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Data roaming explained: How much does it cost to use my mobile abroad?

Data roaming explained: How much does it cost to use my mobile abroad?

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Last updated: 23 August 2022

Using your mobile phone abroad used to be an expensive habit to have, when making a few calls back home could result in unexpected, astronomical bills. But over recent years, EU laws have meant it shouldn't cost you anymore than it does at home, in Europe at least.

But then Brexit happened. And while many politicians assured the British public that roaming charges wouldn't be introduced for UK travellers, in reality it hasn't quite worked out like that. Most of the major networks have reintroduced flat day rates for using your mobile abroad, although some providers still offer it for free. Furthermore, data roaming charges have always applied outside of the continent.

This guide will help you understand data roaming and how it applies to you. We also look into alternatives to using your own data, and ways to avoid data roaming charges altogether.

What is data roaming?

Data roaming is when your mobile phone uses a network that's not yours to send and receive calls, texts, or data. The only time you'll really be data roaming is when you use your phone abroad, as you won't be able to connect to your UK network provider.

Every time you connect to the internet, whether it’s checking your email, updating Facebook or using Google Maps, you’re using data. Using data abroad used to cost a lot of money, but recent changes have made it much more affordable.

What to look out for when using your phone abroad

EU regulations on data roaming introduced in 2017 meant that making a call, sending a text message, and using the internet in most parts of Europe shouldn't have cost you more than when you're at home.

But now that the UK has officially left the EU, roaming charges have, unfortunately, been slowly reintroduced by most of the major networks over the last year or two. Most providers have introduced a flat day rate for using your mobile data, calls, and texts in European countries, typically at around £2 per day. 

But if you're travelling further afield, then it's a whole different story.

Depending on where you are and what network provider you are with, even receiving calls can cost as much as £3 a minute, while surfing the internet could cost you an eye-watering £7 per megabyte. That could drive your monthly phone bill into the thousands.

After paying for flights, hotels and everything else that makes our holidays memorable, the last thing you want when you return home is to be hit with a massive bill. So, before you make that Instagram post or watch the latest Netflix show while abroad, think carefully about how you're doing it. Follow this guide to make sure you're not paying a crazy amount for using the internet on your mobile and keep the cost of your holiday as low as it can be.

Travelling in Europe

UK networks used to all have to follow the EU's 'roam like at home' policy, which meant data roaming charges while travelling in Europe were largely abolished. This did mean that customers on UK networks were charged the same amount for using data and making calls and texts abroad than when at home.

But since the UK left the EU, networks can now specify their own policy on roaming in Europe. The roaming policies of some major providers can be seen below:

Provider Roaming Policy
O2 O2 is the only network out of the Big Four to not have reintroduced roaming charges in the EU. This means that you can use your contract allowances in the Europe Zone just like you would do at home, without any extra charges. See deals
EE If your contract started or was renewed after 6 July 2021, EE will allow you to use your UK allowances abroad in the EU for £2 a day. If your contract started before this date, however, you will face no roaming charges in Europe. If you are going to be in the EU for more than 5 days, you can purchase their Roam Abroad pass for £10, which will allow you to use your allowances over the whole month. Just make sure you cancel it when you get home! See deals
Three Mobile Three SIMs all come with 'Go Roam', which allows you to use your call, text, and data allowances in 71 countries (including the EU) around the world for just £2 a day, if your contract began or was renewed after 1 October 2021. All contracts that started before this date can roam like at home in those destinations. See deals
Vodafone With Vodafone, if you are on an Unlimited data Xtra Airtime plan, or a pay-as-you-go deal, you will have European roaming included as standard with your plan. If you are not, and your contact started or was renewed after 11 August 2021, it will cost you either £2 a day, or £1 a day if you pay for 8 or 15 days upfront with one of their Roaming Passes. See deals
Asda Mobile Asda Mobile haven’t reintroduced roaming charges in the EU, meaning you can use your SIM in Europe just as you would at home, with no extra charges. See deals
BT Mobile BT Mobile also lets you ‘roam like at home’ in up to 47 destinations, including all countries in the EU. See deals
giffgaff If you’re a giffgaff customer, you can use all your minutes and texts in Europe like you would at home, and you can also use your mobile data, although you will begin to face extra charges once you exceed 5GB of data. See deals
iD Mobile iD Mobile hasn’t reintroduced roaming charges in the EU, meaning you can use your mobile phone in the same way you do at home, without any extra fees. See deals
Plusnet Mobile Plusnet Mobile is another smaller network provider still offering free roaming in more than 40 destinations within the EU. See deals
Sky Mobile All Sky Mobile customers will be charged a flat rate of £2 per day for using their mobile phone in the EU. Each ‘day’ will be a 24-hour period after which you first use your data. See deals
SMARTY SMARTY customers can still use their calls, texts, and mobile data in Europe without incurring any roaming charges. See deals
Tesco Mobile Tesco Mobile currently doesn’t charge roaming fees in the EU, but this will change from 1 January 2023, after which any pay monthly customers who started or renewed their contract after 16 June 2022 will face extra charges. However, the specific rates have not yet been released. See deals
VOXI VOXI customers will need to buy a European Roaming Pass to use their mobile phone in the EU. These allow you to use up to 20GB of data for £2 per day, although 8-day and 15-day packages are better value, costing £8 and £15 respectively. See deals

Which countries did 'roam like at home' policies apply to?

The EU countries included are: 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 and Sweden.

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

When you arrive in another country your mobile network should send you a message telling you about basic pricing on your visit.

What about fair use policies for data roaming?

