If you are using a GSM line, your SIM card will likely work in most places in the world, when you travel. And thanks to agreements between wireless carriers and mobile operators around the world, it is possible to use your SIM card and mobile number when you are visiting another country. This is called roaming. However, you need to watch out for the bills when roaming.
Roaming is the ability for a GSM mobile subscriber to automatically make and receive voice calls, send and receive data, and access other services, when travelling outside the geographical coverage area of the home network, on a visited network. In other words, you get to use your line outside your country when travelling.
It used to be that subscribers had to go through hoops and loops to activate roaming on their lines when travelling. There were documents to be completed and fees to be made. However, in recent times, many networks have made roaming automatic on subscriber lines. In other words, you can just get up and go and when you arrive at your destination country, you will still be able to use your line for calls, SMS and internet as before. No setups. No running around. For example, as far back as 2009, my wife and I did automatic roaming on a trip to Ghana. Both our lines – Airtel and MTN respectively – were active and usable all through our journey.
However, travellers need to take note of a few things. Depending on the roaming arrangement in place by your network with the networks in your destination country, you may be billed not only for calls that you initiate, but also for calls that you receive. Usually, the cost for making and receiving voice calls or sending SMS while roaming abroad depends on the country you are visiting. Often, using mobile internet while roaming means huge data bills too. The key is to give your network’s customer care a call to find out what is applicable to you.
A friend travelled some time ago and roamed. She received a call from a contact in Nigeria and found out after ending the call that the available airtime on her line had dropped by almost 50%. She had been caught off guard. Roaming is much easier than it used to be. It also means that you don’t have to be unreachable when on a trip outside your country, but you need to watch those bills. Roaming can still be a very expensive undertaking.
What of using mobile data when roaming?
Should you do mobile data roaming? As with roaming calls and SMS, roaming data is also an expensive endeavour. You will be billed at a much higher tariff than what you get while in your home country.
How do you stop your phone from roaming, and avoid roaming charges?
Once you arrive at your destination country, remove and keep your SIM card securely, then buy a local prepaid SIM card for use during your stay. They are available for next to nothing. This way, you avoid expensive roaming charges.
Founder of MobilityArena. Yomi’s journey in mobile started in 2001. Besides obsessing over mobile phones, he also started creating WAP sites (early mobile-friendly websites created with WML). He began writing about phones in 2004 and has been at it since then. He has owned over 200 devices, from Symbian, Palm, PocketPC/Windows Mobile, BlackBerry/BB10, webOS, Windows Phone, Firefox, Ubuntu Touch, to Android, iOS, and KaiOS operating systems.