Mobile and data roaming: how to use your phone abroad for less

Whether you want to message family and friends back home, upload holiday snaps to Instagram or browse the web for places to go, you’ll be data roaming. But how do you keep costs down while abroad to avoid racking up an eye-watering phone bill?

Whether you want to message family and friends back home, upload holiday snaps to Instagram or browse the web for places to go, you’ll be data roaming. But how do you keep costs down while abroad to avoid racking up an eye-watering phone bill?

Written by
Sajni Shah
Consumer expert on utilities and money
14 JANUARY 2021
4 min read
Share article

Using your mobile phone in Europe

Thankfully, gone are the days of huge phone-bill shocks at the end of your holiday to Europe. Since new EU rules were introduced in 2017, you’ve been able to ‘roam like at home’. That means you’re no longer charged extra to use your UK allowance of minutes, texts or data when travelling in the EU and other European countries.

Inclusive roaming currently applies if you’re travelling to any of the 27 EU countries, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. If you’re visiting another European country, such as Switzerland or Turkey, it’s best to check with your network provider before you go to see if they’re included on the free roaming list.

Due to Brexit, EU roaming costs could be reinstated for UK travellers – although the major network providers have said they have no plans to do this. Whatever happens, there will still be a mobile roaming data cap of £45 a month. You’ll get alerts when you’ve used 80% and 100% of your data allowance, to prevent you overspending accidentally.

Using your mobile phone in the USA and outside Europe

If your globe-trotting takes you further afield than Europe, be aware that roaming charges can be very high. Unless specified in your phone plan, you’ll be charged for calls, texts and data.

You can enjoy free international data in certain countries with some providers, but then be charged sky-high prices in others. When using your mobile in the USA, for example, some providers will let you use your usual allowance, but others will charge you extra. All in all, it can be pretty confusing, so it’s important to be clear on what’s included in your plan before you travel to avoid getting caught out.

Which is the best SIM for roaming?

Roaming SIM policies vary between mobile networks. Here’s how the big four compare.

Provider Roaming deals
Three With Three’s Go Roam scheme you can benefit from inclusive roaming in 71 destinations, including the USA, Australia, Hong Kong and Indonesia. It doesn’t include Canada or Thailand, though. Go Roam is offered as standard with all Three plans including pay monthly, SIM-only and pay as you go, although older Essential plans are excluded.

Vodafone’s roaming deals are split between four zones:

  • Zone A - Ireland and Isle of Man
  • Zone B - 49 European destinations
  • Zone C - 32 worldwide destinations
  • Zone D - 73 worldwide destinations

Depending on your plan, roaming may be included or cost up to an extra £6 a day.

O2 If you’re travelling within O2’s Europe Zone, your minutes, texts and data will work as they do at home. For travel outside the Europe Zone the O2 Travel Inclusive Zone Bolt on, included in some 02 Refresh and SIM-only tariffs, allows roaming in 75 destinations at no extra cost. If you’re not eligible, you can pay a single, fixed daily rate for O2 Travel.
EE All EE pay monthly and pay-as-you-go customers can enjoy inclusive roaming in the EU. If you’re on a Max plan, you’ll get free roaming in 53 locations worldwide, including the USA, Canada, Australia and Mexico. Alternatively, a Travel Data Pass gives you a data allowance for a fixed daily fee depending on where you’re travelling to.

Five hacks for using your mobile abroad for less

Calls, texts and data use in countries that aren’t included in your network’s roaming scheme won’t be charged the same as the UK. Here are our top five tips to help stop an expensive phone bill from spoiling your holiday memories.

  1. Make use of free WiFi in your accommodation or public areas and use WhatsApp and Skype for internet calls and messages instead of spending money on texts and voice calls.
  2. Buy a world SIM or a local SIM from the place you’re visiting if you’re travelling somewhere not covered by your network’s roaming scheme or add-ons. Your phone will need to be unlocked to use a different SIM, but it’s a good way of keeping down the cost of international calls and messages.
  3. Download any must-have tunes, films and games before you set off on your trip. You can also download and store Google Maps for offline use. Planning ahead means you won’t waste data while you’re abroad.
  4. Before travelling, make sure your data limit is set at a capped monthly amount so you won’t overspend. If you need to increase your data allowance, talk to your network provider.
  5. Your phone will usually try to connect to the nearest signal, which can burn through your data without you realising if you have automatic updates turned on. Turn off notifications, close background apps and disable power-hungry apps – or even turn off roaming altogether just to be on the safe side.

Compare now

Compare new mobile deals in seconds to see if you can save

Find deals

Sajni Shah - Consumer expert on utilities and money

Sajni is passionate about building products, allowing Compare the Market to help you make great financial decisions. She keeps track of the latest trends and evolving markets to find new ways to help you save money.

Learn more about Sajni

Find mobile phone deals and you could start saving Compare mobile deals now