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What is roaming data? The best UK mobile networks for travelling in the EU and further afield

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What is roaming data and which are the best networks for travelling abroad? We reveal all below

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 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, 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.

Deal of the week

Smarty is currently serving up 60GB (was 40GB) of data, 12GB of which you can use while roaming in the EU, for just £10/mth on a rolling, 30-day plan.

View deal at Smarty

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 the 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.

1. iD Mobile: Very affordable roaming the EU

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 plan with 15GB data, for example, allows you to use your plan as you normally would at home, as the fair usage allowance is up to 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

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 networks that have announced roaming charges, what those charges are, and any other information that you should know before travelling abroad with them.

1. EE: Excellent speeds and packages for further afield

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. EE charges a flat rate of £2.29 per day to use all of the minutes, texts and data included in your plan in any of over 40 European destinations.

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

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