Which? reveals mobile roaming rip-offEU data roaming rules come in but pitfalls remain

19 July 2012

Despite new data roaming rules that have come into force across the EU this month to ensure capped charges, a Which? investigation has found that International costs outside the EU can still leave holiday-makers with terrible 'bill shock'.

The new rules within the EU cap charges at 68p (including VAT) per MB of data used. This will fall even further to 20p by July 2014. However, using your phone outside the EU is different - some mobile phone companies operate their own world-wide data caps to protect customers, but there are still pitfalls to be aware of.

New research from Which? looked at the cheapest and most expensive mobile networks for activities like watching YouTube videos, checking email and Facebook and normal web-browsing while overseas.

The cost of data roaming outside the EU

Our research reveals that holiday-makers could rack up charges even if their mobile never leaves their suitcase. We found that a mobile left idle with data roaming turned on could run up charges of £24 in a day in some countries, including Canada.

The cost of using one MB of data outside the EU ranges across mobile phone networks from £3 on TalkTalk to £10 on Three in some countries. While Three operates a world-wide data cap of £49, consumers should be aware that removing this cap would mean that, at this high rate, watching a three hour film would set you back more than £3,600.

Some network operators also offer ‘bolt-ons’ to help cut the cost of data usage abroad but you may be paying for far more than you need. O2 for example, offer 25MB of data for £1.99 a day. While this makes data cheaper this is enough to send around 750 emails, much more than most people would need.

Ways you can minimise mobile costs

Read our guide to using mobile phones abroad and find details about each provider. You should also follow our top five tips so you're not caught out by expensive chargers:

1) Turn off data-roaming found under your phone settings.
2) Get a local pay-as-you-go Sim card. This means you will be charged local rates for data downloads and local calls and texts.
3) Use wi-fi hotspots - Wi-fi is often available for free in hotels, restaurants or cafes. This will also enable you to use free messaging services.
4) Know your tariff - Sending a picture message on some networks is cheaper than sending a standard text message.
5) Query charges – It is always worth querying an unexpected charge from your mobile phone provider upon your return, as it could be a genuine mistake.  

Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said:

“Using your mobile overseas can be hugely expensive but there are things consumers can do to keep costs down, like using wi-fi where available and turning off data-roaming.  But we also want to see phone companies doing everything they can to make consumers aware of exactly how much data they’re using and the costs.”

More on this...

  • Take our advice on using international sim-cards
  • See the costs of using your mobile phone abroad
  • Read our tips on making cheap international calls