How to Know if You're Roaming on an IPhone

By Milton Kazmeyer

Using your iPhone on vacation can incur steep roaming charges.
i Visage/Stockbyte/Getty Images

The iPhone’s roaming ability keeps you connected even when you leave your primary coverage area. Unfortunately, it can also pump up your bill with steep data roaming charges if you spend much time checking your email or browsing the Internet. You can avoid these unexpected fees by taking steps to control your phone’s roaming ability while abroad.

Roaming Indicator

Your iPhone ships with data roaming turned off by default. The first time you attempt to access another network, it will ask you if you want to switch on the feature. If you allow the iPhone to log into the new network, the carrier name in the top left corner of your phone will change, indicating that you are now roaming on a different carrier. While connected to a foreign carrier, any data sent across the network will incur additional charges.

Roaming Plans

You may be able to avoid steep roaming charges if you select a carrier that has partners in the country you plan to visit. Many cellular providers create service agreements with foreign carriers in order to allow a traveler to remain connected while out of his home country. These plans generally require you to pay an additional charge for international coverage, but the fee is usually much cheaper than the costs you could incur through data roaming.

Carrier Selection

If your carrier offers coverage through a partner network, you need to make sure your phone uses that network while traveling. If your iPhone loses contact with your home network, it will attempt to select the best network available to keep you connected, but you might need to override its selection to choose a cheaper option. Tap “Settings,” then tap “Carrier” and turn off the “Automatic” option. After a few moments of searching, your iPhone will display a list of available carrier networks, and you can select the one you wish to use.

Turning Off Roaming

If you want to avoid all data roaming fees, you can switch off this feature entirely. In the “Settings” menu, tap “General” and then “Network.” Slide the “Data Roaming” switch to the “Off” position. You will still be able to use the voice and text capabilities of your iPhone, but you will not be able to check your email or access the Internet via a third-party network. You can still connect via Wi-Fi, however, so you can catch up on your data communications at your hotel or any other establishment that provides Wi-Fi coverage to their patrons.