Visiting family abroad, taking in the sites or backpacking across a new country does not have to mean you cannot phone home, update your social media or check the football score online. While using your phone abroad may once have risked doubling the cost of your holiday, there are now plenty of options to avoid breaking the bank. This is especially true if you are travelling to Europe. Even though the UK no longer benefits from EU rules around free roaming, some providers are still maintaining the benefit. However, there are some potential pitfalls.
In this article, we highlight which companies offer the best roaming packages and what you need to look out for to avoid coming home to a hefty bill on your doormat.
What is data roaming?
Roaming is a term that describes using your mobile phone on a foreign network while you are outside of the UK. Your mobile is unable to reach its usual network, so it tries to find a local connection. It connects to a foreign network, meaning you can receive calls and texts and use mobile data. This process begins as soon as you leave your home country and enter a foreign network area unless you manually switch roaming off in your phone settings first.
What are roaming charges?
Roaming charges are the extra fees you have to pay to use your phone abroad while it is connected to a foreign network. Using your phone abroad used to be incredibly costly, but thankfully many mobile providers now offer data roaming packages that can help bring down the cost and some will even allow data roaming at no extra cost. Previously, the best advice was to switch off roaming before you leave for the airport and instead rely on free public wifi, payphones, paper maps, guidebooks and the kindness of strangers for directions. Things began to change significantly when mobile operators started teaming up with international partners to offer free roaming for customers abroad. The next step came in 2017 when EU roaming regulations were introduced, allowing customers to use their usual monthly allowances in 28 EU countries for no additional cost.
Why have roaming charges changed?
From 2017 all UK networks had to offer free roaming in EU countries in order to comply with EU regulations.
The UK is no longer part of the EU, which means that these regulations do not apply to travellers from the UK and UK mobile networks. A number of providers have now returned to charging roaming fees, but it seems some companies have introduced plans to keep costs down. Multiple major networks will let customers roam and use their existing package for free in the EU at the time of writing.
Unfortunately, not all companies are on board. Some major providers still charge to use your mobile in the EU, while many more add on hefty fees for roaming beyond Europe.
Even if your provider does offer free roaming to your chosen travel destination, there will be limits in place. One is that going beyond your contract can be very expensive. You may be used to paying a certain amount for occasionally going over your data limit at home, but this could be much more expensive if you do it abroad. Another issue is that providers apply ‘fair usage’ limits to your roaming. This could mean that your data, calls or texts allowances are actually lower abroad than at home, even if you have ‘free roaming’ as part of your deal.
If you have signed up to a mobile contract that offers free roaming, make sure to double-check before you jet off. Providers can change roaming policy at any time, so you will need to make sure you are not going to be hit with a hefty bill when you get home.
It is easy to switch mobile providers if you decide to move to a company with a better roaming policy. Read more in our article ‘How to switch mobile network provider with a text message’.
Which mobile phone providers charge for EU data roaming?
A number of UK network providers have reintroduced roaming charges since the UK left the EU. In the following tables, we share which providers do and do not charge for EU roaming. We also detail any data roaming limits and the costs if you exceed the limit. One thing to consider, however, is that the data roaming policies adopted by mobile providers can change quickly and vary between operators. Check with your provider to find out exactly how its roaming policy will apply to you.
Mobile phone providers that offer free data roaming in the EU
|Provider||Free EU roaming||Are there any limits?||Data roaming cost (above limit)|
|Asda Mobile (Vodafone network)||Up to 5GB. Have to purchase a SIM plan bundle which lasts for 1 calendar month. Despite the bundle you choose your data usage is capped at 5GB.||10p/MB over 5GB|
|BT Mobile (EE network)||Use your phone abroad at no cost up to your allowance. If data on your plan is over 50GB this will be capped at the fair usage limit of 15GB and you may be charged an additional fee.||13.06p/MB over 15GB|
|GiffGaff (O2 network)||You can use your phone at no extra cost abroad but this is limited to a cap of 5GB.
PAYG customers are charged UK rates when roaming in the EU.
|10p/MB over 5GB|
|iD Mobile (Three network)||Free up to your allowance limit in the UK. 30GB for customers who joined or upgraded on or after 21 June 2023.||10p/MB - 30p/MB|
|Lebara (Vodafone network)||Free up to your allowance limit in the UK (30GB fair use limit)||5GB Roaming Bolt On for £10 to use additional data
|O2||No charges for data up to 25GB (fair use limit)
PAYG customers charged as if using allowance in the UK
|Plusnet (EE network)*||Free up to your allowance limit in the UK (capped at 15GB)||10p/MB|
|Smarty (Three network)||Free up to your allowance limit in the UK (12GB fair use limit)||Add on plans of up to 10p/MB|
|Tesco Mobile (O2 network)||Free up to your allowance in Home from Home destinations||10p/MB for data|
|Virgin Mobile**||Free up to your allowance limit (subject to fair use policy, which varies from plan to plan)||30p/MB|
*Plusnet is closing down in the coming months and customers will need to switch network providers **Virgin Mobile customers are being transferred over to O2 throughout 2023. When transferred you can still benefit from roaming in the EU fee-free up to 25GB. More info on this on our article.
