Roaming charges after Brexit

Want the lowdown on data roaming? Here’s what you need to know following Britain’s withdrawal from the EU.

Want the lowdown on data roaming? Here’s what you need to know following Britain’s withdrawal from the EU.

Holly Niblett
From the Digital team
7
minute read
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Posted 7 JULY 2021

What is data roaming?

Data roaming is when you use your mobile phone abroad and in so doing, it uses mobile network data in that country. Every time you connect to the internet, to check your email, Facebook account or to use Google Maps for example, you’re using data.

While you’re abroad, it can be tempting to use data to upload your latest holiday pictures to social media, stream your favourite TV shows, or create a personal hotspot. But before you do any of this, there are a few things you should know and check, so you don’t end up with a large mobile bill.

How have data roaming charges changed since Brexit?

Since 1 January 2021, the guarantee of free roaming for UK mobile users in 47 destinations in the EU, plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, has ended. Now, instead of being able to ‘roam like you’re at home’ (use your minutes, text and data as if you’re in the UK) it’s up to the individual phone operators to decide what they’ll charge for cross-border calls and data usage. So, you’ll have to check with your phone operator to find out about any roaming charges you’ll face while travelling.

People coming back from holidays later this year could discover a much bigger mobile bill than they might have been expecting.

Travellers quickly got used to the fact that EU free roaming rules, which were introduced in 15 June 2017, banned mobile telecoms providers from levying additional roaming charges in the EU. But since the UK left the European Union, the EU’s free roaming rules no longer apply to us.

Fortunately, there are some new protections in place for UK mobile phone users going abroad. The UK Government has made it law that customers must be told when they have used up 80% and 100% of their data allowance. The Government has also introduced a ruling that stops you from being hit with more than £45 of mobile data charges, unless you actively opt to continue using data when abroad. Once you reach £45, you’ll have to ‘opt in’ to continue using the internet while you’re abroad.

Can I use my mobile in the EU?

Yes, you can use your mobile, it’s just that now you might have to pay for roaming.

Always check what your phone operator is likely to charge you, before you set off. Some providers offer additional data roaming as part of their contract deals – and not just for the EU. You may have to change or update your settings in the UK, before you travel.

Is free roaming likely to return?

No, not as a universal benefit. It’ll be up to individual mobile phone operators to decide what version of roaming they want to offer and whether they’ll allow free roaming or not.

What has the government said about roaming since Brexit?

The new trade deal contains measures to, in the Government’s words, “encourage cooperation on the promotion of fair and transparent rates for international mobile roaming”. But it doesn’t include anything that prevents mobile operators introducing new charges.

So what happens now when I want to use my mobile abroad?

There’s no longer a difference between using your mobile in the EU and in the rest of the world – you can be charged for roaming everywhere. However, different operators may have different rules for different regions and countries.

Roaming charges can be high when travelling, and you may want to talk to your provider, or check their website, to understand the best available deal for the places you're travelling to. Your provider may offer special add-ons, or plans with free roaming or roaming allowances built in, including some designed for frequent travellers. If you’re a frequent traveller to Europe, you may want to review your options post Brexit and see if the plan you’re on still suits you.

Your provider should send you a message notifying you of basic pricing information upon entry to another country.

What are the mobile networks doing about roaming?

So far, there hasn’t been much change to existing arrangements, although of the big four mobile network operators, EE has now broken ranks and announced that it will be introducing EU roaming charges for some customers from 2022. Some UK operators have deals with international operators while others are part of groups that operate across the EU.

If data roaming is important to you, then weigh up your options when deciding which provider to use long term. Otherwise, you need to consider what the best options are for each specific trip that you take abroad. Options can include buying a roaming add-on for your trip or upgrading your plan to one that includes roaming data as standard.

EE

EE has announced that it will reintroduce roaming charges for people who take out a pay monthly handset or SIM plan from 7 July onwards. The new roaming charges will kick in, in January 2022. Phone users will be charged £2 a day for using their minutes, texts and data in the 47 countries and territories included in EE’s European roaming zone. Visitors to the Republic of Ireland won’t have to pay the charges as long as they stay within their normal EE allowance.

