Using your mobile phone on holiday can be expensive, and with many providers now removing the provision for free roaming in the EU, it's important to know how much you'll be paying when you travel abroad.
You should still be particularly cautious if you're travelling outside the EU, where prices can differ more dramatically.
We lay out your options so you can work out how much you'll be paying, and which mobile phone networks and best and worst for roaming.
An EU regulation introduced on 15 June 2017 stated that 'Consumers will be able to use their mobile devices when travelling in the EU, paying the same prices as at home, ie to "Roam like at Home"'.
Essentially this meant that you could use your mobile phone in the EU as you would in the UK, using your bundled minutes, messages and data at no extra cost.
However, post-Brexit, mobile networks were not compelled to follow EU regulations so free roaming has been affected.
EE was the first mobile network to announce that roaming within the EU will no longer be included by default in your monthly bundle. Since then, Vodafone and Three have announced they will also reintroduce roaming charges. These changes affect new customers and those who upgraded in 2021 – see the table below for more details. Roaming is now charged at £1-2 per day in the EU and there is a fair usage policy on data charges.
In contrast, O2 and Virgin Mobile announced that they will not be introducing new post-Brexit fees for roaming this year, though it does similarly have a fair usage data policy.
Whether you're with one of these mobile networks or a different one, it's always worth checking your mobile provider website before travelling to see if EU roaming is included in your bundle, and how much it will cost if you're travelling further afield.
In the table below we outline the cost of roaming for each of the 'big four' mobile network providers.
|Surcharge||Data fair usage policy (FUP)||Charges for data outside the FUP||When any changes apply|
|EE||£2 a day/ £10 a month||50 GB (no change)||£3.60/GB||January 2022 (for new and upgrading customers from 7 July 2021 onwards)|
|O2||None||25 GB||£3.50/GB||2 August 2021|
|Three||£2 a day||12 GB (reduced from 20GB)||£3/GB||23 May 2022 (for new and upgrading customers from 1 October 2021 onwards)|
|Vodafone||£2 a day/ £1 a day if 8 or 15 day pass purchased||25 GB (no change)||£3.13/GB||6 January 2022 (for new customers, or those who change their tariff on/after 11 August 2021.|
Table updated January 2022.
Even if you are able to use your phone in the EU without additional charges, bear in mind that if you run out of bundled minutes, messages or data, you will pay the same ‘out of bundle’ charges as you would at home. This varies by operator, but could cost upwards of 50p a minute per call, 30p per text message, and 10p per megabyte of data.
It's another good reason to make sure you have a good handle on how much you're using, whether at home or abroad.
If your jet-setting takes you further afield than Europe, cost can vary dramatically between different networks, so make sure you understand the terms of your agreement.
We looked at the cost per MB of data in different destinations, and found some rather shocking disparities. For example, using data when roaming in the US varied from £6 per MB with Plusnet to 20p per MB with Giffgaff.
This could prove to be extremely costly, though many providers have caps in place to help consumers avoid sky-high bills. These providers should send you an alert to your phone when you have reached 80% and 100% of your limit, so you do not get any nasty surprises. For example, Virgin Media sets its roaming cap outside the EU at £51.50 by default.
In other cases, roaming is capped at how much money you have stored on your account when you last topped up – as is the case with providers like GiffGaff.
Although these measures can help you avoid huge bills, it’s still worth shopping around before you go abroad, as in some cases you could hit this cap with just a few minutes of browsing the internet, or fewer than 10 minutes on the phone.
Check with your provider to see whether you have a safety cap before you go abroad, find out how much it is and how easy it is to remove it if you need to.
But beware – if you do opt to remove this safety cap, providers consider they’ve offered you ‘fair warning’ and you could still be facing a hefty bill if you forget to keep an eye on your spending.
To avoid these sorts of situations, some providers, such as EE, O2 and Vodafone, have roaming add-ons that can make data and calls significantly cheaper – but there’s a catch.
Each of the ‘big four’ providers – EE, O2, Three and Vodafone – offer a different way to help keep your roaming costs manageable. But these may not always represent good value for money, depending on how much you expect to use.
The cost of making international calls can vary dramatically between mobile providers, although most congregate around 18 to 20 pence per minute.
|Calls to Spanish mobile on UK pay-monthly contract||Standard cost per minute|
Prices correct as of January 2022.
While it's important to bear these costs in mind, many providers do offer add-ons and that can help regular travellers reduce costs.
For example, EE's free 'call abroad' add-on significantly lowers the cost of calling abroad in 60 countries.
O2 has an International Bolt-on for £3 a month, enabling international calls to mobiles and landlines in 200 countries from 1p a minute, although that costs £3 a month.
Three's PAYG customers get a better deal than its pay-monthly ones when it comes to calling other countries from the UK. They can call France, Italy, Spain, The Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Lithuania, Germany, Portugal, Bulgaria, Latvia, Cyprus, the US, Canada, South Africa, Australia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and China for 3p a minute.
If you need to make the odd call abroad, you might think it's cheaper to call from a landline than a mobile phone - but in practice that's not always the case. Again, we're seeing that the biggest and most well-known providers, such as BT and Virgin, are by far the most expensive.
For example, BT typically charges around 20p a minute to call an EU mobile, while Virgin charges around 59p. The Post Office and TalkTalk charge around 17p and 22p, respectively.
Most providers also offer an international call package, which gives either discounted or inclusive calls.
If you plan to call abroad regularly, make sure to check what the best international call package is for you.
If you don't fancy paying money to contact family in the US or Australia, there are free ways to chat. Consider apps that use an internet connection to make phone calls and send messages between mobile phones.
Apps like WhatsApp, Viber and Skype let you make phone and video calls and, if your phone is connected to wi-fi, it won't even use your data. The person you're calling will need a data connection or wi-fi, plus the same app, to receive the call.