If you travel full-time or part-time in an RV or a campervan, you’ve probably heard all the scuttle about Starlink mobile internet. While satellite internet definitely has its pros and cons, it’s becoming ubiquitous, with dishes all over campgrounds and out in the wilderness.
It seems like Starlink is constantly changing its programs and rules, and it can be hard to keep up with the types of plans and satellite dishes out there.
Most recently, in March of 2023, Starlink JUST changed its Starlink for RVs program to Roam, a branding move that shows SpaceX is well aware that more people than just RVers are using their satellite internet. In fact, plenty of sailors are also using the Roam version of Starlink, which I’ll go over in this post.
Check out my podcast episode about all things WiFi when RVing, including a good talk with the RV Mobile Internet Resource Center about Starlink:
Table of Contents
What is Starlink Roam?
Starlink Roam is the new name for Starlink for RVs. This is the service that most RVers and van lifers use as it’s simple to get, you can turn it off and on, and you can now choose between a regional or global plan.
Starlink Roam also lets you choose between the standard rectangular Dishy and the new flat high-performance Dishy that’s meant to be used in motion but is larger and way more expensive. The in-motion service is ONLY available for customers using a regional plan.
The Roam service is also ALWAYS deprioritized. You may see degraded service and slower speeds if you’re in a congested area or during peak use times.
Here are some details about Starlink Roam from the FAQ Page:
- Pause Service: Provides the ability to pause and un-pause service, allowing users to customize their service to their individual travel needs.
- No Waitlist: At this time, there is no waitlist – all orders will be shipped shortly after the order is placed. Supply is subject to network and equipment availability.
- Best Effort Service: Network resources are always de-prioritized for Starlink Roam users compared to other Starlink services, resulting in degraded service and slower speeds in congested areas and during peak hours. Stated speeds and uninterrupted use of the service are not guaranteed. Service degradation will be most extreme in “Waitlist” areas on the Starlink Availability Map during peak hours. See Starlink Specification for expected performance here.
- Example Use Cases:
- I want to travel with my RV.
- I want to go on a weekend camping trip.
- I have another home that I use for one season a year.
Starlink Roam is perfect for a traveler, as you can shut off service when you don’t need it, a huge money-savings.
Important note: If you currently have residential with portability (no longer offered in the U.S.), you are allowed to switch over to Roam, but you can’t switch back again.
Regional vs Global Coverage with Starlink Roam
You can now choose two different service options when you sign up for Starlink Roam for Starlink mobile internet.
Regional Service ($150 per month) These plans are geo-fenced to work in the same continent as the registered shipping address. If you are out of your country for more than two months, Starlink may require that you change your address to that country, or order a new device. You can choose between the standard rectangular dish and the high-performance flat in-motion dish for this service.
Global Service ($200 per month) Starlink now offers a global option, where your Starlink will work anywhere around the world where coverage exists. Keep in mind that you can’t get a high-performance in-motion Dishy with global service yet, you can only use the standard rectangular dishes.
Starlink’s Flat High-Performance Dish vs Rectangular Standard Dish for Roam Service
While you aren’t allowed to use the regular Dishy for in-motion use on your vehicle, you can purchase Starlink’s high-performance flat dish, which is meant to be permanently mounted on top of your rig.
In the below image, you can see it on the roof rack of a Storyteller Overland RV.
The main downside to getting the flat high-performance dish is that it’s way more expensive – $2,500 compared to $599, and it takes significantly more power. This is the main reason why we are not replacing our dish with the high-performance dish just yet.
Standard (Rectangular) specifications:
- Average: 50-75W
- Idle: 20W
- Peak: 100-240V~ 2.0A 50-60Hz
- Dish Size: 20.2″ by 11.9″
Flat Dish High-Performance specifications:
- Average: 110-150W
- Idle: 45W
- Peak: 100-240V~ 4.5A 50-60Hz
- Dish Size: 22.6″ by 20.1″
As you can see, the power consumption is double or even triple the standard rectangular dish, which seems like a lot. Right now, we’ve been happy with our Standard dish and don’t really need to use Starlink while in motion.
Starlink Gets Rid of “Portability” Feature for New Residential Starlinks in the U.S.
- Cost: $110 per month plus $25 for “Portability” feature
- Equipment: $599 for dish, router and cables
When I got Starlink in 2022, I was able to add a “Portability” feature that lets me move around with my satellite dish. My registered address is in southern Arizona, but since I’m a nomad, I travel all over the country and in Mexico with my Starlink.
However, in March of 2023, Starlink announced it will no longer offer the Portability add-on for people who purchase a residential Starlink. Those of us already using this feature won’t have it disabled, but we won’t be able to turn it off and on anymore.
