It was perhaps inevitable, but one of the side effects of Brexit is that European roaming charges are now returning for at least one network, with some others reducing their fair use limits.
That means when you travel to European countries you may soon either have to pay to use your phone’s data allowance, or start paying for data once you hit a certain cap, which either didn’t exist before or was previously higher.
The exact terms vary from network to network, and we don’t have all the details yet, but you’ll find what we do know below. It’s worth checking back here soon as well, because we’ll update this article as soon as we learn more.
What are roaming charges?
Roaming charges refer to an extra cost you pay on top of your standard phone contract minutes, SMS and data allowance when using your phone abroad. Holidaymakers racking up thousands of pounds in bills used to be a regular feature of news headlines.
Since 2017, the EU’s ‘Roam Like at Home’ initiative banned mobile networks from charging for roaming within member states. This applied equally to Brits abroad and EU citizens in the UK.
Brexit has now changed that, and citizens of the UK are no longer covered by ‘Roam Like at Home’ by default.
Roaming on EE
Roaming across Europe (other than Ireland) on EE will soon get a lot more expensive, as the company has announced that from January 1, 2022 it will charge £2 per day to access your usual allowance of minutes, texts and data when roaming in 47 European destinations.
That’s a big change from the free roaming that’s currently offered, but it will only apply to new and upgrading customers who take out an EE plan from July 7, 2021. So if you’re a current customer then you can potentially delay getting these charges if you don’t change your plan after that date.
Another way to avoid these charges is with a 30-day Roam Abroad Pass, which you’ll be able to select as a perk on Smart and Full Works plans. These are premium plans and the perks you get don’t cost extra, but choosing this would presumably mean you won’t be able to take one of the other optional benefits.
If you’re not on one of these pricey plans then you can also pay £10 for a 30-day Roam Abroad Pass. So if you’re planning to roam for more than five days in a given month then that could be a cheaper option.
There are seemingly no caps here, meaning you can presumably use up to unlimited data (if you have an unlimited data plan) for that £2 per day, or with the Roam Abroad Pass.
Still, this is more expensive for most customers than the approaches Three and O2 are taking (more on which below), and it’s especially disappointing given that just last year EE claimed no changes were coming, saying: “Our customers enjoy inclusive roaming in Europe and beyond, and we don’t have any plans to change this based on the Brexit outcome. So our customers going on holiday and travelling in the EU will continue to enjoy inclusive roaming.”
Kester Mann, Director at CCS Insight and mobile industry analyst, told TechRadar, “Roaming is a poisonous term for consumers after travellers were hit by exorbitant prices for years.
“But this is also a far cry from the bad old days. EE’s £2 per day charge represents a fraction of the cost of an EU holiday.”
These changes apply to roaming in Austria, Azores, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Canary Islands, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, French Guiana, Guyana, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Guadeloupe, Guernsey, Hungary, Iceland, Isle of Man, Italy, Jersey, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madeira, Malta, Martinique, Mayotte, Monaco, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal (including Madeira), Reunion Islands, Romania, San Marino, Saint Martin, Saint Barthelemy, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain (including Canary Islands), Sweden, Switzerland and Vatican City.
Roaming on O2
From August 2, 2021, O2 will start applying a 25GB cap to European roaming allowances, meaning that if you have a data allowance of over 25GB, you’ll only be able to use up to 25GB per month for roaming in Europe at no extra cost.
Obviously if your domestic data allowance is less than 25GB then you can use your full allowance. If you go over your roaming allowance then you’ll be charged £3.50 per gigabyte.
It’s worth noting that customers on unlimited data plans already have this restriction, and that according to O2, fewer than 1% of the company’s pay monthly customers get close to using 25GB of data when roaming anyway.
So this is unlikely to affect many people, but it does mean that if you are a heavy data user in Europe then things could get quite expensive – though O2 will text you when you approach your limit and again when you reach it, so there shouldn’t be any surprises.
These changes apply to roaming in O2’s ‘Europe Zone’, meaning Austria, Azores, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canary Islands, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, French Guiana, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Guadeloupe, Guernsey, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Isle of Man, Italy, Jersey, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madeira, Malta, Martinique, Mayotte, Monaco, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Reunion, Romania, Saint Barthelemy, Saint Martin, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Vatican City.
There’s currently no limit to how many minutes or texts you can use while roaming in these places (within your UK allowance) and that will presumably remain the case after these changes, as O2 hasn’t said otherwise.
Roaming on Three
From July 1 of this year (2021) Three will impose a 12GB data cap when roaming in the EU, where currently there’s a 20GB cap. This change brings the cap in line with its ‘Go Roam Around the World’ locations – those countries outside Europe where Three also allows free roaming.
There’s no change to the surcharge, meaning that if you use more than 12GB (or more than your domestic data allowance if that’s lower) you’ll be charged 0.3p per megabyte, or £3 per gigabyte.
Three has only talked about data here, so presumably you’ll still be able to use as many minutes and texts as you want (within your normal allowance).
The destinations affected by these changes on Three are Aland Islands, Austria, Azores, Balearic Islands, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canary Islands, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, French Guiana, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Guadeloupe, Guernsey, Hungary, Iceland, Isle of Man, Italy, Jersey, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madeira, Malta, Martinique, Mayotte, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Ireland, Romania, Réunion, Saint Barthélemy and Saint Martin, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Vatican City.
Roaming on Vodafone
A Vodafone UK spokesperson has told TechRadar that: “We have no current plans to change our approach to roaming in the EU,” which is in line with its comments back in 2020.
This could make it the outlier in terms of the UK’s main networks. That said, it was already one of the more restrictive networks on that front, as there’s a 25GB fair usage limit applied when roaming with any plan of 25GB or more.
So for the time being that will continue in the network’s 51 included European roaming locations, and there’s no limit to the amount of minutes or texts you can use (within your standard allowance).
Of course, Vodafone’s comment does leave the possibility of future changes open, it’s just not changing yet.
Roaming on other networks
Many smaller UK networks have yet to reveal plans, but we’ve asked each for an update. Tesco Mobile has confirmed to TechRadar it has “no current plans to reintroduce EU roaming charges”.
EE has confirmed to TechRadar that BT Mobile and other MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators) that use EE’s infrastructure, such as Plusnet Mobile, have not announced what if any changes there will be to their roaming terms.
The UK’s other mobile networks, such as Giffgaff and Sky Mobile, are also yet to comment on how the roaming situation will change, but we’d expect in most cases it will.
Notably, EE is run by BT, which also owns Plusnet Mobile, so don’t be surprised if BT Mobile and Plusnet Mobile see similar changes to EE.
Likewise, VOXI and Talkmobile are owned by Vodafone, and Smarty Mobile is owned by Three.
How else can you avoid roaming charges when abroad?
The good news is that these days you can travel without having to rely on your phone signal alone. Wi-Fi hotspots are fast, reliable and everywhere. And they’re easy to find thanks to WiFi Map.
Just make sure you turn roaming off in your settings. Not making calls or using the internet isn’t enough – as your phone could still be using data in the background.
If you need a mobile connection that’s… you know, mobile and not tethered to a particular place, you can buy local SIM cards in some countries. But your phone will have to be unlocked and you might still pay extra to call the UK.
Long term, you could think about switching networks. Three’s ‘Go Roam’ scheme is one of the best for globetrotters, winning U-Switch’s Best Network for International Roaming 2020. Remember that there is that new 12GB restriction, though.
While its Advanced contract offers the same deal in up to 71 destinations – including the EU, US and Hong Kong – for around £3 or £4 more a month.