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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
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Using your mobile phone in Europe

Before Brexit, you were able to ‘roam like at home’, meaning you weren't charged extra for using your UK allowance of minutes, texts or data when travelling in the EU and other European countries. However, since Brexit, many providers have re-introduced roaming fees in Europe, including EE, Vodafone and Three. 'Fair use' mobile roaming data caps were introduced to prevent people from racking up significantly more expensive phone bills, but these vary between providers.

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

With Three’s Go Roam scheme you can benefit from inclusive roaming in up to 71 destinations, including the USA, Australia, Hong Kong and Indonesia. It doesn’t include Canada or Thailand, though. Three offer two tiers of data roaming package, Go Roam in Europe and Go Roam Around the World.


Vodafone’s roaming deals are split between four zones:

  • Zone A - Ireland, Isle of Man, Iceland and Norway
  • Zone B - 47 European destinations
  • Zone C - 32 worldwide destinations
  • Zone D - 73 worldwide destinations

Depending on your plan, roaming may be included or at an additional charge.


O2 are the only major UK network that haven't re-introduced EU roaming charges. You're free to call, text and use data as you would in the UK, up to 25GB usage. This is across their 'Europe Zone', which is made up of more than 40 destinations.


With EE, you can either pay a daily charge for using your call minutes, texts and data abroad, or add their 'Roam Abroad' package to your phone plan for a fixed monthly fee. If you're going away for a longer period, the monthly fee offers a significant saving and can be cancelled at any time.

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. Just remember that a local SIM may make it cheaper for the country you're visiting, but calls etc. to people back home could be more expensive.
  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.

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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.

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