I am thankful I have Residential Starlink with the Portability add-on, as this type of service isn’t deprioritized or downgraded. I’m going to keep it as long as I can!
The main downsize is that there is no Global plan offered with Residentials plus Portability, so if I’m traveling for an extended period outside the U.S., I might have to switch my account to the Global Roam plan.
Also, I can’t turn off my Starlink when I don’t need it, which is more expensive than using Roam.
That being said, this is all really a moot point since new customers can no longer order Residential with the Portability Add-On.
What is Starlink and How Does it Work?
Starlink deploys low-orbit satellites to provide broadband service for people all over the globe. While most satellites orbit the planet at around 35,000km, Starlink satellites orbit at only 550km above the earth’s surface, a very low earth orbit.
Because the satellites are so low, there is barely any latency with Starlink internet service, which allows for activities like online gaming, video streaming and Zoom calls. Latency is the time it takes for information to travel between a satellite and the person using internet on the ground.
Starlink satellites work in conjunction with ground stations around the world. If a particular area doesn’t have a ground station, the internet service won’t work.
In 2020, Starlink started offering beta service to users and has been expanding ever since. As of January of 2022, Starlink has 145,000 users in 25 countries around the world. One of my writers uses Starlink at her home in Italy!
Starlink’s goal is to provide an interconnected network with thousands of satellites into low earth orbit overhead for global coverage. They use SpaceX’s Falcon Rocket to blast more satellites into space all the time.
Is Starlink Mobile Internet Worth it for RVs and Van Life?
When I first got Starlink, it was for internet service down in Mexico, where it’s really hard to find unlimited cell phone data plans. It worked like a dream in Puerto Penasco, Mexico and in the Sea of Cortez.
However, when we came back to the United States, I immediately noticed some of Starlink’s drawbacks, so I mostly just used my cellular internet device for data.
For one, Starlink doesn’t work well unless it has a very clear view of the sky. When we were boondocking on Mt. Hood in Oregon with some tree cover, Starlink did work but had outages every few minutes. I was able to do some work on my computer, but this wouldn’t be satisfactory for Zoom calls or watching videos.
Another thing is that Starlink does require quite a bit of power to run, about 3-4 amps. This is the same amount of power my portable fridge uses, which only comes on about once per hour. Starlink is on continuously and so this uses quite a bit of power, which isn’t really a huge problem if we are parked somewhere sunny.
Thirdly, we often travel in areas where there is good cell phone signal, which means I typically get fast enough speeds using my hotspot. My hotspot is way easier to set up and can run for hours off a single charge which doesn’t drain the van’s batteries.
Lastly, Starlink is BIG. We find ourselves moving it around constantly to keep it out of our way, which is a bit annoying for a small vehicle like a campervan. I can’t wait for SpaceX to introduce a mobile dish that can be mounted on our roof and is smaller.
I do know that if we were traveling more off-grid and away from cell signal, Starlink mobile internet would be absolutely vital for me. This would work especially well in states with open skies, like Utah, Arizona and Colorado. We often spend summers in Oregon, which has a lot of tree cover.
When deciding on Starlink, you should think about whether you really need satellite internet or if a hotspot will work just fine.
Visible is a really affordable, unlimited phone plan that is popular among van lifers. I started using it and so far, have been happy with the plan and service. Visible's base plan is just $25 for unlimited data, talk and text in the United States, or you can upgrade to a $45 per month plan to use your phone in Mexico and Canada. I have been using mine in Mexico and it works great!
Setting up my Starlink Satellite Internet Service for the First Time
I was initially worried about finding a big list of setup instructions inside the box but only found a cardboard cutout with a few images showing how to set up Dishy.
I opened the Starlink app and scanned the sky for obstructions, which is like playing a Pac-Man game where you “eat” all the dots on your screen, which covers the entire sky around your dish. The app tells you if it thinks a location is suitable for setup.
The best locations are those with a wide-open view of the sky. If there are too many trees, tall buildings, etc., this may be too many obstructions for your satellite internet to work properly. You might experience intermittent signal.
This is what Starlink says in its FAQ section:
- While tree branches often cause intermittent service by disrupting the connection between Starlink and satellites, many Starlink customers live in an area with a lot of trees. Prior to order, we recommend downloading the Starlink App and using the “Check for Obstructions” tool to assess your field of view. If your setup location has obstructions, consider an elevated install as the height improves the chances of clearing nearby obstructions.
Once I found a good location according to the Starlink app, I set Dishy pointed north, plugged in the router, and waited for the app to do its magic. I followed the prompts to connect to Starlink WiFi and create my own network name and password.
