What Are Roaming Charges?

By Astrid Bidanec

Roaming charges can drive your cell phone or wireless broadband bill through the roof in minute-increments. Needless to say, a clear understanding of what they are and when they occur can prevent a major billing disaster. You should also be aware that roaming rates are not limited to actual air time, but can be slapped on texts and data transfers as well. Best rule of thumb is to keep an eye on your phone and computer screen as it always indicates when roaming is in progress.

Off-Network Roaming

Off-network roaming affects cell phone users who have local instead of a nationwide coverage plans, resulting in charges every time you use your phone outside the so-called home area. But even nationwide plans can incur roaming charges if you end up outside your provider's network. T-Mobile, as of early 2011, for example, charges $0.49 per minute for off-network roaming plus applicable long-distance charges.

International Roaming

If you are traveling outside the United States and your phone matches the foreign standards, it will automatically work through a local provider. Your original provider, however, will bill you international roaming rates for rerouting all calls, texts and data transfers. Technology reporter John Biggs advises that you purchase international data packages for your smart phone from your provider prior to your trip to avoid outlandishly high phone bills due to international roaming charges. You can avoid international roaming charges altogether, though, if you buy and use a local SIM card once you arrive at your destination.

Prepaid Plan Roaming

Be aware of sometimes hidden roaming charges on prepaid plans offered by mobile virtual network operators, CNET.com warns. Since these providers buy their minutes in bulk from established carriers like AT&T and Sprint, roaming charges are based on the original provider's off-network zone's. Ask for full disclosure of any possible roaming charges before you settle for a prepaid plan.

Wireless Broadband Roaming

With a broadband data stick for your laptop you can conveniently access the Internet on the go. Watch out for roaming charges outside the designated home area, though, since plans for wireless broadband are very similar to cell phone plans. Technology Reporter Marguerite Reardon recommends that you rent or purchase a local device when traveling abroad since it would be significantly cheaper than incurring international roaming charges for used megabytes.