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EU roaming charges - all change on April 30th

Richard Easton
28 Apr 2016
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Roaming charges aren't dead yet. Here's our guide to saving money overseas on holiday this year

Last year, the EU announced that it was abolishing roaming charges across all member states. Great news, except it was only happening in a staggered roll-out. The first step in that rollout has now been reached with new maximum prices being introduced on the 30th of April - across calls, texts and data while travelling within the EU. 

Roaming charges are to be scrapped completely on the 15th of June 2017. Which means you won't pay a penny extra to make calls, send texts or use the internet in any of the EU member states. Presuming of course that we're still in the EU come June 2017.

All that means this year's holidaymakers are stuck in a confusing middle ground, with all the big networks coming up with temporary pricing plans to usher us through to the big switch off next year.

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It's well overdue, as we all know from having to switch off our phones, or at least the data connection, whenever we go abroad. By removing roaming charges we'll all be able to carry on as we do at home, which will make finding your hotel, that perfect tapas bar, or hard-to-locate chateau all the easier in the future. At present 37% of British holidaymakers turn off their phones completely when they head abroad, and a further 36% turn off data roaming, only allowing themselves to text and make calls.

So here's all you need to know about the EU switch and how to save money wherever you're travelling overseas.

Know your rights

There are currently strict regulations on what mobile networks can charge for texts, minutes and data in all EU countries (excluding Turkey and Switzerland), and there are also mandatory cost caps that you can't go over unless you give explicit permission.

The tables below shows you the limits that mobile operators have to adhere to before and after the first stage of the new roaming regulations. The limits are based on Euro figures excluding VAT, so the cost in Sterling is subject to changes in both exchange rates and VAT rates.

Maximum charges in EU currently until April 30th, 2016

In € ex VAT

In £ inc VAT

Call mins sent/received

€0.19/€0.05

£0.17/£0.05

Texts sent

€0.06

£0.05

MB of data

€0.20

£0.18

Maximum charges in EU from April 30th, 2016 until June 15th, 2017

Limit in € ex VAT

Limit in £ inc VAT

Call mins sent/received

€0.05/€0.05

£0.05

Texts sent

€0.02

£0.02

MB of data

€0.05

£0.05

From April 30th, your holiday will be a bit more bearable with prices capped at 5c per minute, 2c per text and 5c per megabyte, so you'll be able to call and text largely without worry, but use up 1GB of data on your monthly plan while overseas and you'll still get a hefty €50 bill.

The above limits only apply inside the EU, but many mobile networks will offer deals in different countries that end up being much cheaper, as long as you actually use the minutes, texts and data you're paying for. We'll discuss these later.

Can I get a SIM abroad and then use it in the UK to try and save money?

You might think that with roaming charges being abolished in June 2017 that you might be able to sign up to a cheaper contract elsewhere, and then use the SIM permanently back in the UK. Unfortunately, that won't be the case as fair usage policies will be in place to limit your usage away from your 'home' country. Operators are yet to announce what their fair usage policies will allow so expect to hear more as the June 2017 cut-off date approaches. 

UK mobile networks' roaming deals

If you’re lucky enough to spend a considerable amount of time abroad, and in a variety of different countries, then getting the best roaming deal might be crucial. If you regularly visit the same place, then Three might be the answer to all your problems, otherwise, you should strongly consider getting a local SIM card.

For those who holiday overseas less often, choosing your mobile provider purely based on their roaming deals is probably not the best choice. That said, if you're trying to pick between two mobile networks and they're offering similar tariffs, their roaming packages could be the thing that swings it, so it's worth bearing in mind.

Most of the deals we'll outline below only apply for EU countries: it's a free-for-all in the rest of the world aside from some very specific cases where your mobile network might have a deal with a local operator for cheaper calls, texts and data. The table below is an example of how some pretty light usage can result in some fairly hefty charges, so if your mobile network is offering reasonably priced roaming deals and you think you have even a slight chance of using your phone for more than a few minutes each day, they're probably worth buying or signing up for.

Activity

Usage

Cost in the EU

Cost in the USA*

50 texts

-

£2.50

£20

20 minutes of calls

-

£3.40

£20

1 hour of Spotify streaming

~43MB

£7.74

£10**

10 min of 480p YouTube

~13MB

£2.34

£10**

Uploading 20 8MP photos

~40MB

£7.20

£10**

*Based on EE's Zone A roaming pricing
** £10 for 100MB of data for 24 hours on EE

Mobile Broadband Roaming Map

If you want to check data prices in a specific destination worldwide then Broadband Genie has created a mobile broadband roaming map. You can click on any country and it brings up data costs for that location on UK networks. It's a very handy tool indeed.

