A Guide to Mobile Phone Data Roaming

What Are Data Roaming Charges?

  • When we talk about roaming charges, what we are referring to is what is costs to use your phone while you are overseas. You are determined to be ‘roaming’ the moment that your phone is detected on a network in a foreign country.
  • In days gone by, consumers have been charged extortionate amounts to use their mobile phone for the Internet, for making calls and sending texts while they are travelling. The cost of using your mobile for these things when anywhere outside the UK can be a lot higher than it is at home.
  • The good news is that things have got significantly better for consumers since the old days, when people received sky-high bills when they got back from their holidays. Bills that mounted up to thousands of pounds at one point regularly made headlines. The law changed in 2017, when it became the case that you could use your monthly allowances of calls, data and texts in 28 EU locations for no extra charge.
  • Nonetheless, it can still be easy to be caught out when it comes to roaming charges for data, calls and texts when travelling away from home. The unwary can still sometimes come unstuck by not being fully aware of roaming charges that may still apply.
  • For one thing, it is important to be aware of which countries are actually in the EU. Some countries that people assume are in the EU actually are not. What is more, even if you are on holiday in the EU, it an still be possible to incur a massive phone bill, whether or not you are within your monthly allowance.
  • Higher roaming charges will still apply if you use more than your monthly allowance. Once you have used up your data allowance, you could be charged up to around £7 per extra GB of data that you use while you are away from home.
  • What is more, networks also apply ‘fair usage’ limits for customers who are roaming. Networks can cap your data allowance at a lower level than that which applies when you are at home, so you could get a nasty shock with a sky-high bill if you are not aware of this cap and therefore exceed this lower limit while you are travelling.

What is Fair Usage and How Does it Work?

  • Fair usage is a cap that networks can apply to your roaming data allowance.

The confusing thing about fair usage is that each network applies a different policy, and the fair usage cap can also vary depending on your data allowance and the plan you are signed up to. Here are some examples of the fair usage caps applied by different networks:

  1. O2 : The pay-as-you-go Big Bundle for £30 per month offers a monthly allowance of 20 GB per month, but roaming is capped at 10GB when you are using your phone in the EU.
  2. Giffgaff: With the Always On tariff you will have to pay over the odds if you exceed 6GB of usage.
  3. Three: As a Three pay as you go customer, you will be charged extra if you exceed 9 GB.
  4. EE: EE’s fair usage cap for all customers is 15 GB.

It is important to be aware of any fair usage caps that apply for your deal. It is a good idea to phone your network to find out what fair usage caps may apply for your roaming.

How To Avoid Unexpectedly High Roaming Charges

  • It is important to be aware of the roaming charges for your network and where these apply if you want to avoid an unnecessarily high bill for using your mobile phone when you travel abroad. Here are some tips to help you avoid unexpectedly high roaming charges:

    1. Use free WiFi whenever possible.
    2. Check if you can get a roaming add on that will provide you an allowance of data, texts and minutes to use while you are abroad.
    3. Don’t opt out of your networks usage caps (or you could easily lose track of spending and usage).
    4. Consider buying and using a local SIM card and paying as you go while travelling.
    5. Make sure you are aware of whether or not your destination is bound by EU regulations.
    6. Consider Swytch – an internet phone service that lets you rent a secondary UK number for your phone for a small fee.

What Does Your Network Charge for Roaming?

  • It is important to be aware of the roaming options that are available for your network. To help you determine what roaming entitlement you can get on your network, here are some details of some of the main roaming packages from major UK service providers:

  • Three: Feel at Home (on all advanced plans). Available for 71 destinations, with a fair usage cap of 12 GB that can be used for up to 2 months over a 12 month period.
  • Vodaphone: Roam free (for all customers on new monthly plans except basics). Available for 49 destinations with no fair usage cap. Roam Further (£6 per day for all new pay monthly plan customers) For use in 104 destinations with no fair usage cap.
  • EE: Max Plan Roaming (for all 4GEE Max Plan customers). Available for 53 destinations, with a fair usage cap of 15 GB.
  • O2: Europe Zone Usage (for all customers on pay monthly plans – not PAYG) Available for 47 Europe zone destinations, with a fair usage cap of 10 GB. Full travel bolt-on (for select phone and tariff plans on 4 GB or 15 GB and above.) Available in 75 worldwide destinations, again with a fair usage cap of 10 GB.
  • Tesco Mobile: Home from Home (For all pay monthly and PAYG customers). Available for 48 Europe zone destinations with a fair usage cap of 12 GB.
  • Plusnet: Mobile Roam Like Home ( For all pay monthly and PAYG customers). Available for 52 Europe zone destinations with a fair usage cap of 15 GB.
  • Sky: Roaming Passport (for all pay monthly customers). Available for 32 Europe zone countries with no fair usage cap.
  • BT: Roam like at Home (for all pay monthly customers). Available for 47 destinations with a fair usage cap of 15 GB.
  • ID Mobile: Roam like at Home (for all pay monthly customers). Available for 52 destinations. Fair usage caps only apply for some Sim-only customers.
  • SMARTY: Roaming (for all customers). Available for 35 destinations. Fair usage cap not specified.

How Will Brexit Affect EU Roaming Charges?

Operators’ plans

Of course, just because the operators might be allowed to reintroduce roaming charges, it does not necessarily mean that they will do so. Three has “committed to maintain the availability of roaming in the EU at no additional cost following Brexit”.

Vodafone said it was too soon to assess the implications of Brexit on roaming regulation, but added it expected competition to continue to drive good value for customers and that it currently had no plans to change its roaming charges.

EE also said it had no plans to introduce charging and called on the government “to put consumers at the top of their agenda in the Brexit negotiations to help ensure that UK operators can continue to offer low prices to our customers”.

And O2 said: “We currently have no plans to change our roaming services across Europe. We’re engaged with the government with regards to what may happen once the UK officially leaves the EU.”

What is Happening With Roaming Charges Outside the EU?

While details are still uncertain, the government has announced its intention to introduce VAT for roaming charges outside the EU. This means that it could cost 20% more to call, text and surf the web on your phone while travelling abroad outside the EU. It is, as yet, unclear how networks will respond to these higher charges if and when they are applied.

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