How Does Cell Phone Roaming Work?

by Jennifer Garcia

Cell phone owners know that extra charges beyond their monthly plan is inevitable. No matter how much a person tries to stay within budget, the purchase of new ring tones, graphics and other such novelties increases the price of the bill. Though some charges are one-time fees, others can be recurring charges. One of the most expensive charges is for roaming.

How it Works

It's hard to know which company owns which cell tower.

Basically, you sign up for phone service with provider A, hoping that this provider will cover all of your phone calls, no matter where in the country you go. While this may be true of some providers, others charge you for calls made out of the "home" calling area. When you place a call that is picked up by provider B's cell towers, and who's coverage is out of your home calling area, roaming occurs.


The fees for roaming vary, depending on the type of coverage you have. Some providers have adjusted calling plans so that you are offered "free" roaming no matter where you are in the U.S. This coverage isn't actually free. In reality, you pay a small stipend each month for the ability to roam, but you usually don't notice it. Providers who are up-front about roaming fees will usually charge you per minute. This can become quite expensive, depending on how much you talk and for how long. Your provider should have a map of coverage areas, which you should study to ensure that roaming fees are not tacked on to your bill each month. Make sure you stay within your home network, otherwise, you might want to consider going with a provider that has more lenient rules on roaming.

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