What is roaming data? The best UK networks for travelling abroad

Ben Johnston
16 Dec 2021

We break down the best networks for cheap roaming in Europe and worldwide

One of the inevitable fallouts of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU was always going to be the reintroduction of mobile data roaming charges for Brits travelling abroad in Europe. Despite several of them stating that they had no immediate plans to slap users with roaming charges, UK mobile networks are one by one bringing in more fees and restrictions for data use abroad.

There are still several holdout networks, through which (at the time of writing, at least) you can use your data services overseas without incurring additional charges. Here, we’re going to run through all the major UK networks and break down what, if any, their restrictions and charges are for roaming abroad.

If you already know what roaming is, and you just want to get on with seeing whether or not these new changes affect your network, you can use the below buttons to skip ahead to the relevant section. Otherwise, read on and we’ll break down exactly what roaming entails, and how it may affect you when travelling outside of the UK.

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What is data roaming?

Data roaming refers to the use of your mobile data services outside of your regular coverage area – in this case, anywhere outside the UK. Essentially, because you’re outside of your network’s reach, your device will “roam” around trying to find another network to connect to, allowing you to check your emails, video call a friend, or stream YouTube videos without having to connect to Wi-Fi.

While these services come at an extra expense for most worldwide destinations, the EU’s 2017 ‘Roam Like at Home’ initiative banned mobile networks from implementing charges to users who were roaming in member states. This allowed UK users to travel to any European country in the EU – and vice versa – without racking up any additional costs.

With Brexit removing the UK’s status as a member state of the EU, the privileges on the above agreement are unfortunately negated, allowing networks to yet again charge customers when using data abroad. As mentioned, several networks have brought charges back already, while most others have stated that they currently have no plans to reintroduce charges. While that’s fine for now, it’s best not to take it as concrete fact in the long term; some of the networks that brought charges back had also previously claimed to have no plans to do so.

The UK mobile networks with no EU roaming charges

Naturally, the ideal choice for roaming abroad would be any network that doesn’t charge you for it, but there is a little more to consider than that. First, while the below networks don’t currently charge for roaming outside the EU, they do have data caps for what is referred to as “fair usage”, after which you will incur additional costs.

The second thing to bear in mind is the quality of the network itself. So here, we’ll briefly go through each of the major networks that allow you to roam for no additional cost, and look at the data caps and review scores for each, so you can determine which, if any, would be best for you.

Sky Mobile: The best for customer satisfaction, but connection speeds could be faster

Sky Mobile cleaned up at our Mobile Network Awards, taking the top spot in every single category. With a pedigree like that, it should come as little surprise that the network also offers solid travel options via its Roaming Passport.

Covering over 30 European countries, the Roaming Passport allows you to use your data, minutes and texts as you normally would, with no additional limits or restrictions. Full details about the Roaming Passport can be found here.

Like Tesco Mobile and Giffgaff below, Sky Mobile operates on the O2 network, and as such, it has the exact same strengths and weaknesses. The only issue worth mentioning is the connection speeds, and even those aren’t drastically slower than competing networks, especially after recent improvements.

Read our full Sky Mobile review for more details

Find out more at Sky Mobile

Giffgaff: Great flexibility but average 4G speeds

One of our favourite networks, Giffgaff is currently among the networks that don’t charge a roaming fee when travelling abroad. For 30-day contracts, you can use your data, calls and texts in over 30 EU countries at no extra cost, while Pay As You Go plans will be charged at standard UK rates. There is a 20GB data cap, however, after which you will be charged 0.36p per MB used. The full details of Giffgaff’s fair usage policy can be found here.

As for the network, we are big fans of how simple and flexible the range of plans on offer are, with plenty of high data allowances available for low premiums. Customer service and satisfaction both rated highly in our annual survey, and even outside of the EU, roaming doesn’t break the bank.

The only drawbacks are that it’s likely that you’ll find better deals on smartphones elsewhere, and 4G performance was underwhelming compared to other networks. The latter, in particular, is worth noting, as Giffgaff currently does not offer 5G services when roaming.

Read our full Giffgaff review for more details

Find out more at Giffgaff

iD Mobile: Very affordable but higher than average customer complaints

A no-frills network that offers a wide range of affordable SIM-only contracts as well as a number of tempting bargains on the latest phones, iD Mobile adds to its credentials with a decent roaming policy for 50 worldwide destinations.

Your fair usage allowance is calculated based on the cost of your package – a £25 plan with 15GB data, for example, allows you to use your plan as you normally would at home, as the fair usage allowance is 19.30GB. Beyond that limit, you will be charged 0.25p per MB. You can read more about iD Mobile’s fair usage policy here.

While we’re big fans of the flexibility offered by iD Mobile, it can’t be ignored that its customer complaints per 100,000 were higher than average in Ofcom’s latest annual customer survey. This isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker given how many benefits the network offers, but it’s still worth keeping in mind when making your choice.

Read our full iD Mobile review for more details

Find out more at iD Mobile

Tesco Mobile: Family-friendly options but average performance

Another option that piggybacks on the O2 network, Tesco Mobile currently has a blanket policy of no additional charges when roaming in any of 48 European countries. The website also states that the company has “no current plans to re-introduce roaming charges in European countries following the UK’s departure from the EU”. Full details can be found here.

