Data-roaming charges will be scrapped in the European Union in June, but what happens before then, and after we leave the EU? We outline the current offerings of each UK mobile network when used outside the UK, plus our top 10 tips on avoiding data roaming charges. Also see: Best tech to take on holiday and MiFi buying guide.

What is roaming?

Roaming is the word used to describe using your mobile phone on another network for a short period, while still being billed by your existing provider. Your mobile phone number remains the same while roaming. When you are roaming on another network the temporary mobile phone company will bill your usual mobile phone company for calls you make while roaming on their network.

How does Brexit affect roaming charges?

Until the UK leaves the EU Britain will benefit from the new changes coming in that we've outlined below. However, when Brexit is complete you could see your international phone bill rise.

The EU flat rate charges will no longer apply once Brexit is complete.

The changes due in June 2017 are contained within a European regulation, not a directive, so it will be up to the UK government to decide whether or not to adopt the EU price restrictions.

Changes to roaming charges in the EU

You can read the full announcement here, but in essence these will be the capped prices when roaming within the EU as of 15 June:

  • 3.2 cents per minute of voice call
  • 1 cent per text message
  • A step by step reduction over five years for data caps decreasing from €7.7 per GB (as of 15 June 2017) to €6 per GB (as of 1 January 2018), €4.5 per GB (as of 1 January 2019), €3.5 per GB (as of 1 January 2020), €3 per GB (as of 1 January 2021) and €2.5 per GB (as of 1 January 2022).

Bear in mind that, while the new rules are being touted as "roam-like-you're-at-home" it doesn't mean that data, calls and text will come out of your monthly allowance while you're abroad in the EU. Depending on your plan, you could be charged for using data, making phone calls and sending texts up to the maximum price caps. So it's worth checking with your provider if you're not sure.

In March 2017 Chancellor Philip Hammond delivered the Budget. One of many things changed will be a 20% tax paid by consumers for roaming charges. The change is set to see those who roam outside the EU slapped with a 20% VAT charge. It's one of the few instances where VAT would be charged to UK consumers for purchases technically made outside of the EU.

The incoming roaming charges ban is preceded by a 14-month interim period, in which telecoms operators can still add reduced surcharges. Between April 2016 and June 2017, mobile operators can add a surcharge of no more than:

  • 3.5p (€0.05) extra per minute for calls
  • €0.02 extra per SMS sent
  • €0.05 extra per MB of data used

The cap should make EU roaming data 75 percent cheaper during this interim period. Calls charges are cut by around the same. Texting charges are reduced by two thirds.

Making a phone call in Europe once would have cost about 16.5p just to get connected, but now the price is just 4p. Data downloads - previously a maximum of 17.4p - also now cost 4p.

What the UK mobile operators are doing

Three Mobile

3 (Three) roaming charges really do depend on which country you’re travelling to. France and the USA, for example, are Feel At Home destinations, which means you can use your device there at no extra cost.

Calls and texts back to the UK and using data will come out of your existing Pay Monthly allowance, if you have one. If you've gone over your allowance, you'll pay special lower roaming rates.

In the USA that’s 3.3p per MB (up to a £39 cap).

3’s Feel At Home destinations include: Australia; Austria; Belgium, Bulgaria, Channel Islands, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark; Estonia, Finland; France; Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Hong Kong; Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia; Israel; Italy; Macau; New Zealand; Norway; Ireland; Spain; Sri Lanka; Sweden; Switzerland; and the USA. (Note that this is not an exhaustive list.)

If you've gone over or don't have an allowance calling a UK number from the one of these destinations costs 3.3p/minute. Sending a text costs 1.3p but receiving is free.

With 3’s Euro Internet Pass Add-on you can get all-you-can-eat data for £5 a day. The Euro Internet Pass was designed for browsing, so streaming video or audio content and connecting over a Virtual Private Network (VPN) won't be as good as it is on 3’s UK network.

Also, using your phone as a Personal Hotspot, calls and texts aren't included. Euro Internet Pass is only available if you've got a Pay Monthly contract and you can only use it in certain countries.

3 (Three) phone roaming charges detailed here.

O2

O2 currently charges 4p per MB within the EU, and £6 per MB outside the EU. Within the EU mobile calls cost 4p/minute to make and are free to receive.

Before travelling to Europe it's best to opt in to O2 Travel on your Pay & Go account, you can check this by calling customer services on 4445.

For the days that you use data in Europe, you will be charged £1.99 for a daily allowance of 100MB, which will automatically end at midnight UK time or stop when you reach your 100MB allowance (whichever comes first).

To use more data, you can text MORETRAVEL to 21300 to reset your allowance for another £1.99 / 100MB. If you don't have Pay & Go O2 Travel on your account text TRAVELON to 21300 to activate; it can take up to 24hrs to be applied to your account.

To opt out of O2 Travel text TRAVELOFF to 21300, you will then be charged O2’s standard roaming rates. This can take up to 24hrs to be applied to your account.

Making calls in the US to UK landlines costs 99p/min, and receiving calls 99p/min. Sending texts is 49p per message. Data usage is £6 per MB. 

O2 phone roaming charges detailed here.

Vodafone

Vodafone has announced Roam-free, which from 11 June 2017 will allow customers of new and upgraded contracts (initially) to use their data, minutes and texts in 40 foreign countries at no extra cost. Roam-further is available for 60 extra destinations not included in this list, and costs just £5 per day.

In the meantime, Vodafone EuroTraveller lets you take your UK minutes, texts and data with you anywhere in its Europe Zone for £3 extra a day. To opt in call 5555 free from your Vodafone mobile or text ADD to 40506 (if you text from abroad, Vodafone will just charge you for a standard text).

You’re automatically opted into a monthly spend limit of £42.50 (ex VAT) both in its Europe Zone and Rest of World Zone. Outside of Europe  with the Vodafone WorldTraveller you can take your UK minutes, texts and data with you anywhere in its WorldTraveller Zone for £5 extra a day. To opt in, call 5555 free from your Vodafone mobile or text ADD to 40508.

Be warned: a smartphone can eat 25MB of data pretty quickly.

Making calls in the US to UK costs £1.35/min, and receiving calls £1/min. Sending texts is 49p per message.

Vodafone phone roaming charges detailed here.

EE

It's a little more complicated with EE. If you're on a 4GEE or T-Mobile plan you can't use your data abroad unless you buy an add-on or Booster. If you try to use the internet on your EE phone or tablet when you're abroad, you're directed to a screen where you can buy roaming data add-ons.

With EE you have to buy a roaming add-on before you can use the internet while you're away. It has recently simplified these: you either get a Travel Data Pass or a Euro Pass.

These give you 500MB for a fixed daily price of £3 in Europe, £4 in USA and Canada and £5 in nine other countries. Also, you can opt for a £1 Euro Data Pass which gives you 50MB per day if you're on an EE Regular Plan, Extra Plan, 4GEE Essential Plan or Sharer Plan. Basically, you need to check what's available on your plan before you travel.

(Included EU countries are: Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Faroe Islands,'French Guyana, , Finland, France, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Guadeloupe, Guernsey, Hungary, Ireland, Iceland, Italy, Isle of Man, Jersey, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Martinique, Monaco, Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Poland, Portugal, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.)

EE phone roaming charges detailed here.

Click next page for our top tips on avoiding data-roaming charges >>