Difference between Mobile Data and Data Roaming

difference between mobile data and data roaming

You might be using mobile data if you’re reading this article on your smartphone. And if you’re outside the country where you purchased your SIM plan, you might also be using data to access this article, but you’re doing so while roaming. While both scenarios involve data usage, they are different in terms of functionality – how the data is used and charged.

Yes, mobile data and data roaming are related to how you access the internet on your smartphone, and they’re both switched on and off under the cellular networks section of your phone’s Settings menu. They also sound similar, but they differ.

Knowing the difference between mobile data and data roaming is important to avoid excess charges on your phone bill. This article describes both terms to help you spot the difference when necessary.

Top SIM Only Plans with Lots of Data

Mobile Data:

Mobile Data is the functionality that allows your smartphone to access the internet. You can access the internet without mobile data on your device by connecting to a WiFi network. However, if you want to access the Internet without WiFi, you must use your SIM plan’s data connection by turning it on in your phone’s Settings menu. 

Suppose you haven’t exhausted your SIM plan’s mobile data inclusions. In that case, your device should connect to the internet after turning on this function, allowing your apps and browsers to access the internet.

Knowing when to turn your data off is also important, as many apps use a significant amount of data, even running in the background. Some smartphone functions like streaming videos on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, downloading apps, or making lengthy video calls will quickly use up your plan’s data inclusions. Using such apps over a WiFi network is best to avoid exhausting your SIM plan’s data inclusion.

However, remember that there are ‘data-free’ services from major telecom operators that do not count toward your monthly usage. For instance, Telstra’s ‘My Football Live’ app streams content without using your mobile data inclusions if you have an active Telstra postpaid or prepaid subscription.

Data Roaming:

‘Data Roaming’ enables smartphones to connect to the internet when users are not in their home network service area. There are two types of data roaming:

  • Domestic roaming:
    When you are within your home country but outside your network provider’s coverage. In such cases, your network latches on to a partner network to enable you to use mobile data without getting charged typical roaming rates. In this case, you are data roaming using the plan’s mobile data inclusion.
  • International roaming:
    When you travel outside your home country but continue using your home network’s SIM plan, you are roaming. Your home telco will latch you to a foreign partner network to keep your Internet access live. However, such usage attracts exorbitant fees.

Smartphone users can turn the ‘data roaming’ feature on when traveling overseas or outside their network’s coverage area. Since all telcos levy additional charges on their customers to access the internet when they travel outside the country, turning this feature off could save you significant amounts of money.

Use SIM plan data for overseas internet access.

If you decide to access the Internet with your SIM plan’s data while overseas, go to your phone’s Settings menu and turn on both ‘Mobile Data’ and ‘Mobile Data Roaming.’ Think of it as a double padlock that prevents extra charges without consent. The “mobile data” and “data roaming” options give you more control over where, when, and how you use mobile data.

However, keeping the ‘data roaming’ feature turned off when you’re overseas is advisable. It might even be a good idea to leave your SIM card at home because you might be charged by telcos even if you do not access the internet intentionally. Your smartphone device will likely have many apps that perform a background refresh regularly. These apps might start refreshing the moment you land overseas and cost you a fortune. 

There have been reports of telcos providing enhanced cellular coverage at international terminals to hook customers once they get off the plane. The coverage fades after leaving the airport. Because roaming is profitable for telcos, they try to get customers to use the feature. 

Instead of data roaming, consider other options, such as roaming plans or a SIM card from the country you visit.


Mobile data is important to understand, especially when traveling outside your home country. Thankfully, turning your mobile data on and off is easy, and it could save you from serious bill shock caused by exceeding the amount of data included with your plan.