A few years ago, you wouldn’t have paid more to use your phone on EU mobile networks. However, since the Brexit transition period ended in January 2021, mobile providers have been able to reintroduce so-called ‘roaming charges’ in European countries.
If you’re planning a trip overseas, you’ll need to check your provider’s roaming policy to find out if you’ll be charged, and how much, to avoid costs racking up unexpectedly.
We’ve put together this guide to help you avoid spending more than you need to when you take your phone abroad.
What are roaming charges?
A phone is considered to be ‘roaming’ when it is used on an overseas network. Under most circumstances this will lead to increased charges from your mobile provider for any texts, calls and data usage abroad.
When the UK was a part of the EU, it fell under “Roam Like At Home” regulations which meant mobile companies legally couldn’t impose these additional charges on customers when they were in other EU countries.
However, following Brexit, the UK is no longer covered by these regulations, which means that individual mobile companies are allowed to bring these charges back if they wish.
Research from Ofcom has found that nearly one in five holidaymakers don’t know that they can be saddled with higher charges for using their mobile overseas, with a similar number saying they don’t research roaming charges before traveling.
As such, Ofcom is proposing regulations to require all mobile providers to alert customers when they start roaming, and inform them of how much it will cost them and of any actions they can take to save money. Some providers already text their customers when they begin roaming, but not all of them, or not with the amount of detail that Ofcom is suggesting.
Ofcom has also proposed protections against “inadvertent roaming”, when people connect to foreign mobile networks while still in their native country without realising. For example, people have been known to connect to French networks while on the English coast, or to Irish networks near the border in Northern Ireland.
Ofcom plans to publish a decision on these proposals in early 2024.
How much are roaming charges?
You’ll be charged different amounts depending on your provider, where you are travelling, and potentially some other factors. Providers may charge you differently depending on whether you are on a contract or pay-as-you-go, for example, and some offer discounts if you buy several days or weeks worth of roaming at once. Here are the rates from the biggest providers at the time of writing:
EE charges £2.29 a day (or £15 a month) for roaming in the EU to customers on contracts, and is introducing a £2.50 a day (or £10 for seven days) charge for pay-as-you-go customers later this month.
Vodafone charges £2.25 a day for customers on contracts (or £10 for 8 days or £15 for 15 days), and £7 for eight days for pay-as-you-go customers (approximately 88p a day).
Three charges £2 a day for customers on contracts, but nothing for pay-as-you-go customers yet.
Sky Mobile charges £2 a day across the board, while Voxi charges £2 a day for one or two days, or £1 a day for 8 or 15 days (though you’ll need to buy a roaming pass).
Talkmobile charges £2.25 a day, £10 for 8 days, or £15 for 15 days.
Tesco Mobile currently does not charge for EU roaming, but plans to introduce charges in 2025.
Roaming charges get much more expensive outside of the EU, and the companies that have not reintroduced EU roaming charges will likely still charge you if you go further afield. Some providers charge as much as £7 per MB of data and £3 a minute for calls. It’s worth seeing if you can buy a bundle from your provider to save money, but these are usually not cheap either. The best solution is usually just to minimise your phone usage on mobile networks and stick to free Wifi when you can. We suggest some more tips for saving on roaming charges later on.
Make sure you read the small print of your contract carefully before you head overseas so you understand exactly how much you’ll have to pay to use your phone.
Which mobile companies have reintroduced roaming charges?
Not every mobile company has opted to bring back roaming charges for the EU, but several of the industry’s biggest providers have.
EE, Vodafone, Three, Sky Mobile, Voxi and Talkmobile have all reintroduced EU roaming charges. Tesco Mobile plans to bring them back too, but not until 2025, per their most recent announcement.
O2, Virgin Mobile, BT Mobile, iD mobile, Plusnet, GiffGaff and Smarty currently have no plans to reintroduce these additional charges in the EU, but there is no guarantee that they won’t decide to in the future.
Almost every mobile provider will charge roaming costs if you use your mobile in countries outside Europe, unless you have a deal that includes roaming at no extra cost.
How do roaming charges work on a cruise?
Mobile use can get even more expensive at sea, where your phone is likely to automatically connect to the maritime network rather than a regular satellite network. These networks tend to be extremely expensive to make calls, send texts and use data on, and can easily break the bank even if you have purchased a bundle to prepare for roaming costs in advance.
You could also end up inadvertently connecting to the network of a nearby country, which is still likely to be quite costly if you haven’t made preparations.
Your best bet if you are going on a cruise is usually to switch data off on your phone, or set it to airplane mode, which effectively does the same thing. Limit mobile use as much as you can, and make use of the ship’s WiFi options if you need to go online. The next section of this article contains some more tips on conserving data and getting the most out of available WiFi networks.
How can I reduce my mobile costs when I go on holiday?
If you have holidays booked and want to avoid racking up hefty roaming charges, your best first step is to check your mobile provider’s policy on roaming, whether it applies in the country you’re visiting, and how much they charge.
Your provider may offer a roaming bundle that allows you to buy days’ worth of data, texts and minutes for cheaper in advance. For example, Vodafone offers eight-day and 15-day passes at a rate of £1 per day. Some providers also offer more expensive long-term plans that include roaming at no extra cost, such as Vodafone’s Xtra plan, which you might consider if you travel very frequently.
Although they are among the providers reintroducing roaming charges in the EU, Three do not charge for roaming on their pay-as-you-go SIM cards. This means that even if you are not a customer with their mobile network, you can order this card and use it as a temporary replacement for your usual one while away. Mobile data on these cards can be used in over 70 destinations, including the EU, USA and Australia, with no extra roaming charges and no contract.
You can either buy this card with the data pre-added, or order one for free and top it up as you see fit. Simply replace your usual SIM card with the pay-as-you-go one while you are away, bearing in mind that your number will also change with the different card installed. Just remember that you need to use the card at least once in the UK first, and that it has to be used once every six months to remain active.
For an idea of how much data you might need when you go on holiday, read our article How much mobile phone data do I need?
If you’re not happy with the options set out by your provider, you can always switch to a different one offering better deals. You can read more in our article Everything you need to know about switching mobile phone provider. You can then use our mobile phone comparison tool to compare the various deals on offer.
Once you’ve arrived at your destination, you can of course continue to save on roaming bills by using your phone carefully.
Turn off data when you aren’t using it, and try to use WiFi instead if you need to look something up. Consider downloading certain things to your phone or laptop in advance of your trip, whether they are necessities like digital boarding passes or entertainment like music or films.
If you want to make a call to someone back in the UK, then it will likely be more cost-effective to connect to a WiFi network and call over Facetime, Zoom, Skype or another online service. These services all mainly use the internet rather than mobile networks to connect you, so you won’t be hit with phone bills for using them (unless you are using data to get online in the first place).
Bear in mind that you will still be charged roaming rates if someone else calls you while you’re abroad. If you’re worried about this happening, you could advise your friends and family to message you instead of calling while you’re away.
Also be aware that if somebody leaves you a voicemail, this can add to your roaming charges as well. Consider turning voicemail off altogether while you’re away, or set a voicemail message explaining the situation and asking them to message instead.
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