Tarifica’s Data Dive – The Price of Traveling Abroad: Navigating the Complexities of International Roaming Fees

Tarifica’s Data Dive – The Price of Traveling Abroad: Navigating the Complexities of International Roaming Fees

The Price of Traveling Abroad: Navigating the Complexities of International Roaming Fees Performance

by Soichi Nakajima

As the world gradually moves past the pandemic, international travel is making a robust comeback, rekindling the need for reliable mobile roaming services. The utility of staying connected while traveling in a different country cannot be overstated, yet this often comes with significant costs that vary widely across regions and providers. In this edition of Tarifica’s Data Dive, we delve into the intricate landscape of international roaming fees, shedding light on how mobile network operators (MNOs) in various countries structure their offerings.

General Methodology

Comparing telecommunication pricing across different countries (and even across providers within the same country) is notoriously difficult, and roaming is not an exception. Consumer needs vary depending on the market and region, as well as on personal circumstances and travel destinations, while operator plans offer a diverse range of included services and pricing characteristics. The specific travel needs of a given consumer often end up more important than price alone.

Given such complexities, we used the “rational consumer” methodology and multiple usage “baskets” (or “profiles”), each representing the typical usage of a different user type. This combined approach allowed for the price comparison of differently-structured offerings, while also covering the full usage spectrum across the requirements for consumer types.

Based on this methodology, and to keep things relatively simple, we selected two profiles; a user requiring 3GB over 3 days, and a user requiring 10GB over 14 days. For each profile, we compared the cost of add-on packages for travel to the US from Australia, Italy, and Japan, assuming the user takes the least expensive possible combination of roaming packages from the MNOs (mobile network operators) in their respective countries.

Traveling to the US – From Australia, Italy and Japan

Across all countries studied, opting for pay-per-use roaming while traveling is typically the most expensive option, leading our focus to shift to add-on roaming packages. The chart below identifies the least expensive add-on roaming package for each profile in the three countries.

These results reveal some interesting takeaways, even when comparing just three countries. Overall, we see that Japan is the most expensive for both profiles. For the least expensive, Italy is the cheapest for the “3GB over 3 days” profile, while Australia offers the best price for the “10GB over 14 days” profile. It is also interesting to note that all three countries structure their roaming add-ons differently.

For Rakuten of Japan, the package includes 1GB for 500 JPY, valid for 31 days. Thus, the package needs to be bought three times for the 3-day profile and 10 times for the 14-day profile to meet the required amount of GBs.

For Iliad of Italy, the package is €4.99 for 30 days including 5GB, so 1 pack is enough for both the 3-day and 14-day profile in terms of validity days. However, the latter requires the user to buy two packages to meet the 10GB requirement.

Finally for Optus in Australia, the daily 5 AUD package includes 5GB, meaning this package needs to be bought three times for the 3-day profile. For the 14-day profile, instead of buying the daily roaming package 14 times, the user can purchase the 14-day package which also includes 10GB for a much lower price.

Built-In Roaming

The above analysis compares the best use of roaming add-on packages. However, there are cases where some of the standard mobile plans also include some roaming data. For example, travelers visiting the United States from Canada and Mexico may find that they already have GBs available for roaming in the US included in their monthly postpaid plan.

Additionally, subscribers of Japan’s SoftBank also have completely free roaming when traveling to the US, due to SoftBank’s 2012 purchase of the US-based MNO Sprint, which has since been acquired by T-Mobile. Initially SoftBank had made roaming free for Japanese travelers to the US on the then-Sprint network only, but after the merger with T-Mobile, free roaming was extended to cover all three MNOs in the US (T-Mobile, Verizon and AT&T).

Finally, in the European Union, the “Roam Like at Home” regulation, which has been in place since 2017, allows travelers within the EU and EEA (European Economic Area) to call, text, and use data without incurring any additional charges. The latest update to this rule, made in 2022, extended it until 2032.

However, free roaming services are still generally the exception rather than the rule; even multi-national heavyweights with networks in multiple countries do not offer free roaming across their own networks (unless required to by law, as in the EU).


The cost to remain connected while traveling remains a complex and competitive issue. We have seen that the cost of using one’s mobile while traveling abroad is dependent not only on the traveler’s home country but also on the destination country. For example, most Japanese travelers will generally have to pay more to roam to the US. This is true not only when compared to Italians and Australians, as explored in this article, but Tarifica’s Telecom Pricing Intelligence Platform (TPIP) also shows this holds true when compared to many other countries as well.

As noted above, some exceptions do exist, such as SoftBank subscribers roaming for free in the US, and the Roam Like at Home regulation in the EU. But while these examples suggest a movement towards more travel-friendly policies, they remain outliers rather than the norm. Even for Europeans, though traveling within the EU and EEA may be free of extra charges, using their mobile on another continent still incurs additional charges for most destinations.

Of course, we are still very far from a world with no roaming fees. But with international travel on the rise, the demand for more affordable roaming is growing, and alternative eSIM providers, such as Airalo, Holafly and Nomad, are starting to jump in to meet it. MNOs may need to rise to the occasion and offer more competitive roaming options, or risk being left behind.

About the Author:

Soichi Nakajima
VP Data and Analysis

With over 20 years of telecommunication market analysis experience, Soichi oversees the data collection, quality, research, analysis, and production of all data projects and quantitative studies.

For questions or comments about this analysis, please contact Penny Wiesman at