Mobile phone providers that do not offer free data roaming in the EU
|Provider||Free EU roaming||Charges reinstated||Who is affected?||Roaming cost|
|EE (pay monthly)||3rd March 2022||If your pay monthly plan started on or after 7th July 2021 you will be charged for data roaming. If it started or renewed before this date you will not be affected.||£2.29 per day (or pay £15 for a Roam Abroad Pass which lets you enjoy your plan allowances in 52 countries.)
If you have a Smart or Full Works plan you have to select the Roaming Smart Benefit.
|EE (Pay As You Go)||6th June 2023||Pay As You Go or top-up credit customers.||£2.50 for 24 hours
£10 for 7 days
|Sky Mobile (O2 network)||3rd May 2022||All customers||£2/day to access UK data, calls and text allowance. Charges go towards your bills spend cap so you will need to adjust this before you travel. E.g if this is set at £10 a month you will exceed it within 5 days of travelling.|
|TalkMobile (Vodafone network)||14th March 2023||For customers who joined or upgraded from 14th March 2023 (customers that joined or upgraded prior to this date are not affected)||Get unlimited calls and texts and 15GB of data with a Euro Holiday Booster. 1 day costs £2.25, 8 days costs £10 and 15 days costs £15.|
|Three||23rd May 2022||Pay Monthly customers that joined or upgraded on or after 1st October 2021.
If you’re on Pay As You Go, or your Pay Monthly plan started before 1 October 2021, these charges won’t apply.
|£2 per day (This counts towards your spend cap so you will need to check this prior to leaving the UK and increase if necessary)
12GB fair use limit
|Vodafone||31st January 2022||Charges apply to those who took out new contracts or renewed on or after 11 August 2021. Does not apply to those on 'Xtra' plans with 4 Xtra benefits. Those who took out a new contract or renewed before this date won't pay the additional charges.||£2.25 per day (or £10 for 8 days or £15 for 15 days when buying a European Roaming Pass)
To add one of these Extras to your plan, just text 8DAYEUROPE or 15DAYEUROPE to 40506 free from your Vodafone mobile. This does not include picture messages, premium calls or texts.
|Voxi (Vodafone network)||27th May 2022||All customers||£2 for 1 day
£4 for 2 days
£8 for 8 days
£15 for 15 days
20GB fair usage limit
The best mobile network for roaming outside the EU
Travelling further than the EU may prove to be more expensive. If you do not plan ahead you could easily come home to a mobile phone bill hundreds of pounds more expensive than you are used to. However, some providers do offer free roaming to major tourist destinations like the USA or Australia, while others have options that can keep your costs down. Usually, this comes in the form of an optional add-on to your package that swaps roaming charges for a daily fee.
Unlike European roaming, international roaming is not subject to a ‘fair usage’ clause, so you should be able to access your mobile plan exactly as you would at home with certain providers.
Here we take a look at what the major UK providers offer.
EE worldwide roaming charges
EE customers will need to pay extra to roam outside of Europe unless they have signed up to a Max Plan or a Smart Benefits plan. These packages include a Roam Further Pass or Roam Abroad Pass, either as standard or as an optional reward. The Roam Abroad pass costs £15 a month and let customers use their standard allowances in the USA, Canada, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand.
There is also the Travel Data pass, which offers 500MB data for £6.26 to £7.84 per day, and is available countries including China, India and South Africa.
Three worldwide roaming charges
Three customers whose PAYG or pay monthly plan started after 1 October 2021 can pay £5 to access the ‘Go Roam Around the World’ add-on. This allows you to use your phone as you would at home for no additional charge for a 24-hour period. You can find a list of qualifying destinations here.
Another option is Three’s Data Passport add-on. This costs £5 per day and offers unlimited data until midnight UK time.
O2 worldwide roaming charges
For many destinations, O2 customers can pay £6 per day for unlimited data, texts and minutes with the O2 Travel Bolt On. This is not available to pay as you go customers and is limited to 27 locations outside of Europe.
Vodafone worldwide roaming charges
Vodafone’s roaming charges apply to customers who signed up after 11 August 2021. You will need to pay £6.85 per day to roam outside of the EU. However, as Vodafone’s fine print can be complicated, this can vary if you are on certain plans or travelling to a particular country. Check using Vodafone’s online tool before you set off.
BT worldwide roaming charges
BT offers a Travel Data Pass for customers roaming outside of Europe. It costs £6 and provides 500MB of data valid for 24 hours. It can be used in 12 countries, including the USA and India.
Virgin Mobile worldwide roaming charges
Virgin Mobile does not offer customers the ability to access their plans through free roaming beyond 43 European locations. This means that you will be subject to significant roaming costs, including up to £12.50/MB for data roaming, if you use your phone in a country beyond Europe.
iD Mobile worldwide roaming charges
iD does not offer customers the option to use their allowance while roaming beyond its 50 inclusive EU roaming destinations. You can check the roaming costs for your destination here.
Plusnet worldwide roaming charges
You will not be able to use Plusnet’s Roam Like at Home plan beyond 40 European destinations. Instead, you will need to pay standard roaming charges for calls, texts and the data you use.
Tesco Mobile worldwide roaming charges
Tesco Mobile customers can roam for free abroad in 48 destinations for the rest of 2023. The majority of the listed countries are in the EU but there are additional destinations included in the list. For destinations not included in the list you will be subject to roaming charges and these vary between countries.