There are a couple of ways to avoid the daily charges. If your plan includes EE’s Smart Benefits, you can choose the EE Roaming Pass as a Smart Benefit. Or you can add the Roaming Pass to your plan for £10 a month.

People who took out an EE plan before 7 July won’t be affected by the new charges. Those on pay monthly, pay as you go, and Flex plans can use their minutes, texts and data allowances across the EU in the same way they would at home.

O2

If you’re travelling within O2’s ‘Europe Zone’, you’ll be able to use your data, texts and even minutes in exactly the same way as you would in the UK. But you’ll need to stay within the fair use data cap of 25GB, which O2 introduced in June.

If you're travelling outside O2’s ‘Europe Zone’, the O2 Travel Inclusive Zone Bolt On allows you to go roaming in 75 locations at no additional cost, as long as you’re on certain SIM-only and O2 Refresh tariffs.

You get a daily allowance for texts and minutes, and the bolt-on also lets you data roam in 27 of its international ‘O2 Travel destinations’, including New Zealand, Australia and the USA.

If you’re not eligible, you can opt to pay a single, fixed daily rate for O2 Travel, which will give you as much data as you want. However, data speeds could vary.

Three

Three’s Go Roam service lets you use your call, text and data allowance in 71 destinations around the world, at no extra cost. If you’re on one of Three’s Essential Plans, calls and texts back to the UK and between Three’s ‘Go Roam in Europe’ destinations are included in your allowance. If you use a lot of data, its Data Passport offers unrestricted data (up to fair usage limits) for £5 a day (correct as of June 2021).

Vodafone

You can roam at no extra cost in 81 destinations worldwide on Vodafone’s Unlimited Max plan or Global Roaming Plus plans. Alternatively, you can use your data, minutes and texts in 51 European destinations, and add an extra 105 destinations at £6 a day (correct June 2021) with its Roam Further plan. Vodafone also offers 5G roaming in Italy, Ireland, Spain, and Germany – spanning 240 European towns and cities in total.

What about fair use policies for data roaming?

If a provider has a fair use policy, you may be charged more than usual. To avoid this, make sure you know what roaming product your provider offers before heading abroad. For example:

  • If you’re an EE pay monthly customer with a Max Plan or Roam Further Pass, the Fair Use policy of 15GB applies, for example, if you’re in the USA. That means you can use up to 15GB of data, and you’d be charged for anything over that.
  • The O2 Travel Inclusive Zone Bolt On lets you roam in 75 destinations at no additional cost. But if you’re using large amounts of data, you could find that your speed is throttled (slowed down). There’s a 25GB fair use data cap when using your phone in Europe.
  • Three’s fair use policy allows you to use 20GB of data in their ‘Go Roam in Europe’ destinations, or 12GB in a Go Roam ‘Around the World’ destination. However, it’s been reported by several news outlets that the 20GB limit for Europe will be reduced to 12GB from July 2021.
  • Vodafone claims to have more roaming destinations than any other network, on Unlimited Max. If you’re on an Unlimited plan, you can use up to 25GB of data per month when you’re abroad.

Make sure you follow any instructions from your mobile provider about how to switch on any roaming package correctly. If you’re close to reaching your data limit, your provider must send a notification informing you of the additional costs that will be applied if you continue to use data services. Many also offer ways to check how close to your limit you are – for example, by text.

How else can you avoid roaming charges when travelling abroad?

It might be worth considering buying a SIM for the country you’re visiting, rather than paying your mobile provider’s roaming charges.

Also, be careful in places close to the borders of your provider’s free-usage areas, to make sure you’re not using a provider just the other side of the border. The networks have been required to keep in place measures to help their customers avoid accidental roaming.

How will EU nationals travelling to the UK be affected?

How much EU nationals will now pay for calls, texts and mobile data in the UK will depend on their operator. EU nationals coming to the UK should check with their network provider, before travelling.

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