Summer holidays: Do I need to pay roaming charges in Europe? What mobile providers charge for roaming?

Free roaming in Europe came to an end when the UK left the EU

Since the UK’s exit from the European Union, many mobile providers have introduced roaming charges for phone customers travelling to popular holiday destinations such as Spain, France or Italy.

Here, we take a look at which companies charge for making calls, sending texts and using internet while abroad – and if there are any plans for this to change.

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Why am I now being charged for using my mobile phone in Europe?

Using a mobile phone in Europe now usually incurs a charge for most UK customers.Using a mobile phone in Europe now usually incurs a charge for most UK customers.
Using a mobile phone in Europe now usually incurs a charge for most UK customers.

When Britain was part of the European Union, UK mobile phone providers were subject to EU laws, which meant they were not allowed to charge more for people using their devices while in any of the then-28 EU countries.

These laws only came into force in 2017, meaning British customers benefited from the legislation for just four years before the Brexit transition period came to an end in January 2021.

After the UK left the EU, those laws no longer applied. Now customers are subject to charges from mobile phone companies when they travel.

Many people travelled less over the years following the Covid pandemic, so some customers are only just beginning to notice the change as they prepare to jet away this summer.

Will I be charged if I travel to countries outside of the EU, such as the US?

Most mobile phone providers have always charged for roaming to countries further afield – and it varies hugely between countries.

Ernest Doku, from uSwitch, says Sky Mobile customers heading to the Maldives or Seychelles could have to pay £8.64 every minute for calls to local or UK mobiles and landline numbers – working out at about £130 for a 15-minute phone call.

He says: “Roaming costs can now be incredibly expensive, and consumers have been left exposed at a time when a large unexpected bill could have severe consequences.

“While many providers have competitive roaming policies in place, there is massive inconsistency across providers, plans and destinations – both in terms of cost and also the information available.”

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Which providers charge for roaming?

O2 is one of few providers which do not charge for roaming in Europe. Customers can use their phone “as if they were at home” in 47 countries. The same applies to customers of Virgin Mobile and iD Mobile.

Giffgaff customers have a 5GB EU roaming allowance at no extra cost. Unlimited calls and texts are also available to them while they're in the EU.

A number of other companies, including Three, EE and Vodafone, charge around £2 a day for phone usage in a European country.

Providers which charge for roaming also usually have an option of taking out an add-on pass for the duration of the holiday, which can work out cheaper if someone is travelling for more than a couple of days.

Is anything likely to change?

In terms of roaming charges, it is not likely. If some companies find they are losing customers to others which do not charge for roaming, such as O2, they could make a decision to change their policy. However, this is down to the individual provider to decide. There are not any moves for the UK to come to an agreement with the EU to adopt pre-Brexit rules on this issue.

Communications watchdog Ofcom has this week published proposals which would make it compulsory for mobile firms to inform customers of their roaming policies when they arrive in a foreign country.

What would these proposals mean?

The guidance put forward by Ofcom would require all UK mobile companies to tell their customers when they start roaming, how much it will cost them and any action they can take to limit their spend. Some companies do this already, but this would ensure that all companies do the same.

Under these proposals, mobile customers would get personalised alerts when they arrived abroad, giving them information about roaming charges that will apply, including specifying any fair use data limits and the time period that applies to any daily charges; any mobile bill limit the customer has in place and where to find free-to-access additional detail on roaming charges, fair use policies and how to monitor, reduce and limit spend.

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Cristina Luna-Esteban, Ofcom’s director of telecoms consumer protection, said: “Millions of UK holidaymakers head abroad every year and want to stay connected on their travels. But without clear information from their provider, they could find themselves facing an unexpected bill for calling home or going online.

“These alerts would mean whichever mobile provider you’re with, you won’t be left in the dark about roaming charges and action you can take to manage your spending.”

Ofcom has asked for responses to its consultation by September 28 and plans to publish its decision in early 2024.

If I am near a border with another country while I am away, could I be hit with double roaming charges?

Usually, roaming charges apply once – if someone is in eg southern Germany, and connects to an Austrian network, they are usually – but not always - charged only once for that day’s roaming.

However, for people who live in the south of Northern Ireland, whose UK-registered phones sometimes connect with Irish networks, this is a common problem, as Ireland is in the EU. Ofcom’s new proposals include making sure mobile companies have measures in place to enable customers to reduce and/or limit their spend on roaming while in the UK.

These measures could include offering special tariffs or treating mobile usage in Ireland the same as being in the UK, which some providers are already doing.



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