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Is International Roaming Ever Worth It?

It could actually be worth it, not most of the time though.

· 4 min read

International roaming has traditionally been associated with being expensive. This is why most people are conditioned to looking for other options - from getting a local SIM card, getting a travel eSIM, renting a pocket WiFI, or even renting a local phone. With so many different options available, perhaps the question that arises is: Is international roaming ever worth it? And why do some people still choose to roam instead of using other options?

International Data Roaming

Is International Roaming really that expensive?

Traditionally, international data roaming has been expensive as telcos charge on a pay-as-you-go model. You get charged in data blocks, and that quickly rakes up the costs.

However, in recent years, telcos have also started to offer roaming packages and plans. These packages are way more affordable than the traditional pay-as-you-go model, and offer much more data.

But, when we take a closer look at these data roaming packages and plans, we tend to see a similar trend:

Roaming could be relatively cheaper for neighbouring countries. But the farther you travel, the more expensive it gets.

For example, if you were in the UK, it is possible to find telcos offering competitive roaming rates in Europe (although data costs for roaming in Europe has generally increased since the UK is no longer part of the EU). However, once you venture out of Europe, the costs would start to increase. For instance, Vodafone UK charges £6.85 per day for roaming in Indonesia.

Similarly, if you were in Singapore, roaming costs in Malaysia and Indonesia are mostly affordable. But we definitely can't say the same if you were to travel to Europe.

Roaming could be cheaper if you are a frequent traveler, but not so much for a regular traveler.

Monthly roaming packages are also a common feature offered by most telcos. These monthly packages are like an add-on to your base package. You pay a fixed fee every month, and you will be able to freely roam using your local data allowance.

This would be a great option for those who travel frequently, and will be much more cost-effective than having to purchase individual roaming packages each time you travel. However, if you are not a frequent traveler, this option probably wouldn't make sense as you will be paying even on months when you don't travel.

Roaming could be affordable for short trips, but not for extended periods.

Roaming packages generally come in two main formats — pay for a fixed amount of data, or pay for daily data use (using your local data package or a fixed volume).

In the case of a fixed amount of data, we notice a general pattern where the size of the data volume decreases the further you travel. This in itself is rather counterintuitive. After all, for trips that are further from home, you are likely to be traveling for a longer time and you will require more data. This also leads to the first point about roaming becoming more expensive the further you travel.

In the case of daily data use, since you will be paying a fee for each day of roaming, the costs could chalk up really quickly if you are traveling for extended periods of time.

So, when will international roaming be worth it?

International roaming could actually be worth it if:

  • You are a frequent traveler
  • You are traveling to neighbouring countries
  • You are traveling for short trips

However, it is still important to check the roaming packages offered by your telco and evaluate it against other options to confirm it makes sense for you!

If roaming is expensive, why do people still roam?

While roaming has become cheaper than it used to be, international data roaming is generally still expensive.

Yet, we still see people choosing to roam — and that is not without reason. International data roaming comes with its own sets of benefits:

Convenience of roaming

One of the biggest benefit of international roaming is its convenience. All you have to do is to ensure that you have a roaming plan, and the roaming option on your phone is turned on. The moment you arrive at your destination, you are immediately connected. It's as simple as that.

International data roaming provides seamless continuity in communication. You can stay connected with friends, family, and colleagues without the hassle of acquiring a local SIM card or dealing with unfamiliar phone numbers.

Access to Your Regular Services

For many, a reason they choose to activate data roaming is so that you have continuity with your regular services. Roaming allows you to access your regular mobile services, including your phone number, apps, and contacts. This can be particularly useful for business travelers who need constant access to work-related tools and communication.

Travel eSIMs as a good substitute for international data roaming

There exists many substitutes to data roaming when it comes to options for staying connected while traveling — from getting a local SIM card, renting a pocket WiFi, renting a local phone, or even just leveraging the free WiFi spots that might be available at your destination.

However, these options come with inconveniences, taking away the benefit that international data roaming could bring for you.

The good news is that with the advancement in technology, travel eSIMs allow you to stay connected at generally cheaper rates than international data roaming, while retaining the convenience that international roaming brings.

With eSIMs, you can buy your eSIMs online before your trip and install them on your device simply by scanning a QR code. Activate your plan, select your eSIM to be the one you want to use for your data, and get connected once you arrive at your destination! Like with international data roaming, you wouldn't have to queue at counter airports or bring along a secondary device with you.

In addition, eSIM-compatible phones mostly also support dual SIM functionality. This essentially means that you can keep your home SIM card (or eSIM) active in your phone and access your regular services, while using your travel eSIM purely for data and connectivity.

Save money. Get a Nomad Travel eSIM for your next trip

Nomad offers data plans in over 165 countries, and you can be sure to find one that is suitable for your travel needs. And if you will be traveling across multiple countries, there are also regional plans available so you can stay seamlessly connected as you hop between countries. Data plans are available from as low as $1.50/GB.

If you are unsure about how much data you need for your trip, Nomad also has a Data Calculator that can help you find the plan that is most suitable for you. Also check out our blog post on data-saving tips when traveling to keep your data usage in check when traveling.