After doing all this, it only took the Starlink system 5-10 minutes to scan the sky and find a satellite. It first points up to detect satellites, then stays in a stationary position pointed toward the north if you’re in the northern hemisphere, and south if you’re in the southern hemisphere.
Dishy automatically points in the direction that has the highest density of satellites, and it doesn’t need to move to track satellites across the sky.
I was up and running with blazing-fast speeds in no time.
Using Starlink Satellite Internet Internationally in an RV or Campervan
In its FAQ section, Starlink claims it will work internationally on the same continent for up to two months. If you plan on being in another country longer, you might have to either move your service address to that country or even buy new equipment.
My thoughts on this are that Starlink is changing its policy and rules at all times. If you already own a Starlink and plan on “snowbirding” or “summering” in another country, you should write to Starlink support for advice. I’ve also heard from many Starlink users that they weren’t penalized for being in another country for longer than two months. It’s like Starlink didn’t even notice!
I have heard anecdotally from a friend of mine in Mexico that her Starlink has been working way over that two-month limit.
When we were in Mexico, Starlink worked amazingly well. We were in the desert, so Dishy had an open view of the sky. Speeds were very fast with few drop-outs.
Here is what Starlink says about international travel:
- International Travel: Starlink can only be used within the same continent as the registered Service Address. If you use Starlink in a foreign country for more than two months, you will be required to move your registered service address to your new location or purchase an additional Starlink to maintain service.
Sounds like we will keep learning as more and more people try Starlink mobile internet across borders.
How Much Does Dishy Cost and How Much is Starlink Monthly?
Both Starlink residential service and Starlink Roam cost $599 for the standard rectangular dish and router. Residential service costs $120 per month with a portability fee of $25 (no longer offered in the U.S.). Starlink Roam costs $150 per month for the regional plan and $200 per month for the Global Plan.
If you order a Flat High Performance Starlink for your Roam account, it will set you back $2,500, a large investment.
Even though plenty of people are complaining about the price, I still see it as a bargain for high-speed satellite internet service. When I priced this out several years ago it cost many thousands of dollars for satellite equipment and a huge monthly bill.
Starlink makes satellite internet affordable and I couldn’t be happier with the service.
What Does the Starlink Kit Come With?
The unit arrived in a gray box with Starlink emblazoned across the front. I opened it and pulled out my rectangular satellite dish, named Dishy McFlatface by Starlink (no joke.) The rectangular dish is 19″ by 12″ and weighs 9.5 pounds, which is lighter and smaller than the first generation dish, which is round, is 25″ tall and weighs 16 pounds.
The dish contains all the technology needed to interact with the low earth orbit satellites and provide internet.
The Starlink kit also comes with a router and 75′ of cable between Dishy and the router. The router has a 6′ power cable.
Can You Use Starlink Satellite Internet on a Moving Vehicle or Boat?
Starlink’s official stance is that mobile use for the rectangular dish is not supported and will void any warranty, but that’s not stopping people (including me) from doing it anyway.
Starlink ONLY approves mobile use when you have the Flat High-Performance Dish mounted to a vehicle using the Roam Regional Plan.
I have seen some reports in the Facebook group Starlink on Boats that people are having success in marinas, at anchor and even underway. Recently, in 2023, some sailors reported their Starlink working across the entire Pacific Ocean, all the way to the South Pacific Islands. So far, we’ve had success at anchor and in a marina, but have not tried using it underway as we don’t have a permanent mounting system yet.
Also, I have seen a couple of posts where RVers have had success using Starlink while driving, and I saw at least one post when someone used it while sailing. But there hasn’t been enough data to know if it will work when in motion.
Some people are disconnecting Dishy’s motors and mounting it on top of a pilothouse or bimini so it points directly at the sky, and having success. This seems easier with the round Dishy and harder with the rectangular one. Of course, none of this is officially sanctioned or recommended by Starlink at this time.
All this being said, you can purchase a high-performance Flat Mount Dishy that’s meant to be used in-motion. The only caveat is that is WAY more expensive than the standard rectangular dish, and is a power hog.
Can Starlink Mobile Internet Be Suspended When Not in Use?
One question I see a lot in the Starlink for RVers Facebook group is whether or not satellite internet service can be suspended. Some people travel in their RVs, sailboats or campervans only part of the year.
If you have Starlink Roam, you can stop and start service whenever you want.
However, you can cancel service and return everything for a full refund within 30-days of receiving your Dishy.
Starlink’s Power Consumption for Mobile Use
Starlink takes quite a bit of power to operate – way more than a mobile hotspot device. When using Starlink in our Sprinter van, we consistently see a draw around 3-4 amps, or 40-ish watts. The unit only works with 120-volt AC power, but some people have modified the dish to work with 12-volt power.
