Using mobile phones abroad Using your mobile when abroad

If you're using your mobile phone abroad (roaming), you have to pay to make and receive international mobile calls.

This is because your UK network has to pay a foreign mobile network to direct calls to your mobile phone.

This cost is passed on to you rather than the person making the mobile call, so charges can be steep and vary wildly, depending on which country you're roaming in, your mobile tariff and your mobile network. But there are ways to make cheap international mobile calls.

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The cost of using your mobile abroad

Making mobile calls abroad Costs for making calls abroad can be high

Making international mobile calls from pay-as-you-go mobile phones may be more expensive than it is on pay-monthly mobile contracts. On some mobile networks, £10 pay-as-you-go mobile credit will give you less than 10 minutes' international call time.

Even sending text messages from abroad is pricey. Sending a text that would cost you 10p within in the UK could set you back six times as much overseas.

Be wary of surfing the internet on your mobile ('data roaming'), too. If you think mobile internet is expensive within the UK, you might get a shock when you're abroad. Some networks charge up to £10/MB of data - roughly what you'd need to watch a 30 second YouTube clip.

Be warned that mobile roaming calls, texts and internet use are almost never included in any 'free' minutes you might have with your mobile tariff bundles, though some networks allow you to use inclusive minutes from your domestic tariff for a one-off connection charge.

Lower costs in Europe

Calls and texts are cheaper in the EU than in the rest of the world because of regulations brought in by the European Commission.

The latest caps, introduced in July 2012, ensure that companies can not charge more than 24p per minute, down from 30p, for making a call in Europe. Text charges have dropped to 7p from 10p.

Texting in EU Thanks to European regulation text prices between EU countries are capped

Data costs have also been capped so that consumers roaming in the EU can't be charged more than 56p (+VAT) per MB of data. Customers will be cut off from the internet if their bill reaches a 50 Euro (£40) spending limit, in a bid to help prevent bill shock when you get home. And EU service providers must also send you a text alert when you approach the same spending cap roaming outside the EU, though you won't be cut off if you decide to continue.

Further price cuts (for calls, texts and data) will be introduced in 2013 and 2014.

Planning ahead for using a mobile abroad

Once abroad, mobile calls to customer services can cost £2 a minute, so sorting any issues out before you go will save you hassle and money.

Before leaving ask your provider:

  • What it charges for mobile usage in the country you're visiting
  • Whether you can use your mobile in that country
  • Whether it has to activate your mobile phone for use abroad
  • What the network coverage is like in the country you're visiting
  • Whether you need to set up a new access code to access your voicemail

Mobile phone frequencies

Phones can be dual, tri or quad-band and this will dictate which frequencies it works on. All phones sold in the UK will be at least dual-band, which means that they can be used throughout Europe. You will need a tri-band phone for North and South America and some areas may need a quad-band device. For South Korea and Japan you'll need a 3G enabled phone.

If your current phone is not compatible with where you're going, it's possible to hire a mobile handset from your provider or via a third party. Most new mobile phones are tri-band, but you can check how many frequency bands a handset supports in the specifications part of our mobile phone reviews.

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