EE

EE's base offering to its standard pay monthly customers currently is as follows: You can pay £4 per day for a Euro Data Pass, which gets you unlimited calls and texts to and from mobiles and landlines in EU countries (the full list is available at EE.co.uk) and a recent update means you get a 500MB data limit too, without any speed restrictions. Enrolment is done through an opt-in text message, and you only pay the £4 on days where you use data. Otherwise, you're charged nothing.

If you're on an EE Extra contract, you get all your minutes and texts in 44 countries and won't pay extra for them. They're included in the base price of your contract. You will have to pay for data access, through the Euro Data Pass, however, but this is slightly cheaper at £3 a day instead. EE’s current EU roaming rates differ based on your tariff and are as follows:

EE Pay Monthly / Pay As You Go

Call mins sent/received
(per minute)

16.6p/4.4p

Texts sent

5.2p

MB of data

Requires Euro Data Pass

EE Extra Pay Monthly

Call mins sent/received
(per minute)

Free/Free

Texts sent

Free

MB of data

Requires Euro Data Pass

EE hasn’t announced if it will deviate from the EU’s maximum guidelines when the rules come into place on April 30th, even though we’re now only weeks away. For now, we can only assume EE will adhere precisely to the guidelines.

Vodafone

If you're a heavy data user, Vodafone's roaming deals are pretty attractive and very simple. If you're on a contract and travelling within the EU, you can opt into Vodafone's EuroTraveller bundle, which includes all your contract's minutes, texts and data for £3 a day. If you don't use minutes, data or texts on a given day while you're abroad, you won't be charged.

Things are similar on Pay as you go: pay £3 a day and get your UK deal while abroad including minutes and texts, and you'll also get 100MB of data included, too.

Outside of Europe, the same deal applies but it's £5 a day and it currently applies to 58 countries. It also includes India, Australia, New Zealand and the USA. You can find the full list here.

If you're planning on using your phone infrequently, Vodafone's standard roaming charges might work out cheaper.

From April 30th, Vodafone has announced the costs will be:

Call mins sent/received
(per minute, 30-second minimum call charge)

4.3p/0.9p

Texts sent

1.6p

MB of data

4.3p

Three

Three is known for its pretty generous roaming deals, and its rivals have a fair amount of ground to make up when it comes to the variety of countries that are part of its Feel at Home deals. Included on the list of countries you can use all your UK minutes, texts and data are Australia, the USA, Israel, Macau and New Zealand, alongside popular European destinations including Spain, Ireland, Italy and France.

This applies to both contract and pay-as-you-go customers, although the latter will have to buy a fresh add-on including the minutes, texts and data you want, rather than simply using those out of any current balance you have.

In EU countries not covered by Feel at Home, you'll need to buy a Euro Internet Pass when you arrive at your destination. A link for this will be sent to you by text message. It’s only available for monthly contract customers and costs £5 a day for unlimited internet use, although it does state it’s not intended for video or audio streaming.

O2

For contract customers, £1.99 a day will get you O2 Travel, which has unlimited data (though it doesn’t promise a high-speed connection), 50p outbound calls (60 minutes per call) and 5p texts. You'll need to enable O2 Travel in order to get this.

On pay-as-you-go, your £1.99 gets you 50MB of data, but calls and texts are charged at the maximum allowed currently under EU regulations. O2 hasn’t announced its EU roaming rates following the regulations change, so, for now, we can assume it will adhere to the new maximum rates after April 30th, 2016.

Virgin Media

Virgin offers data bundles for use in the EU: £1.50 for 10MB, £6 for 50MB and £20 for 250MB of data. Aside from that, you'll pay the EU maximum for calls and texts, and beyond the EU your costs will vary. 

GiffGaff

GiffGaff logo

GiffGaff currently charges the maximum allowed in the EU. From April 28th, 2016 it will introduce two different rates depending on whether or not you are using a goodybag and can work out cheaper than some rivals, such as Vodafone.

On a goodybag:

Call mins sent/received
(per minute, 30-second minimum call charge)

4p/0.5p

Texts sent

1.5p

MB of data

4p

Not on a goodybag:

Call mins sent/received
(per minute, 30-second minimum call charge)

4p/0.5p

Texts sent

5p

MB of data

5p

iD Mobile

iD Mobile currently charges the maximum under EU guidelines. After April 30th, it will move to the revised guideline prices.

Tesco Mobile

Tesco has announced a 'Home from Home' promotion for the duration of the summer period. So between May 23rd to September 3rd 2016, Tesco Mobile customers will be able to use their UK calls, texts and data tariff allowances in 31 European countries, which is more than even Three's 'Feel at Home' roster. If you're on a Pay as You Go SIM with Tesco Mobile, you'll be charged at your local UK rate for calls, texts and data during the promotional period. Similarly, if you're on contract and go over your allowance, you'll be charged for additional calls and texts at UK rates. 

