The Logic Behind Roaming Charges

roaming charges

In this article you will learn how Roaming Charges work. What services are most influenced by this charges and how much exactly you pay when you use them overseas. Most of all, you will understand why even a careful traveler might suffer with huge roaming bills.


The human arm starts at the shoulder and ends at the mobile phone. This could be the new anatomy description for it. We can’t leave our mobile phones. They’re almost a part of our own hands nowadays. Some even say that in not so distant future, mobile phones will start behaving like us, humans (I wonder if the opposite is not already happening). You’ll see that we don’t need to wait the future to see this happening.

The iPhone users already interacted with Siri, that’s for sure. We also have Google Now and Cortana for Android and Windows Phone, respectively. That already add a little bit of “humanity” to the phones. What you probably don’t know is that mobile phones are treated as human specially when they travel overseas.

When you are at your home country, you are obviously a local. You have your local ID, speak the local language and the government threat you as one in the crowd. But, when you enter in a foreign country and present your passport everything changes. They’ll give you a permission to enter the country and then you are not a local anymore, you are a visitor. Guess what, the same happens to your mobile phone.

When you use your mobile phone inside the coverage area of you home network, it is a local. One more in the crowd, like you. It has its own local ID. But, it happens that when it crosses the border and enters in a foreign network, it becomes a visitor – exactly, just like you. The downside is that there is a problem here: using you mobile phone as a visitor is expensive. There is a bigger problem: you’ll pay the bill.

Why is it so expensive?

The same mobile service can cost over 4000 – yes, four thousand – times more when you use it abroad than when you use it inside your home network. Don’t you believe me? I will show you later in this article.

The truth is that technically, doing a call or using data abroad is just a little bit more complicated than making a local call or using local data. The real source of so high rates is mainly commercial.

When you use your mobile phone in a visited network (in other words, when you use it overseas), the operator you are roaming on charges your home operator. Later, your home operator will then charge you – with a markup, of course. But, is not this markup that makes the things tough for you, is the charge between the operators.

charges-network

These inter-operators charges are very high. Why? Because of lack of competition. If your home provider wants you to be able to use data and voice abroad, they have to ink contracts with overseas operators. The problem is that many countries have highly monopolistic networks. This way, your home operator won’t have many options and will have to accept the high charges forced over it.

To the visited network operator you have two options as a roamer: you pay high prices to call or you don’t call at all. Does it sound unfair? Although, many people still call and pay absurd roaming charges.

The paid services and the costs.

Most of travelers think they’ll be safe once they don’t call or use data abroad. But that’s not the hole truth. You’ll see now other services that also make mobile users pull their hair out when they come back from a travel.

In order to explain – and scare – you on how much you are charged for each service, I’ll picture scenarios using two big Malaysian Telco companies: U Mobile and DiGi. All the prices that I’ll show you are available – sometimes not so easily – at the companies’ websites.

Make sure you know exactly which services are you using. Otherwise, you might be charged without knowing. These are the services you should pay special attention while overseas:

  • Outgoing calls

This is the basic one. You and almost everybody knows it is charged. What you probably don’t know is how expensive it can be.

Using U Mobile or DiGi for local call inside Malaysia would cost you around RM 0.20/min. However, if you are at the USA and use U Mobile to call to Malaysia it would cost you RM 7.20/min. Use DiGi instead and you will be charged RM 7.00/min for the same call from USA.

  • Incoming calls

Sometimes, innocently, overseas travelers pick up a phone call believing they won’t be charged for it. They couldn’t be more wrong. Incoming calls usually are free when you are inside your home network. But once you are in a different country everything changes – remember the explanation at the beginning?

Receiving a call in your U Mobile while in USA ground costs you RM 7.00/min. DiGi charges you for this same service the “affordable” amount of RM 5.50/min.

  • Outgoing SMS

I agree, this one is easier to control. You can count without much effort how many SMS you sent and plan how many will you still send. Even so, this is way more expensive than it usually is.

You would pay less than RM 0.08/SMS in Malaysia. A simple SMS sent from USA represents RM 3.00 more in your U Mobile bill. DiGi? RM 0.99 per SMS from USA.

  • Internet

Here’s where the heart of the danger lies. This can turn your whole travel into a complete nightmare after you came back – because that’s when the bill reaches your door (or bank account, if you opted for direct debit). If you don’t take care with this, believe me, you won’t travel again soon.

U Mobile gives you 3GB of high speed internet for RM50 in Malaysia. This represents less than RM 0.02/Mb of data. However, lets say you are at USA and turn on your U Mobile Data Roaming. You will immediately be charged – hold on to your seat– RM 55.00/Mb. No, it’s not wrong, I just checked at their website. Fifty-five!

Does it sounds crazy? Well, you should be glad you are not in London, because in UK the rates are – now hold your wallet – RM 75.00/Mb. Yes, it just got worst.

  • Voice mail

Maybe at the beginning of this session you thought you would never pay high roaming bills. You said could control yourself and would use just the necessary. You might be wrong, let me tell you why.

When someone leaves you a voicemail while you are overseas, you’ll be charged for it. How much? I couldn’t tell you. There is no information at both U Mobile and DiGi websites (believe me, I searched really hard).

Yes, even if you control you voice and data usage you might be charged.

In the case you pick up the voicemail, guess what, you’ll be charged again. No information was found about this rates as well.

What you can do about it.

The first, and obvious solution would be: turn off everything. “How can they charge me if I leave my mobile phone off?” True, you won’t be charged if you do this. In the other hand, you won’t have access to most of the benefits of carrying a mobile phone abroad.

The good news is that some companies already offer mobile services designed especially for travelers. A good example is Flexiroam. The company have many products for both business and leisure travels. You can buy from overseas SIMs to especial Flexiroam SIM Cards, or even enroll in a corporate plan.

Another ways of avoiding roaming charges can be found around the internet. But, be aware that most of them will certainly limit your mobile use. In this small guide you can find the main advises you might want to take in your next travel.

Enjoy your reading and savings!