While that isn’t huge, it’s not tiny either.
Plus, the high-performance flat dish takes double or triple the amount of power, so you’ll have to take that into consideration when deciding which dish is right for you.
You’ll need a robust solar system, battery bank and inverter to run your Starlink terminal the entire day. Another option is to use a portable power station like a Jackery or Yeti Goal Zero. In our Sprinter van, we will have 400 amp hours of Battleborn Lithium-Ion batteries plus an array of solar panels on the roof.
We typically use Starlink’s satellite connection a few hours per day, and leave it off otherwise. I usually don’t need internet 24/7 when I’m in a remote beautiful place ripe for exploration, hikes, paddleboarding and windsurfing.
Getting a Refund on your Starlink Kit & Cancelling Service
If you order Starlink and then decide it isn’t for you, you only have 30 days to return Dishy and the router for a full refund. After that, you can return your equipment within the first year for a partial refund, but only if you’re in the United States or Canada.
Within that first year, Starlink will refund you 200USD or 260CAD.
It is possible to transfer your Starlink kit and service to someone else with the help of the Starlink team. Here is what Starlink says about service transfers:
- Transferring Services. You may have the option to transfer your Services to another responsible party if (a) the account is paid-in-full and in good standing; and (b) the Service address is the same or the requested Service address has network availability. Service transfers are subject to Starlink approval. Please visit https://support.starlink.com/ to learn more about transferring your Services
You can also cancel service at any time and hold onto your equipment in case you want to restart in the future. However, this will be based on availability and where you want your service address to be.
So, Starlink is a commitment. If you get it just for roaming and find it doesn’t work for you, you’ll be out a few hundred bucks if you don’t return your equipment within the first 30 days.
Moving your Starlink Residential Service Address
If you don’t want to gamble that you’ll have roaming, another option is to change your service address to where you’ll be parked or moored most of the time. For example, if you’re a snowbird who goes to one particular RV park or marina during the winter months, you can try to see if a cell is available there, and move service.
You will do this at the risk of losing service at your original service address, so if you also have a house that relies on Starlink, you might not want to do this.
Here’s more info about moving your service address from the Starlink FAQ:
- You will be unable to change your address if the new area does not have current service availability.
- By changing your location, you may not be able to return to your original address based on service availability. Once updated, service at your previous address will be disconnected, and the spot will become available to new customers.
- Deposit holders can update their service address at any time before Starlink ships. Orders are fulfilled based on the date of your initial Starlink order within your coverage area. Your place in the queue at the new location will still be based on your initial order date.
What if Your Starlink Kit is Stolen?
If you’re planning on using your Starlink kit while traveling around with your RV, you may be wondering about theft and what happens if someone steals your Dishy.
Here is what Starlink says about that:
- If your Starlink Kit is stolen, destroyed or otherwise removed from your premises without your authorization, you must provide notice via the Starlink Customer Portal immediately, or else you may be liable for payment for unauthorized use of the Services. You are liable for any charges or fees incurred by the use of the Services and Starlink Kit by anyone else.
It’s recommended that you don’t leave Starlink out when you leave your RV to go on a hike or bike ride. Some RVers do permanently install their Dishy on their rig’s rooftop, which makes it not as easy to steal.
Should You Get Starlink Service for Mobile Use? Final Thoughts.
I was extremely happy with using Starlink mobile internet in Mexico, at the boatyard, marina and at anchor in the Sea of Cortez. Before, I was using a TelCel SIM and purchasing 2-hour increments at 15 pesos each to get through my workday. This ended up costing around $5 per day, not to mention the data I used through my Google Fi phone. Not an economical or easy way to work remotely here in Mexico.
Starlink is a blessing compared to using that TelCel SIM.
However, when traveling in my campervan in the U.S., I find myself more often reaching for my hotspot rather than plugging in and using Starlink. Satellite internet is hard to use in tree-covered areas, uses a lot of power and takes up a significant amount of space when being transported inside my van.
If we were boondocking or camping off-grid, Starlink would be invaluable to me, which is why I keep it around in my campervan.
Starlink is definitely opening doors for nomads, especially if roaming keeps working, and as more and more low orbit satellites are launched into the sky.
If you’re traveling in mostly populated places where a cellular hotspot is available, that might work better for you as it’s not limited by trees or other obstructions. And new 5G service is blazing fast.
I am hopeful that service and Starlink capabilities will keep expanding as SpaceX works toward worldwide availability. I remain hopeful for a mobile, smaller unit that is easy to use while in motion.
Do you have Starlink? What do you think?