay in control of their travel data. Instead of paying a flat daily rate for something they may never use, they like getting to purchase small amounts of travel data and never getting any surprise fees.