You won't need to opt in or do anything and there won't be any extra roaming charges for use within eligible countries. The list of countries includes Germany, which isn't covered by Three's Feel at Home. The list of countries covered and details of Tesco's fair usage policy is available here

How to save money while abroad

If you liked it you should have put a cap on it

Mobile operators can charge users up to €50 (around £44 inc VAT) in roaming fees before they have to cut off their service to prevent further spending. This is to avoid "bill shock", forcing consumers to explicitly say that they are happy to spend more than that amount. If this £44 limit is greater than a bill cap you've set yourself, then the smaller cap will apply.

Some networks also put a cap on international roaming, too, although this varies from network to network so you should check that with them before you go.

Conserve data usage while roaming

There are a few simple tips you can follow to avoid getting stung by roaming costs if you don't choose to take advantage of your own provider's roaming deals, see below. The obvious one is to turn off mobile data roaming. This is the simplest way you can stop sneaky apps from using up your mobile data while you're abroad. You can do this on Android by going to Settings, Mobile data, Data roaming. In iOS, it's in settings, mobile, data roaming.

This is fairly extreme, though, and if you have purchased a data allowance from your carrier you shouldn't need to do this. Instead, you should make some small changes to make sure apps that can sometimes be a bit data-hungry can't download information unless you explicitly ask them to.

Android has a very useful feature for doing this - in Settings>Data usage, tap on the three dots on the top-right of the screen and  select "Restrict background data" (below). This means apps that you aren't currently using will not be allowed to use any data. Additionally, you'll want to make sure your apps don't automatically update while you're using mobile data. By default, your apps will only update when you're connected to a Wi-Fi network, but to confirm this, go to the Play Store app and ensure the Auto-update apps setting is set to Wi-Fi only.

Things are a little different on iOS (below). Under Settings>mobile, you get a list of every app on your phone, and you can individually disable an app from using mobile data. Some apps, if you tap on them, will also let you disable background refreshes.

However, there's no system-wide way of doing this so you'll need to decide which apps are most prone to using data without you knowing. Email and messaging apps are the most likely culprits, but any app that can generate notifications will likely be doing some background data usage. You can also stop apps from updating while you're not connected to Wi-Fi. Go to Settings>iTunes & App Store and switch off the "Use mobile data" option.

Consider moving away from traditional texts and calls and instead, use data-based messaging apps, such as Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp. If you can find a  Wi-Fi connection you won't be charged for these and so can keep in touch with anyone back home who also has a smartphone.

Borders and cruises

It's worth noting that if you're travelling on the border of a country, you may occasionally end up on another country's mobile operator and you could end up being charged significantly more than you would in the country you're actually in. To avoid this, you should turn off automatic mobile network switching and manually pick a network. On Android, you can find this under Settings, Mobile data, Network operators. In iOS From there, you can select the operator you were already using, and your phone shouldn't try to connect to another network even if it has a stronger signal.

If you're on a cruise, texts, calls and data at sea can be extraordinarily expensive as they are routed via the ship's satellite connection. Where possible, put your phone into Airplane mode while you're at sea (unless you're connecting to a Wi-Fi network) to ensure you don't rack up huge bills. Save your texts and calls for when the ship is docked.

Device theft

If your phone is stolen abroad, you may be liable for any charges the thief racks up on your phone before you report it to your mobile network. Even if you don’t use a lockscreen PIN or pattern in the UK, you should certainly set one up when travelling.

Just in case the worst does happen it’s crucial that you make a note of your mobile network's customer service number should you need to call from a payphone or hotel to tell them your phone's been stolen. It’s worth knowing what the local international direct dial code is as well.

Your network may have a cap on how much you can spend while roaming, so this should limit the damage, but it could still be a considerable cost that you hadn't budgeted for. Your phone insurance policy may also cover these charges, so you should check the wording to see if you're covered. Either way, though, you'll want to get it sorted as soon as possible.

Going native

You could also buy a local SIM to save yourself cash. If you're travelling outside of the EU and only want to use your phone for emergencies and for calling your travel companions, a local SIM with a small amount of credit is a good bet. Make sure you get the right SIM card size for your phone, and ensure your phone is quad-band compatible (supports 850/900/1800/1900 MHz frequencies).

The table at worldtimezone.com/gsm.html has a detailed list of network providers by country and also lists which frequencies they operate on. GSMArena.com has frequency information for nearly every phone in existence, so you can check where your phone will work.

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