Some network providers will include a 'fair use' policy in their data plan. This means that you could be charged for excessive data roaming in Europe. However, you should only be charged these fees once you're using over a certain amount of data, so it doesn't work too differently to data charges at home.

To avoid being charged more than you're used to, make sure you know what 'roaming product' your network offers before heading off abroad. You can check this by calling them up and asking if you're not sure.

If you're already abroad but getting close to reaching your data usage limit, your network must send a notification informing you of the additional costs that will be applied if you continue to use data. This should give you the opportunity to purchase more, or you could simply stop using data.

If you are a BT Mobile or EE customer, you will be charged for data roaming once you exceed 15GB. If you are a pay as you go customer with Three, you will be charged for anything over 12GB, or 13GB if you are on a contract. O2 and Vodafone do not use 'fair use' policies, so you will be able to use as much data as you do at home.

Travelling outside of Europe

If you're travelling to another continent, EU laws will no longer apply and the cost of using your mobile will soar.

EE customers could be charged as much as £3 a minute for making calls in some countries. But if you're an O2 customer, you will be charged as much as £7.20 per MB of data used in countries including the USA, Australia and India. This is where you must be extra careful, as using the internet without a set plan, especially if you're streaming videos, could cost you hundreds if not thousands of pounds.

Thankfully, most network providers will offer some sort of plan or an add-on that you can use abroad, so it is worth checking with your provider what they can offer you before you set off. Every major UK network also offers SIM-only deals specifically designed for travellers and international roaming. For more information, head over to our page on the best deals for roaming.

Alternatively, you should consider buying a local SIM card from the country you're in while outside of Europe. This way you will pay local rates for using 3G and 4G data, although you will usually still be charged large amounts for making calls back home. Be warned though: this will only work if you have an unlocked phone, so it's worth checking if you can do this before you get on the plane!

Top tips for using your mobile abroad and avoiding extra charges

Use free Wi-Fi whenever you can

You don't have to rely on 3G or 4G data to use the internet on your phone when you're abroad. In many countries you'll find yourself visiting, most hotels, cafes, bars and restaurants will have Wi-Fi. And the best thing is, it's usually free, although you may be expected to buy a drink if you're not already a customer. Be aware that in rural or remote areas, Wi-Fi networks are less common or will often be less reliable when they are available.

Relying on Wi-Fi will not limit you to just internet browsing. With apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, or FaceTime if you have an iPhone, you can also make calls and texts through a Wi-Fi connection. However, the person you are making a call to must also have the same app. If you are planning on calling certain family members or friends while you're on holiday, make sure they've downloaded the same app that you plan to use before you go.

Even if you're using Wi-Fi to actively use the internet, your phone could still be using data to upgrade apps and download emails automatically. To prevent you getting charged for this, make sure you turn off your data before you get on the plane. You can do this on most phones by going into settings > network settings.

Don't stream

Streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Spotify are becoming ever more prominent in today's world but using them abroad can be extremely costly. Streaming videos and music uses huge amounts of data, so avoid this if you're outside the EU and not on a Wi-Fi connection or you'll end up with a huge phone bill. Watching videos on Facebook or YouTube also use a lot of data, so try to avoid both if possible. If you can't live without your favourite TV shows or music, consider downloading them before you leave or only using Wi-Fi once you're abroad.

Download maps to use offline

Now that we have access to maps at the tip of our fingers, we are becoming ever more reliant on them, especially when we're in a foreign, unfamiliar land. Luckily, there are ways we can still use maps on our phone abroad without being connected to the internet.

You can now save maps of certain areas or cities on Google Maps to be used offline. To do this, connect to Wi-Fi, open the app, and search for the place you'll need a map for. At the bottom of the screen there will be a bar with the name of the place you've just searched. Tap on this, and then on the menu icon in the top right-hand corner and tap 'save offline map'. There are also alternative apps you can use to download maps such as

GPS will still work on your phone without using the internet, so you can navigate in real time without eating into your data.

Check if your network offers a roaming add-on

Most carriers now let you pay a little bit extra to get an add-on that gives you an allowance of data, texts and minutes to use abroad. If you pay for this, you'll only pay the price of the add-on and no more. Ring your network to discuss this with them, and really think about what you'll use your data for while away.

Consider buying a local SIM

As stated previously, another option to avoid roaming is a local sim (for instance, if you are going to the Netherlands you could pick up a Dutch sim with a lot of their carriers for ~£6). These keep the cost of calls and texts messages down and can be topped up with pay-as-you-go credit. This really is much cheaper and hassle free than paying for an add-on, or staying within strict confines when using free Wi-Fi. But remember that to use a local SIM you'll need an unlocked handset .

Insure your phone

The last thing you want while on holiday is to lose your phone or have it stolen. But it does happen. Make sure you're covered by taking out insurance. It could be covered in your travel insurance, but you'll have to make sure you have gadget cover included. You could also take out an independent mobile insurance policy that covers your phone for any loss or theft while abroad.

In case your phone is lost or stolen, you don't want to be hit with the added cost of your data being used up by someone else, driving up your bill. You may think other people won't be able to get into your phone if it's locked, but they can still take your SIM out and use it on another phone. To prevent this happening to you, you can lock your SIM with a PIN that anyone will need when using it with another phone. You can usually do this by going to your settings, or logging into your online network account.

Should I use data roaming in the UK?

Yes. You should be able to able to connect to your mobile network provider wherever you are in the UK, so you won't ever need to use another one whilst in the country. Therefore, you should keep data roaming switched on while in the UK, so that you can connect to 4G or 5G whilst out and about, without it costing you an extra penny.


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Danny Lord

Author: Danny Lord

Danny is our Editor-in-Chief, and has been writing news and guides for comparison sites for the last five years.

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