Global Roaming

Does the scrapping of EU roaming charges really mean no extra charges abroad?

On June 15th this year, EU roaming charges were finally abolished after industry leaders voted to remove the fees on October last year. Roaming charges had been gradually decreasing up until this point and the powers that be finally listened to customers who were sick of being stung with huge unexpected bills when they came home from their holidays.

The scrapping of roaming charges across the EU has been announced with some fanfare by network providers but is it all too good to be true?

Quick questions answered

What are roaming charges? This is basically when you use your mobile phone abroad, outside of your home country. You are roaming when you connect to another overseas network.What countries are included in the EU roaming? All 28 members of the EU are included as are the 3 EFTA member states Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. Some networks may or may not include Switzerland. Most networks include 47 or more destinations.

What about charges outside of the EU? Networks like Three will let you use your allowance in a number of countries outside of the EU as does Vodafone, more recently. For more destinations you may have the option to purchase a roaming plan.

Can I make local calls abroad? This varies between operators. Networks like Vodafone let you make calls to mobiles and landlines in their 50 roam-free destinations.

For more FAQs see this guide form the EU

What does this mean for me?

Whether or not you get charged extra for data roaming abroad depends on several factors such as your individual provider and whether or not you get data included in your monthly plan.

Using data from your home allowances doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t be charged additional fees according to MoneySavingExpert. The concern here is that the EU rules state, many who have unlimited or very competitively priced data packages can be charged extra if they go above a certain wholesale rate. This can be a bit confusing so it’s best to check with your provider how much you’ll be charged if you exceed your allowance and if there is any fair usage cap.

Is there a limit on unlimited?

As with anything, you should always check the fine print. Mobile providers are announcing that they are scrapping roaming charges so that you won’t pay any extra charges for using your services and data in Europe than you would in the UK. In theory, you should be able to use any unlimited texts, calls and data allowances that you pay for in the UK, for free across Europe. However, many holiday goers are finding that this simply isn’t the case.

Part of the EU directive which has abolished roaming charges also allows companies to enact a “fair usage” policy. This policy outlines just how much of your “unlimited” data you are allowed to use for free in the EU before you are going to start being charged. If as part of your contract you receive unlimited calls and texts then this really will mean unlimited across Europe too- it is unlimited and “very cheap” data plans which could be affected by a fair usage policy.

Quick Facts

  • Roaming Charges removed for traveling in the EU
  • You can use your home allowance abroad
  • Can call and text back to UK numbers without additional charges within your allowance
  • Includes 28 EU countries however, many networks include more
  • Three offers Feel at Home to destinations worldwide
  • Outside of allowance usage will still cost you, just not as much as before
  • Calling within the EU is now cheaper – roam free with networks like Vodafone

What does “fair usage” actually mean?

The fair usage clause of the EU directive to scrap roaming charges essentially allows providers to cap your free data when you are using your mobile phone abroad. The cap is set by your provider and is usually based on how much you pay for your service- meaning that those who pay the least will more than likely be affected the most.

The EU guidelines state that the cap can be set as low as just 2GB with charges of around £7.80 added for every GB of data used above that cap. While it is not certain if any of the UK’s mobile phone providers will be introducing this cap, EE and Three have declined to offer an explicit guarantee that their unlimited customers will be able to use their full data allowance for free whilst in Europe.

Each of the big four UK providers will have set their own limits for the amount of data which can be used outside of the UK before a charge is incurred:

Limits on data outside UK from big 4

  • Three – pay as you go users have a limit of 9GB and those with a monthly contract have a limit of 12GB of data. Even if your usual monthly data is set above these limits in the UK, you may encounter extra charges abroad
  • EE – EU data is capped at 15GB so if you want to use more than that you will have to purchase an add-on. If your monthly data limit is lower than the 15GB you will simply pay extra for going over your limit as usual but that amount you pay for doing this in the EU may be more than you are used to.
  • 02 – Business, pay monthly and most pay as you go customers won’t experience a data cap from 02. However, if you have purchased the £30 Big Bundle which includes 20GB of data then this will be capped at 10GB and a bolt-on will need to be purchased for any more data whilst in the EU.
  • Vodafone – there are currently no data caps with Vodafone.

Each provider also has different limits for the amount of time you can roam in the EU too:

Length of time you can roam

  • Three – roaming for 2 months 12 is deemed in excess of fair usage and can result in charges
  • EE – you must spend at least 60 days out of 120 in the UK
  • 02 – no more than 60 days in four months
  • Vodafone – more than 30 consecutive days roaming can result in charges

Use for trips abroad only – not if you’re planning to live abroad

Other fair usage terms include how much time you spend using your data in the EU compared to the UK. You must spend the majority of your time in the UK in order to be able to use your unlimited service for free. If you spend more time in the EU than the UK over a four-month period then your provider may also begin to charge you for your minutes and texts as well as your data.

What is throttling?

Many data users have experienced poor connection problems abroad and even no 4g abroad at all. This has been put down to “throttling” which is where a provider intentionally narrows down and shapes the amount of traffic on its network. This can result in poor service for many people trying to access their data.

O2 recently admitted they had employed this technique in response to high demand from UK users abroad. They say European networks have been doing this for some time to ensure they can keep some service available for everyone. O2 customers, however, are unhappy with the poor quality and accuse the company of skimping out on its UK customers.

Throttling has also been experienced by customers of Virgin when trying to use their data abroad too and could become more of an issue as UK providers attempt to combat the increase in demand for their services now UK customers aren’t faced with such big roaming costs.

Will I be able to use 4G abroad?

Currently only EE and Vodafone offer the use of 4G networks abroad. Whilst EE offer 4G in over 53 destinations worldwide, Vodafone will let you use 120+.

There may be restrictions in place again with the use of 4G so it’s best to check if there are caps and fair usage policies in place. This may vary between provider and country.

Which countries can I roam in?

You can roam with you home allowance of minutes, texts and data in 47 or more countries across Europe. There are actually just 28 in the European union but many other special territories like the Canary Islands which are inclusive of the new European Roaming rules.

Roaming Zone 1a

Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Isle of Man, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal (Incl. Azores & Madeira), Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Vatican City

Roaming Zone 1b

Canary Islands, French Guiana, Gibraltar, Guadeloupe, Guernsey, Iceland, Jersey, Liechtenstein, Martinique, Mayotte, Norway, Reunion, Saint Barthelemy, Saint Martin, San Marino, Switzerland

Worldwide Roaming options

If you are with Three on one of their Advanced SIM Only plans then you get their Feel at Home service which includes a further 12 countries worldwide including:

Australia, Brazil, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Israel, Macau, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, Singapore, Sri Lanka, USA, US Virgin Islands.

Vodafone offer Global roaming for £5 a day extra and extends your coverage to 60 more destinations:

Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Aruba, Australia, Barbados, Bermuda, Bonaire, Brazil, British Virgin Islands, Canada, Cayman Islands, Chile, China, Colombia,
Congo, Democratic Republic of, Costa Rica, Curacao, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Ghana, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Israel, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Lesotho, Mexico, Mozambique, New Zealand, Panama, Peru, Puerto Rico, Qatar, Russia, Saba, Sint Eustatius, Sint Maarten, Serbia, Singapore, South Africa, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent, Suriname, Thailand, Trinidad & Tobago, Turks & Caicos, Uruguay, US Virgin Islands, United States of America.

Useful Links:
iPhone – How to avoid roaming charges

EU ban on roaming won’t stop firms charging more

EU roaming charges dropped

O2 fesses up to throttling