As with most other networks, Tesco Mobile does implement certain restrictions under the banner of fair use, but these only apply if you exceed your agreed plan limits. In that case, you will be charged the standard rates for additional minutes, texts and data, with the latter also coming with a surcharge of 0.35p per MB used.

The network itself is also well worth considering, with plenty of affordable deals on a decent range of both SIMs and phone contracts. The performance is as average as any other network running on O2, but high-scoring customer service and satisfaction results and 5G at no extra cost help to make up for this small shortcoming.

Read our full Tesco Mobile review for more details

Find out more at Tesco Mobile

The UK mobile networks with EU roaming charges

While there are several solid network options that don’t currently charge you for roaming in the EU, there are still reasons to consider the networks that have recently announced the upcoming implementation of charges.

For one, you may already be with one of these networks and aren’t keen to change if you don’t have to. Alternatively, you could be tempted by some of the other perks that these networks have to offer, such as better than average 4G and 5G speeds, or inclusive entertainment packages.

Whatever the reason, we’re going to break down each of the major networks that have announced roaming charges, what those charges are, and any other information that you should know before travelling abroad with them.

EE: Excellent 4G and 5G speeds, but not the best value for money

EE is proud of its 4G speeds, and it’s not hard to see why – the average download speeds on its 4G network came in over twice as fast as the nearest rival. Coverage for 4G is already excellent, and 5G is getting more reliable by the day in terms of availability and speeds. The other edge to this sword is that, compared to its rivals, EE tends to be quite expensive.

Still, for performance, it’s hard to look past everything that EE can offer. But what of roaming? Put simply, it’s not as good as the above networks that don’t charge you, but nor is it as pricey as roaming used to be. From 1 January 2022, EE will charge you a flat rate of £2 per day to use all of the minutes, texts and data included in your plan in any of over 40 European destinations.

There are a few stipulations to address here. First, if you already have a pay monthly contract with EE that started before 7 July 2021, these changes won’t affect you. Second, in the Republic of Ireland, you can use your calls, texts and data as per your allowances, with the £2 fee only applying if you pass your limit.

If you regularly travel, or are planning to spend more than a few days outside the UK, it could be worth looking into EE’s Roam Abroad scheme. Available as a Smart Benefit (with participating plans) or as a £10 per month add-on, this feature lets you use your texts, minutes and data in any of the listed European countries at no extra charge. Full details can be found here.

Read our full EE review for more details

Find out more at EE

Three: Plenty of good deals, but also plenty of complaints

For years now, Three’s greatest strength has been its compelling range of well-priced phone and SIM-only contracts, with great options to suit all budgets. Unfortunately, its greatest weakness has remained the same also – with more Ofcom complaints than any other network except Virgin Mobile, customer satisfaction at Three still isn’t where it should be.

Still, if you’re already with Three, or are enticed by the cheap deals, then the good news is that roaming is fairly straightforward. Three’s Go Roam feature allows you to unlock your plan and add on allowances in any of 71 worldwide destinations. This is separated into two categories – Go Roam Europe and Go Roam Around the World. The former will cost you £2 per day and covers you in select European countries, while the latter costs £5 per day, and covers you in all 71 destinations.

When you choose Europe or Around the World, fair usage will come into play. For a pay monthly contract, you will have full use of your minutes and texts, while data is restricted to a maximum of 12GB. If you exceed this limit, you may be restricted from roaming or incur a surcharge of 0.3p per MB used. Three has confirmed that it’s not making any changes to Pay As You Go at this time, so users can still convert their credit into add-ons or data packs to enjoy Go Roam abroad.

Contracts initiated before 1 October 2021 are currently not subject to these changes, and those that are have until 23 May 2022 before they are implemented. Three has also stated that select users may be exempt from the charges – if that applies to you, the network will contact you directly. Full details of Go Roam can be found here.

Read our full Three review for more details

Find out more at Three

Vodafone: Great added benefits, but customer satisfaction is low

We’ve found it easier to recommend Vodafone recently, with increasingly strong coverage and reliability, as well as greatly improved 4G and 5G speeds going some way to make up for unimpressive customer satisfaction results. The most attractive aspect of a Vodafone contract, however, remains the feature-rich bundles, with optional extras like entertainment packages and, indeed, global roaming, on offer.

The latter only applies to a small number of plans, with two offering inclusive roaming in 51 European countries, and just one covering you in all 83 worldwide destinations. Both options afford you full use of your plan’s minutes and texts when in an applicable country, while data is capped at 25GB (or your regular limit, if less than 25GB), with a surcharge of £3.13 per GB applied if you exceed that limit.

The same rules apply if you opt for a plan that doesn’t offer inclusive roaming, with the only difference being that you will be charged a flat rate of £2 per day. Alternatively, Vodafone offers 8- and 15-day roaming passes that work out at £1 per day instead. As with Three, Vodafone has confirmed that Pay As You Go plans are currently facing no changes when it comes to roaming.

Vodafone is implementing the changes on 6 January 2022, so any roaming before that date will not be subject to the charges. Additionally, if you already have a contract with Vodafone that started before 11 August 2021, these changes won’t affect you until your next upgrade. Full details of Vodafone’s roaming policy can be found here.

Read our full Vodafone review for more details

Find out more at Vodafone

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