How to avoid a large phone bill on your summer holiday

4 min Read Published: 16 Jul 2019

Roaming charges: how to avoid post-holiday smartphone bill shocks

In the hustle and bustle of holiday excitement, it is easy to forget to turn off data roaming when the plane touches down in your holiday destination. As a result, you could find yourself with a hefty mobile bill when returning from your summer break. In this simple guide, we explain how to avoid data roaming charges as well as the cheapest way to use your phone in countries outside of the EU.


How to avoid data roaming charges

1 - Check to see if you will be charged for using your phone abroad

Most mobile phone contracts include some form of data roaming plan, allowing you to use your phone within the EU at no extra cost. It is always best to check your contract prior to travelling however as not all contracts allow inclusive data roaming. You can do this by calling your mobile provider or logging into your online account. If you would like to find the best deal to switch network providers to one that roams internationally read our article 'How to switch mobile network provider with a text message'.

2 - Take advantage of a roaming add on

If you don't have a data roaming plan, take advantage of a roaming add on. Although this may seem expensive it will be significantly cheaper than using your normal allowance. Providers normally offer holiday bundles of £5 a day to use your phone as if you were at home.

3 - Use WiFi wherever possible

Most hotels and villa complexes offer WiFi for free or at a small charge. Using WiFi wherever possible will allow you to access the internet without turning on your data roaming. Take care to not access personal information on a public WiFi network.

4 - Download before you go

Download music, films and TV shows before you leave the UK. Apps such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and BBC iPlayer allow you to download shows before you travel meaning you can watch your favourite movies on the plane or by the pool without needing an internet connection.

5 - Turn off data roaming

Turn off data roaming before landing in your holiday destination. You can do this by Settings > Mobile data > Mobile data options > Roaming Off.

6 - Take care if near a border

Take care if you are near the border of a country that is outside of your roaming plan. If you are staying near a country's border your phone could connect to a network across the border and you will be accidentally charged.

7 - Use a local pay as you go SIM

Buy a local pay as you go SIM and top it up with cash in the local destination. Ensure it is compatible with your phone before purchasing.

8 - Find out your data limit

Be aware of the data limit. By law, mobile operators are required to set a data limit of €50 per month wherever you are in the world. However, it is common for mobile providers to encourage customers to 'opt-out' by offering data packages that exceed the limit. To check if you have inadvertently opted out, call your mobile provider.

How much does it cost to use your phone outside of the EU?

To help you understand data roaming costs, the average charges per day across 8 mobile phone providers are summarised in the table below. The data based on findings from uSwitch shows the average charge per day based on an individuals average phone usage. Including sending and receiving texts, music streaming and web surfing.  The table breaks down the charges by mobile phone provider and reveals the charges for the most popular destinations outside of the EU.

GiffGaffs findings were based on a pay-as-you-go offer and customers only use what they pay for. Therefore the data reflects how much credit you will need on a daily basis. uSwitch excluded Virgin mobile from the data as it was not deemed to be a top mobile provider.

A comparison table of the average charges per day outside of the EU


Destination EE giffgaff iD O2 Sky Mobile Tesco Three Vodafone
USA £43 £40 £62 £107 £6 £68 £80 £6
Turkey £61 £40 £143 £107 £6 £63 £80 £0
India £61 £40 £143 £107 £105 £84 £93 £6
UAE £61 £40 £590 £107 £102 £84 £110 £6
Mexico £61 £40 £255 £107 £102 £84 £93 £6
Morocco £55 £270 £590 £107 £102 £84 £110 £6
Pakistan £61 £40 £143 £107 £102 £84 £93 £6
Canada £40 £40 £590 £107 £6 £68 £80 £6
China £61 £40 £143 £107 £102 £63 £93 £6
Average £56 £65 £295 £107 £70 £76 £93 £5

Source: uSwitch - based on average daily use including 48.2MB of data a day, posting to social media, sending and receiving calls and texts and surfing the web. 

What is data roaming and how do roaming charges work?

When you travel abroad, as soon as your phone detects an overseas network, your mobile phone is classed to be 'data roaming'. Depending on your location and whether you have bought a data roaming package (sometimes called a 'bolt-on' or 'add on') your network provider may charge you for making phone calls, sending text messages and using the internet. The charges are likely to be significantly higher than if you were using the phone in the UK.

New data roaming regulations were introduced in 2012 to allow consumers to use their phones in EU countries at no extra cost, however despite the rulings, phone providers often apply 'fair-usage' limits which could mean you still find yourself with a hefty phone bill. To find out more about the data roaming regulations, listen to our podcast episode 136.

What is a 'fair usage' limit?

Mobile providers are entitled to enforce fair usage policies on data roaming allowances. For example, if your network provider offers you 20GB of data within your plan in the UK, this may be capped at 15GB while abroad. In this scenario, if you were to go over the capped data allowance of 15GB, you would be subject to additional daily rate charges.

Each network provider has different limits so you may want to check your contract or call your provider to check what yours are before you go abroad.

Where can I use my phone abroad with no extra charge?

There are currently 28 EU countries you can use your phone at no extra charge:

  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Bulgaria
  • Croatia
  • Republic of Cyprus
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Malta
  • Netherlands
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Romania
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • UK

Some mobile network providers also let you use your phone further afield at no extra cost. Providers such as Three, Vodafone, O2 and EE offer the ability to roam internationally in countries such as the USA, Australia and New Zealand.