What is the difference between roaming and international calls?

We all come across situations when we need to make phone calls to other countries or use our mobile phones in other countries when travelling abroad. Mobile operators provide a bunch of options to their customers for roaming as well as for international calls. Many operators also explain the differences between these two to make things clear. However, sometimes people do get confused which is why we wanted to address this topic here. Both roaming and international calls have one thing in common: “other countries”, but there is a key difference.

Roaming takes place when you use your mobile phone outside of your home country, while international calls take place when you make a call from your home country to another country. Home country, in this context, means a country from where you buy your mobile phone service i.e. your SIM card.

For example, if you bought your mobile service from an operator in the UK, your home country would be the UK. On the other hand, if you live in the UK, but bought your mobile phone service from an operator in Germany, then your home country (for network purposes) would be Germany.

data roaming

What is Roaming?

When you travel abroad either on vacation or business, it is a good idea to be aware of the charges that will apply when using your mobile phone in the country you are going to. Mobile operators nowadays provide multiple options to roaming customers but there are two kinds of roaming plans that are usually available. The one that is becoming more common is when your operator allows you to use your home allowance in the country you are travelling to at a certain day rate. As an example, if you are a Vodafone pay-monthly customer in the UK, you can use your home allowance (i.e. UK minutes, texts and data) when you travel to USA/Canada for £6 per day.

The roaming plans that allow using your home allowance abroad, are very straightforward as they basically let you use all the same services that you use at home in other countries also. For example, if your home country is the UK and you travel to Canada, a plan like the above example can let you use your home allowance for making calls to Canadian numbers as well as for using data. But you should always check your operator’s website (or contact them) to find out exactly what you can and can’t do with your allowance. For example, it may be that your operator has certain limits on the amount of data, minutes, and texts you can consume on a daily basis when abroad.

While the above model is more common for pay monthly plans, there is another model where the operator can charge you per minute for making and receiving phone calls, per text for sending/receiving SMS, and per MB for using data abroad. This model is relevant mainly for ‘pay as you go’ or ‘pay as you use’ type plans that are usually available to consumers as well as businesses.

What are international calls?

International calls may be related to roaming in a way but there are fundamental differences. If you are making a call from your home country to another country, that will trigger an international call. For example, if you live in the UK and make a voice call to a number in the USA, that will be treated as an international call and you will be charged accordingly. To be fair, international calls are expensive for the mobile operator, depending on the country you are calling, which is why they charge higher rates for such calls. Typically, mobile operators charge per minute for international calls and per text for sending text messages to other countries. These charges apply only when you ‘make’ calls or ‘send’ messages (SMS). You are not charged when you ‘receive’ an international call or international text from someone.

International calls and texts don’t always have to be charged per minute or per text and there are other cheaper alternatives available also. Some operators offer international bundles that include a certain number of international minutes and texts towards certain countries. These bundles can be made available to the customers as bolt-ons or add-ons. But it is also possible for operators to have specialised tariffs that are inclusive of international minutes & texts. For example, some mobile operators in the UK offer specialised tariffs that include international minutes (and texts) that can be used to make calls to EU countries or USA/Canada.

One specific point to clarify here is that if you are in your home country (e.g. the UK) and calling a friend who is a UK customer but currently roaming (e.g. in India), your call will still be a local call for you. It means that your operator will not charge you for an international call. Your friend, on the other hand, may have to pay roaming charges for receiving the call (depending on your friend’s roaming plan).

Lastly, when you make voice calls using mobile data via Voice over IP (VoIP) apps like WhatsApp, you only pay for your data consumption and not for the voice calls. That makes it possible for you to call your friends on WhatsApp no matter which country they are in. When you are on WiFi and make VoIP calls while being abroad, then even roaming is not an issue because it is a data/internet call. But international calls are important as there are situations when you need to dial international landline numbers e.g. a hotel abroad. In cases like that, having some international minutes can really help.

Here are some helpful downloads

Thank you for reading this post, I hope it helped you in developing a better understanding of cellular networks. Sometimes, we need some extra support especially when preparing for a new job, or studying a new topic, or maybe just buying a new phone. Whatever you are trying to do, here are some downloads that can help you:

Students & fresh graduates: If you are just starting, the complexity of the cellular industry can be a bit overwhelming. But don’t worry, I have created this FREE ebook so you can familiarise yourself with the basics like 3G, 4G etc. As a next step, check out the latest edition of the same ebook with more details on 4G & 5G networks with diagrams. You can then read Mobile Networks Made Easy which explains the network nodes e.g. BTS, MSC, GGSN etc.

Professionals: If you are an experienced professional but new to mobile communications, it may seem hard to compete with someone who has a decade of experience in the cellular industry. But not everyone who works in this industry is always up to date on the bigger picture and the challenges considering how quickly the industry evolves. The bigger picture comes from experience which is why I’ve carefully put together a few slides to get you started in no time. So if work in sales, marketing, product, project or any other area of business where you need a high-level view, Introduction to Mobile Communications can give you a quick start. Also, here are some templates to help you prepare your own slides on product overview and product roadmap.

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