Using your phone abroad: Top tips for mobile network roaming

Mar 1, 2020

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Have you ever experienced “bill shock” after receiving unexpected roaming charges and stressing out after a relaxing holiday? 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. We all rely on free WiFi 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.

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(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 means 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. Fair right?

Where exactly in Europe?

This inclusive roaming applies 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?

A lot of people don’t know that calls to EU numbers (landline and mobile) when you are roaming are also included so calls when on holiday to book that popular local restaurant or finding a hotel to stay on holiday longer are all included in your roaming allowance.

Read more: Best ways to travel without knowing the local language

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

What about Brexit?

It may not be as bad as you think. The official line from is that from 1 January 2021, the guarantee of free mobile phone roaming throughout the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway will end. But after the transition period, it will be down to individual providers to decide whether or not they set charges, according to Gov.uk.

The big four networks (Vodafone, O2, EE and Three) have all said that they have no plans to change the current beneficial roaming arrangements and are committed to removing excessive roaming charges. Keep an eye on this as their positions may be subject to change in future.

Gov.uk has also stated that there will be new legislation from January 2021 that will cap roaming fees at £45 for each billing period so if you want to spend more you have to actually manually opt in with your network which will help remove “bill shock” in the future.

What is the best network for European roaming?

Whilst European roaming is free (for now), below are some interesting things we found that gives each network a different edge when using your phone in the U.K. or Europe.

Vodafone

Vodafone became the first U.K. mobile network to offer 5G roaming in Spain, Germany and Italy — reaching 47 European towns and cities in total, including Milan, Rome, Naples, Madrid, Barcelona, Malaga, Berlin, Hamburg, Munich and Hamburg. To benefit from this, you will need to be on a 5G plan and have a 5G capable phone.

O2

O2 has “Priority” which is exclusive to O2 customers with offers from high-street brands, tickets and experiences. Our favourite part of Priority is access to early bird tickets to gigs and events across the U.K. before they go on general sale.

EE

EE announced this month it is now offering all customers a six-month subscription to BritBox. The recently released streaming service offers the biggest collection of British boxsets like Top Gear, Downton Abbey and Gavin and Stacey. There are also many boxsets including Cold Feet, Classic Doctor Who, Shetland and Broadchurch unavailable on-demand anywhere else.

Three

Three has always said that roaming is part of its DNA. For pay monthly customers, there are free travel upgrades with any EasyJet U.K. outbound flight. Drop your cabin bag at the EasyJet Plus Bag Drop and EasyJet will do the rest. You’ll even get your bags first off the carousel on the other side.

Global roaming  

Roaming outside Europe is a bit of an animal. 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 further afield too.  

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

Read more: 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 PAYG: 48

Monthly: 77

Making calls: £1.20

Receiving calls: 72p

Sending a text: 30p

Sending a picture message: 66p

Data: 60p per MB

Vodafone Vodafone Roam Further Pay Monthly only £6 per day 104 Making calls: £1.20

Receiving calls: 72p

Sending a text: 30p

Data: 60p per MB

O2 O2 Travel Bolt On Pay Monthly only £4.99 per day 27 Making calls: £2

Receiving calls: £2

Sending a text: 50p

Data: £7.20 per MB

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/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: £2

Receiving calls: £1.25

Sending a text: 35p

Data: £6 per MB

 

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

TPG U.K.’s top 7 hacks for using your phone outside Europe

Use WiFi: The safest way to avoid extra charges is to use WiFi for the internet, emails and also calls. There are many internet-to-phone calling apps like Skype, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Apple’s FaceTime which all use data only.

Download before travelling: Download your favourite tunes 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 as data isn’t required for the GPS function on a smartphone. 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

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. Those few minutes spent working out the best roaming option for you will ensure you maximise your travel where ever you go.

Featured photo by Imgorthand/Getty Images 

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