Calling Someone Who Is Roaming: Who Pays and How to do it
I travel a lot. That means I need to make calls to my family, my friends, taxis, hotels, restaurants, business contacts, and many other people. They also need to be able to call me back. Roaming is the most convenient way to make this happen. My friends often ask though, can I call you while you’re roaming in another country?
Making a call to someone who is roaming with their cell phone in another country is the same as calling them when they are not roaming. Dial their number as usual and the call will reach them. As calls are charged based on phone number, the person making the call will be charged the same as normal; the person who is roaming though will be charged to receive the call.
In this article, I’ve included:
- How to call someone who is roaming,
- Who pays when making a call to someone roaming,
- Ways to reduce roaming charges.
How to call a roaming number
To call someone who is roaming in another country:
- Make sure the person who is in another country has roaming activated on their phone. Most providers I’ve come across disable roaming unless told otherwise. This is to prevent large bills being incurred as it is a significant cost to send and receive phone calls, text messages, or use the internet, while roaming.
- Dial their number as per usual. There is usually no need to dial a special prefix nor to use the
- Once the call connects, both parties are typically charged. The person making the call is charged a normal rate for that number; the person receiving the call is usually charged a per minute rate to receive calls while roaming.
Who pays for calls while roaming?
The person receiving the call and the person making the call typically pay when the receiving person is roaming. The person making the call pays a normal rate based on the phone number, the person receiving the call also pays.
The person making the call pays the normal charge for that call. If the person making the call is on a plan with unlimited local calling (such as is typical in Australia or the UK), then there is no charge for calling someone who is roaming. On every mobile phone plan I’ve used (and I’ve used them in a lot of countries), charges are based only on the phone number being called and not whether or not that number is roaming.
The person who is roaming pays to receive a call. These costs are typically charged per minute and can often still apply even if the other person purchased a roaming bundle. Examples include:
- In Australia, to receive calls: Telstra can charge $1.50/minute1; Optus is $0.50 or $1 per minute2; Vodafone is $1/minute3 (Australian dollars).
- In Canada, to receive calls: Telus4 and Rogers5 charges $12 per day (slightly cheaper for the US); Freedom Mobile is $1/minute6 with discounts for a monthly fee (Canadian dollars).
- In US, to receive calls: T-Mobile7 is 25 cents/minute; AT&T8 from $1/minute (US dollars).
Many providers offer roaming packages to cap costs of roaming to a fixed fee.
Receiving calls while travelling can be cheaper though. I recently wrote a guide on how to do so, including what it typically costs and how to reduce those costs. Check it out here: landinglastminute.com/receive-calls-overseas-guide
If the other person is in another country, is calling them the same as making an international call? This is the difference between roaming and an international call: Calling someone who is roaming is the same as calling them while they’re in the same country, there is no notification or charge to the person making the call. The person who is roaming pays the bill for the international part of the call.
Roaming a European SIM card within Europe is often available at no extra cost, as are calls between European countries. Under the Digital Single Market, European mobile phone providers have Roam Like Home. This means being able to use a phone roaming as if it were in the home country: No additional charges to receive calls. As this is an EU agreement, countries such as Switzerland do not include EU roaming (but some EU countries include Switzerland when roaming); check out our Zurich SIM card guide if visiting Switzerland.
Alternatives to Roaming: How to Reduce Roaming Charges
The best ways to reduce roaming charges while travelling overseas are:
- Using an app to make phone calls over Wi-Fi or local data connections. Apps such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, or countless others.
- Using a local SIM card. If someone from the home country calls a person on a local SIM card, it’s only an international call (still expensive, but often cheaper than roaming). Local SIM cards also typically include data, to support apps.
I wrote a guide recently to the best ways to make phone calls and stay in touch with friends, family, and business contacts while travelling. Check it out here: https://landinglastminute.com/calling-while-travelling-guide/
Reduce roaming charges by using an App
Using an app to call should mean its free to call anyone with the same app. Every app I’ve used for calls has this free call feature; many even include video calls.
To get free calls using an app:
- Both people need to have the same app installed
- Set up an account and add each other as contacts
- Find the other person in the app and hit dial
Some examples of apps I’ve used to make free calls include WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Signal, WeChat, Line, and many more.
I’ve found it the hardest to get friends and family back home to install an app and make an account. This is a big downside for using apps to replace roaming. When roaming, everyone acts as if you were still at home; using an app can be an additional challenge.
The biggest downside to using an app is that it relies on a good data connection. Either Wi-Fi or using a local SIM card, a good data connection is necessary to use an app for calls.
Using an app also requires a good data connection between the current country, and the country the call is being made to. For example, calling Canada from the US should have a good connection; calling Australia from England won’t (think of the distance!). That said, I’ve called Australia from England and it was usable - apps have come a long way.
Using Skype to call landlines or mobile phones
Skype is like an app, in that it needs to be installed, however it can then be used to call landlines or mobile phones in nearly every country. The charge for calling someone using Skype depends only on the country the other person is in. Some examples include9:
- United States, UK, Australia, from 2.3 cents per minute
- India, 1.5 cents per minute
- China, 2 cents per minute
All in US cents.
Rather than roam, the person overseas can get a local SIM card and then be contactable using Skype.
Reduce roaming charges by using a local SIM card
When travelling to a foreign country, getting a local SIM card can significantly reduce the costs of using mobile phone data and phone calls.
Local SIM cards typically cost between $8 and $50 USD, depending on the country, for enough data and phone calls to stay connected. From my travels, some examples of local SIM card costs for short-term travellers:
All currency conversions are estimates.
Having a local SIM card also provides a number that other people can call to while in the country. People from back home can call this number to stay in touch. Using Skype, as mentioned above, can keep this affordable.
My preferred set up:
- Buy a local SIM card when I arrive in a new country, one with data
- Use WhatsApp to receive calls from friends and family
- Use Skype if I need to make calls back home (such as to my bank)
(Australia) Telstra roaming rates↩
(Australia) Optus roaming rates↩
(Australia) Vodafone roaming rates↩
(Canada) Freedom Mobile roaming rates↩
Buying a SIM card in Zurich, Switzerland↩
How to buy a SIM card when arriving in Sydney, Australia↩
Buying a SIM card when arriving in Edinburgh↩
Written by Chris who travels frequently for work and understands what it can be like to arrive somewhere new and unfamiliar.
I wrote Landing Last Minute to help the hurried traveler get necessary information about any destination.