Which UK phone networks charge extra to use your phone in Europe?

Sep 14, 2021

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Have you ever experienced “bill shock” after returning from a relaxing holiday to unexpected roaming charges? Most likely.

Do you use your phone as you do at home when you travel internationally? Probably not. But you should be able to do this.

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We all rely on free Wi-Fi while travelling but miss important calls and use less data, as it can cost a lot. But by travelling smarter, you can use your phone when abroad without worrying too much about roaming charges. What is also important is getting the same quality of service when travelling in terms of data speeds, connection and, of course, controlling the costs.

While you may have had a very convenient experience using your data across Europe with no issues before the pandemic, Brexit is slowly changing this as some networks tighten their policies.

(Photo by AleksandarNakic/Getty Images)
(Photo by AleksandarNakic/Getty Images)

Read on below for our roaming hacks which could save you time and money. When working out what the best mobile network is for roaming, we need to distinguish between European roaming and global roaming and also consider the effects of Brexit on using phones when travelling. 

Using your phone in Europe

In 2017, new “Roam Like at Home” rules were automatically put into place that slashed the cost of using your mobile in most of Europe. This meant you won’t be charged extra to use your U.K. allowance of minutes, texts or data when in the EU. If you are glued to your phone and exceed your allowance (or if you’re a pay-as-you-go user), you just pay what you would as if you were in the U.K. Seems fair, right?

However, Brexit has changed this and some U.K. networks are now placing limits on this usage or removing the benefit completely for new customers.

If your network carrier offers this inclusive roaming, it should apply to all 28 EU countries, including Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. For the other European countries (including Switzerland) you may not be charged extra but always check with your network before you travel.

What kind of calls are covered?

If your network offers inclusive roaming, calls to EU numbers (landline and mobile) when you are roaming are included — so calls when on holiday to book a table at a popular local restaurant or finding a hotel to stay on holiday longer are all included in your roaming allowance.

Related: Best ways to travel without knowing the local language

Which networks no longer offer inclusive roaming in Europe?

Vodafone, EE and Three have all announced they will reintroduce mobile roaming charges as follows:

  • Vodafone will charge £2 per day for roaming in Europe, £8 for an eight-day bundle and £15 for a 15-day bundle for new customers from January 2022.
  • EE will charge £2 per day for roaming in Europe, £8 for an eight-day bundle and £15 for a 15-day bundle for new customers from January 2022.
  • Three will charge £2 per day inside the EU and £5 outside the EU to enjoy free roaming for new customers (joining after 1 October 2021) from 23 May 2022. Pay-as-you-go customers are not affected and can continue to roam freely at no extra cost.

What is the best network for European roaming?

(image by martin-dm/Google Images)
(image by martin-dm/Google Images)

O2 is the only major U.K. network provider that has not announced any plans to charge their customers to use their phones in Europe. If you are a new customer, and this is important to you, consider O2 — though they may eventually join Vodafone, EE and Three and start charging for roaming at a later date.

A 25GB fair usage monthly limit applies when you use your O2 phone in Europe. A charge of £3.50 per GB applies beyond that 25GB limit.

Global roaming  

Roaming outside Europe is a bit confusing. Things are a lot more confusing when roaming outside the EU with some providers offering inclusive roaming in certain destinations but charging extortionate prices in other countries.

If you are smart and choose your network carefully, you can enjoy inclusive roaming in destinations much farther afield, too.  

Here is a comparison table to work out exactly where you stand.  

Related: The ultimate guide to travel insurance

Provider Network roaming scheme PAYG / pay monthly customers Cost Number of destinations included  Non-inclusive standard rates 
Vodafone Vodafone Roam Free Both Free 51 Making calls: 60p per minute

Receiving calls: 32p per minute

Sending a text: 8p

Data: 12p per MB

Vodafone Vodafone Roam Further Pay monthly only £6 per day 105 Making calls: 60p per minute

Receiving calls: 32p per minute

Sending a text: 8p

Data: 12p per MB

O2 O2 Travel Bolt On Pay monthly only £4.99 per day 48 Making calls: £2

Receiving calls: £2

Sending a text: 50p

Data: £7.20 per MB (capped at 50 MB per month)

EE Go Further Roaming Pass Pay monthly only £10 per month or a swappable benefit if you have a Smart plan 5 (Australia, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand and the United States) Making calls: £1.80

Receiving calls: £1.80

Sending a text: 60p

Data: Available with add on only. £10 for 10 MB per day

EE Travel Data Pass Pay monthly only Up to 500 MB from £4.80 to £6 per day, depending on the destination 51 Making calls: £1.80

Receiving calls: £1.80

Sending a text: 60p

Data: Available with add on only. £10 for 10 MB per day

Three Go Roam Around The World Available on all plans except Essential Plan Free 71 (28 European destinations and 43 non-European destinations Making calls: £1.40 per minute

Receiving calls: £1.40

Sending a text: 2p per text

Data: 1p per MB up to £45 data limit


TPG UK’s top hacks for using your phone outside Europe

Use Wi-Fi: The safest way to avoid extra charges is to use Wi-Fi for the internet, emails and also calls. There are many internet-to-phone calling apps such as Skype, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Apple’s FaceTime.

Download before travelling: Download your favourite music and films at home before you go. Also, did you know that on Google Maps, you can download and store maps for offline use? Just search the area you want to save so you won’t need to use data for the GPS function. This means you can navigate around the place you’re visiting without paying roaming charges.

If in doubt, turn data off: Our phones will usually try to connect automatically to the nearest signal and this can be dangerous — so if in doubt, just turn your mobile data off. Be especially wary if you are on a plane or a cruise as different data rules apply here and charges can be extortionate.

Unlock your phone and buy a local SIM card: Unlocking your phone opens up a world of possibilities as you are able to insert any SIM card into it. For example, if you are travelling somewhere not covered by your network’s roaming scheme, take an unlocked phone and buy a local SIM card. Try and do some research before you travel to work out what SIM card to buy and try not to buy the SIM card at the airport when you land as they can often be more expensive. To unlock your phone, talk to your network.

Set data limits: Before travelling, make sure that you check your data limit it is set at a capped monthly amount so you don’t go over budget. If you need to increase your data budget, then speak to your network.

Be secure: If you plan on using the internet a lot overseas then make sure you take the precaution of updating your mobile device with antivirus and apply any security patches.

Lock passcodes and back up your phone: If your mobile uses a passcode then it should be locked before you travel just in case it goes missing. Back up your phone before you leave just in case anything happens.

Bottom line

(Image by martin-dm/Getty Images)
(Image by martin-dm/Getty Images)

Your phone is a really precious travel companion as it can be your lifeline, navigator, currency converter, personal translator and much more. So always take a little time to prepare and plan how you will use your phone before you travel.

Unfortunately, it’s not as easy or cheap to use your phone in Europe as it used to be. If you’re an existing customer you may well be able to continue roaming for free, though for new customers U.K. network providers are much less generous than before Brexit.

Additional reporting by Ben Smithson

Featured photo by Imgorthand/Getty Images 

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