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Suppose I take my phone on roaming from one country (say Australia) to another (say Belgium). How do these plans typically work? Will somebody else in Belgium have to pay international rates to call me, given that they would have to call me using the international prefix? Will I have to pay a roaming fee to receive the call?

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up vote 10 down vote accepted

The person calling you will be calling your Australian number, so they will be charged whatever they normally pay for a call to Australia. As you are roaming, you will be charged for receiving the call at whatever your roaming rate is.

In most cases, the call itself will actually route via Australia and back to wherever you are! It's possible that if your phone is roaming onto the same network as the person that's calling you is on that the call will route locally, but there's no guarantee.

The reverse case is very different. If you call a number in the country that you are in then you will normally pay a lower rate to make the call than it costs for you to receive a call, and the person you call will only pay their standard rate for an incoming call (which is free is many/most countries). Obviously the exact costs will depend upon your provider and what they charge for calls whilst roaming, but in most cases it'll be cheaper for you to call someone in-country than for them to call you.

Depending on how long you're going to be there, the best option is often to buy a pre-paid SIM in the country your visiting. You'll get a local country number that people can call you on, and you won't pay high roaming costs for calls that you make.

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In my experience people calling me while I was roaming abroad have never had to pay as if they were making international calls when calling me. Maybe it depends on the carrier, but I have never seen it. It wouldn't make sense. – Phong Mar 8 '12 at 6:04
Not really at least in the EU privacy laws prevent operators to exposing you as being roaming. So technically you might be on the same network the bills will show that your belgium friends did call to Australia. – user141 Mar 8 '12 at 7:19
@Phong: I suppose the problem with reducing the rate when you are in the same country is that they would be charged significantly more if you left the country without their knowledge. I wonder whether you or Doc are right and if it varies by carrier. – Casebash Mar 8 '12 at 9:40
@andra that's interesting. In my experience the 'calling' tone normally varies to the country where the callee is, so that might be an easy way to at least narrow it down. – Andrew Ferrier Feb 18 '15 at 9:47

You should check what features your carrier offers directly. For example with AT&T if you roam with the basic feature, you pay nothing on a month-to-month basis, but are charged a certain rate per minute while abroad.

In my case I travel to France a lot so I would pay a flat $1.39 per minute while roaming in France (rounded up to whole minutes). This applies to both calls I place and calls I receive.

I have the option to enable / disable World Traveler anytime, which costs $5.99 per month (prorated), but lowers my rate per-minute to 99c.

You can check AT&T's plan here and pricing detail for a variety of countries here:

For the people calling you, as far as their costs go, it's like calling a local number (at the cell phone rate) because you're roaming on a local network.

Now if you roam to Belgium and call internationally (say, to Germany) then I expect you'll have to pay the per-minute rate, plus international charges.

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I used to work in mobile phone billing, but that was a long time ago (15 years or so). At the times the rules were simple: Outgoing calls were billed at the rate of the roaming provider + roaming charges. Incoming calls were charged to the person calling you at his local rate to call you at your current location + roaming charges charged to you + international rates from your home country to your current location charged to you.
In your situation, you and the caller being in Belgium with your phone having an Australian SIM, this would mean the person calling you pays the same as if you had a Belgian SIM, but you pay international charges from Australia to Belgium as well as the roaming charges applicable between your Australian network provider and the network provider you're connecting to in Belgium.
As you can imagine, this can get very expensive very quickly, and many users never know this system is in place until they receive cellphone bills to the amount of thousands of Euros.

By now all this may well have changed of course, but at the time it was pretty much standard between operators to charge in this way.

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So if you call a user roaming in another country, both parties end up paying international call rates! – Casebash Mar 8 '12 at 11:13

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